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Tired Clippers Slip in 4th Quarter, Fall to Blazers 125-104

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The Clippers looked like a team without one of their best players on the 2nd night of a back to back, falling to the Blazers 125-104.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Los Angeles Clippers Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Summary:

The Clippers’ started off as poorly as possible, as Dame hit a three, JaMychal Green turned the ball over on an ill-advised post-up, and CJ McCollum got a wide open jumper (which he missed). Doc quickly called time, 49 seconds into the game, and the Clippers shaped up. Shai responded with a series of buckets and some great defense on Dame, while Zu manned the interior. The Clippers slowly worked out a lead of seven after Shamet and Green hit threes. The bench was able to maintain this edge, and the quarter ended with the Clips up 30-23.

The second quarter started inauspiciously as well, but the Clippers never really got better. Lou missed a handful of looks, bothered by the length of Evan Turner. Meanwhile, Enes Kanter relentlessly bullied Montrezl Harrell, grabbing offensive rebounds over him, scoring on him in the post, and stonewalling him on the other end. Wilson Chandler hit a couple threes to keep the Clippers ahead, and Trez made one at the end of the shot clock, but the Clippers generally looked out of sorts on both ends. The defense picked up when the starters came back, though the offense did not, and the Blazers slowly chipped away at the lead. A bad ending to the half (silly double on Lillard leading to a CJ three, and Zubac blowing an easy layup at the other end) saw the Clippers lead cut to two, 52-50.

Unfortunately, the third quarter went much the same way third quarters have gone all season for the Clippers. A couple early threes by Shamet kept the Clippers afloat, but their offense was mostly stagnant, with nobody able to get open or create looks besides Shai. Zu was able to pull in a bunch of offensive rebounds, but could not convert them, whereas Jusuf Nurkic finished his on the other end. The Blazers got a seven point lead of their own before the Clippers’ bench led a spirited charge to cut the lead to one, with Trez in particular displaying exceptional energy and activity.

The 4th quarter started much the same the third ended. The Clippers played with heart and hustle, but could not gain the lead due to missed free throws and blown layups. The Blazers continued to get offensive rebounds on the other end, and their lead slowly expanded. The game really changed when CJ McCollum hit a couple shots in a row. He started really feeling it, and took shots seemingly every time down the court – but the Clippers couldn’t stop him. The Clippers offense failed to get going, and the game quickly became a rout, with the Blazers running away with it in garbage time, 125-104.

Notes:

  • Schedule loss: While I wrote in the preview that the Clippers matched up decently with the Blazers, a lot of that was predicated on Danilo Gallinari. With Gallo out, and the Clippers on the second night of a back to back, this was a perfectly acceptable loss. The Blazers are good, and were the better, fresher team tonight. The Clippers need Gallo to be a dangerous team on a game-to-game basis, and tonight really revealed that, especially in the 2nd half.
  • Zubac needs to get stronger: Ivica Zubac has been a boon for the Clippers since coming over at the trade deadline. He’s been an upgrade over Marcin Gortat in almost every facet of the game. Tonight revealed some of his bonafide strengths: he accumulated 15 rebounds in just 22 minutes, with 9 of them being offensive. He was also a nice deterrent around the rim on defense due to his size. However, Jusuf Nurkic was able to overpower him repeatedly to get offensive rebounds of his own. More glaringly, Zubac shot just 4-16 from the field, a horrid number for a big man who’s almost entirely in the paint on offense. He failed to go up strong on several occasions, missing little chip shots and layups because of it. And while he made one midrange jumper, he bricked a couple others, and is clearly not comfortable from out there. As he gets stronger, he should become a better finisher in the post as well as a tougher defensive rebounder.
  • Wilson Chandler gets real minutes: While Wilson Chandler made his Clippers debut last night against the Celtics, he only played in the 4th quarter of what became a massive blowout. Tonight, he played 19 minutes due to Gallo’s absence, and was a mixed bag. He drained a couple threes in the 1st half, which was great to see – if called upon, the Clippers need that reserve four to space the floor. The rest of his game was less pretty. His attempts to create shots off the dribble were easily thwarted by Blazers’ defenders, with his lone non-three attempt being a horrible midrange shot in isolation. He was ok on the glass with five boards, but seemed a step slow on defense, and was on the court for a lot of the Blazers’ offensive rebounds > open threes possessions. It makes sense that he’s slow due to weeks off the court, but I still don’t see where he fits in a healthy Clippers’ rotation. Green is better than him, and he’s too slow to guard small forwards. Hopefully Doc can get him some minutes to round into shape, but I’m not optimistic he will see real minutes in significant games.
  • Road ahead: The Clippers now have a couple days off at home before their next game on Friday against the Bulls. After that, they finish their extended home stand with games against the Nets on Sunday, and Pacers on Tuesday. All three are winnable games, though none of those teams are easy outs (the Bulls post-trade deadline have been tough, if still mediocre at best). If the Clippers go even 2-1 during those games, a playoff berth should be pretty much assured.