The LA Clippers sailed through their first back-to-back of the 2020-21 NBA season with no issues, leading almost wire-to-wire as they beat the Portland Trail Blazers 128-105 Wednesday at Staples Center.
Fresh off a rout Tuesday over the Minnesota Timberwolves at home, the Clippers took the upper hand against Portland from the midpoint of the 1st quarter and never looked back, as the team continues to find traction as a group in the new season.
Kawhi Leonard returned to the lineup after missing two games while recovering from the mouth laceration that required stitches on Christmas day. Leonard wore a protective mask on the night, which was an obvious focal point.
i cannot get over kawhis face mask mostly not covering his face lol pic.twitter.com/39MlrqoDoU— whitney medworth (@its_whitney) December 31, 2020
Nicolas Batum was hot in the opening minutes for LA, draining two 3-pointers and scoring eight points in the first five minutes. Serge Ibaka himself hit two 3-pointers, and the Clippers led 18-11 at the first timeout of the night. They extended their lead and closed out the 1st quarter with a 37-26 edge on the Blazers.
The Clippers maintained their lead in the 2nd quarter, and a 3-pointer by Patrick Beverley that had a fortunate bounce off the backboard that made it 61-46 led to Portland head coach Terry Stotts having a mini-fit on the sideline as his team couldn’t keep up defensively. LA closed out the 1st half leading 76-57, with Lou Williams and Paul George each leading the Clippers in scoring with 13 points apiece.
The Clippers continued to pour it on in the 3rd quarter, with Ty Lue playing his top core throughout to give them minutes. At the end of three quarters, LA led 107-85, with Leonard in particular heating up after halftime, posting 28 points, all through three quarters. It was a promising turn of events, after Leonard seemed to struggle in the 1st quarter as he adjusted to playing with a mask on. He acknowledged he needed to adjust to the mask in the postgame interview on the Prime Ticket broadcast.
George finished the night with a double-double, scoring 23 points and 10 rebounds, while also chipping in with seven assists. The Clippers shot a tick under 50 percent overall, and a blistering 47.4 percent from 3-point range, so they were hot in this one.
Unlike some other games we’ve seen and will see, both teams kept their key players involved in the game far longer than they needed to with the outcome of the game decided early. But with the short preseason and teams looking for a rhythm, I think both teams were looking to get their players real minutes and stay engaged with the game as long as they could before clearing the bench late, which they did in the final half of the 4th quarter.
The Clippers will be back in action on New Year’s Day against the Utah Jazz in Utah. The Jazz are off to a 2-1 start to their season.