The Clippers started off Monday’s game against the Portland Trailblazers much like they have every other game over the past couple of weeks — in a hole. LA fell behind by as much as 15 in the first half before taking the lead, but then faced an 18-point deficit in the fourth quarter that the team could not overcome, eventually losing 131-127. The Clippers were within one point of the Blazers in the final minute but could not break through in their fourth consecutive defeat.
LA got back in the game in the fourth quarter behind an inspired effort from a small lineup with Danilo Gallinari at center. Gallo did a nice job of directing the offense from the paint. The Clippers also made a living at the free-throw line, but unfortunately couldn’t stop fouling the Blazers on the other end. The fourth quarter featured 36 combined free throws, though that included some late fouls to extend the game.
The team was almost forced into playing small because Montrezl Harrell was ejected on a flagrant 2 with seven minutes remaining. Harrrell had been enjoying his second straight good game after two rough weeks, powering through defenders. His finishing around the rim was not as clean as it could have been, but he earned enough trips to the foul line to finish with 15 points and six rebounds in 27 minutes.
Tobias Harris led LA from the start with a superlative scoring performance, finishing with a career-high 39 points on 15-of-22 shooting. He was the lone bright spot at the start of the game as the Clippers once again started the game off with a dud. The starters put up no defensive resistance against the Blazers, allowing 37 points in the first quarter. The offense was perfectly serviceable, but plays like Jusuf Nurkic’s uncontested dunk with two minutes remaining in the period were emblematic of the walking turnstile LA’s defense has become.
In theory, Al-Farouq Aminu and Moe Harkless represent a formidable forward tandem to throw at Harris and Gallinari, but Harris had his finest offensive output of the season. He also managed to carry the bench unit in scoring as Doc Rivers once again changed his backup configuration. Milos Teodosic had the night off while Patrick Beverley ran point for the reserves. Beverley had 11 assists, his highest total as a Clipper, and showed a facility for running the offense that has been missing from his game. He was particularly effective at delivering the ball to LA’s bigs when they had deep post position.
The bench got the team back in contact with Portland by defending well. They also pushed the pace. Ty Wallace had a great game by attacking the paint relentlessly and finished with the best plus-minus of any Clipper at plus-18. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander also had a career-high in scoring with 24 points. But for every individual great performance, there was another LA player who had a night he’d rather forget.
Marcin Gortat was played off the floor in the third quarter due to subpar defense on Nurkic, and his replacement didn’t fare any better. Boban Marjanovic managed to wall off the paint, but was exposed in other ways. The Blazers ran a series of high screen-and-rolls; with Boban playing a drop coverage and lacking the foot speed to make it out to the three-point line, Portland’s guards hit a flurry of open threes in the third. Damian Lillard had 22 points in the period on 7-of-7 shooting. When the Clippers defense tried to force Lillard and CJ McCollum away from the screens, they simply drove into the paint and met little resistance on their way to the rim.
Harrell and Gallinari were better defending in space, but neither was immune to the Portland’s perimeter threats. McCollum and Lillard seemed to remember Gallinari capably defending them on switches in the teams’ last matchup in Portland, and the two attacked Gallinari whenever they were matched up together, especially McCollum.
Avery Bradley also had a terrible game, as he was held scoreless and produced a stat line of one rebound and one turnover. He had no success defending Lillard or McCollum and committed five fouls, a number of which occurred when the team was already in the penalty.
Ultimately, the starting unit — in particular, Bradley and Gortat — created too big of a mess for the rest of the Clippers to clean up. LA had to play from behind almost the entire contest, and they couldn’t make make enough plays down the stretch to win. Rivers said postgame that a change to the starting lineup might be happening; it can’t come soon enough.