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Recap: Kawhi Leonard Terminates Trail Blazers in 107-101 Clippers Win

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Los Angeles Clippers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Led by a big fourth quarter from Kawhi Leonard and Lou Williams, the LA Clippers emerged with a 107-101 triumph over the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday night.

The well-rested Leonard led all scorers with 27 points, 18 of which came in the final frame. A Clippers offense that spent most of the night looking downright sleepy awoke with a jolt thanks to Leonard and Williams. Speaking of Lou, all he did was put up 26 points alongside a team-high 8 assists. The two combined to score 25 of LAC’s 37 fourth quarter points.

Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum scored 22 apiece for the Blazers, but both star guards were held scoreless in the final 12 minutes. Portland stayed afloat in the fourth thanks to backup Anfernee Simons, who scored 16 of his 17 points in the fourth. Patrick Beverley did a phenomenal job defensively against Lillard, holding the 4-time All-Star to 0-4 shooting from the floor in the fourth quarter.

The Clippers played excellent defensively for three of the four quarters, with the third being the lone exception. Portland shot just 37.5% from the field on the night, so their 36-point explosion in the third wound up looking fairly anomalous.

LAC also got a highly-productive effort out of Ivica Zubac, who contributed 15 points and 13 rebounds in just 15 minutes of work. He did an excellent job in frustrating Hassan Whiteside for much of the first half, but Whiteside woke up following the break. The Blazers’ interim starting center finished with 17 points and 19 rebounds of his own, with the vast majority of that damage coming after halftime. The indefatigable Montrezl Harrell provided his usual energy on his way to 15 points, 6 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 steals and an assist in 28 minutes off the bench.

The Clips made just 4 three-pointers all night, but they were able to make up for that by living at the foul line. L.A. converted on 25 of their 30 attempts from the charity stripe, while Portland went 12-16. The Blazers were held to 28% shooting from long distance, as well. Kawhi and Lou combined to shoot 20-22 from the line.

Leonard wasn’t really able to make his mark on the game until the fourth, but it was worth the wait. Kawhi scored just 9 points across the first 3 quarters, but managing his load proved wise as he was able to assert his will while playing the entirety of the fourth. Leonard converted 9 of his 23 field goal attempts in the game, but he went 6-10 in the final period.

First Half

Leonard got off to a solid start to the game, but Clippers also got an awesome effort out of Zubac in the first. Zubac was easily outworking Hassan Whiteside on both ends of the floor, especially on the offensive glass. Zubac collected 6 caroms in the game’s first 8 minutes, 5 of which were of the offensive variety. The Clips had 7 offensive boards in that span in all, leading to 11 second-chance points. The Blazers had one OREB of their own in the same stretch.

The Blazers trotted out a horror show of a lineup to begin the second with Skal Labissiere, Mario Hezonja, Rodney Hood, Kent Bazemore and Anfernee Simons out there. I’m not sure who is supposed to score in that lineup, but the Clippers predictably had little issue completely shutting them down to begin the second. That prompted Terry Stotts to bring CJ McCollum into the game after Portland mustered 2 points in the first 3 minutes of the frame.

The Clippers also induced Portland into going over the foul limit before 4 minutes of the second had elapsed. They didn’t really take advantage, though. Leonard looked a bit sluggish during his stint in the second. Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell did their usual damage, but they weren’t getting much help.

Fortunately, the Clips’ defense showed up. Portland was held to just 32% shooting in the first half, and they were a late individual spurt from Damian Lillard from potentially getting run off the floor. Portland shot the 3-ball poorly in the half (6-19), but volume kept them in the game. LAC was just 1-11 from downtown in the first 24 minutes. Landry Shamet didn’t even attempt a shot in 13 first half minutes.

Second Half

The flatness that plagued the Clippers in the second quarter didn’t evaporate at halftime. The Blazers, who spent most of the first half sleepwalking, came out with a lot more energy after intermission. CJ McCollum and Hassan Whiteside were particularly spry. Whiteside chimed in with 5 points and 7 rebounds in the first 5 minutes of the third, while McCollum poured in 12 of Portland’s first 21 points in the period.

The Blazers had more points in the first 7 minutes of the third quarter than they mustered in either of the first two frames. The Clippers were able to mask their struggles on offense by playing great defense in the first half, but the tide turned completely after the half. Kawhi played the first 4 minutes of the third and wound up sitting for the duration of the quarter. The Clippers’ defense was completely non-existent as they wound up getting outscored 36-23.

The energy was much better when Leonard returned to begin the fourth, but Anfernee Simons also turned into Lillard once Dame went to the bench. Simons scored Portland’s first 12 points of the quarter, but he wasn’t getting much help. Leonard and Williams began to chip away at Portland’s modest 8-point lead. A steady dosage of pick-and-rolls involving Kawhi proved unstoppable for the Blazers down the stretch. Leonard, Lou and Montrezl Harrell gave the Clips all the offense they needed in the game’s latter stages. Williams effectively put the game on ice with a daggerous triple to put L.A. up 103-99 with just over 30 seconds to play.

This one started to look dicey for the Clippers once Portland surged in the third quarter, but Kawhi was fortunately able to restore order. The Clips ran the risk of letting Portland build too big a lead with Leonard on the bench, but Doc Rivers’ decision to save him for the entire fourth proved wise in the end. The Blazers had absolutely no answer for him, which is something we’ve already seen a handful of times through just 7 games in a Clipper uniform.

Next Up

The win moved LAC to 6-3 on the young season and 6-1 in games in which Kawhi plays. The victory was also the 900th of Doc Rivers’ coaching career, which is a nice way to cap the day after his postgame comments on Wednesday resulted in the league slapping the Clippers with a $50,000 fine.

Doc also seemed to ruffle some feathers by describing Lillard and McCollum as “two Lou Williams” before the game, as if having 2 players as awesome as Lou Williams is a bad thing.

The Clips will enjoy a few days off before welcoming Kawhi’s old friends, the Raptors, to town on Monday night. The team will then embark on a 2-game road trip to Houston and New Orleans that features a back-to-back next Wednesday and Thursday. Wednesday’s game in Texas is on ESPN, so we can look forward to hearing endless whining about load management if Kawhi happens to sit out again.

Oh, and Paul George is coming back soon. There’s also that. Beginning the season 6-3 with one of the 10 best players in the game watching from the sidelines is a pretty impressive accomplishment for the home side, to say the least.