The LA Clippers had no need to win against the Portland Trail Blazers, their postseason seeding essentially set while the Blazers are fighting for their playoff lives. The pregame announcement that Kawhi Leonard would be sitting out (remember that the Clippers have a back-to-back tomorrow against Brooklyn) was a further indicator that the Clippers would not be putting their best foot forward.
But in the absence of one their stars, and a relatively light night for the other as Paul George only played 28 minutes, the Clippers’ effort did not falter. The second unit outplayed the Blazers down the stretch, and Rodney McGruder — who was shooting 27.2% on 3-pointers this season — hit the game-winning three to seal a 122-117 victory.
The Clippers stayed in the game throughout the entire fourth quarter, despite closing with a little-used lineup of Terance Mann, Landry Shamet, McGruder, Patrick Patterson, and JaMychal Green. They had minutes targets for their starters on the back-to-back, and the backups seized their opportunity down the stretch.
When asked how the Clippers won the game, Doc Rivers said, “That I don’t know, but our young guys made shots and got stops.”
LA took its first lead of the second half at 99-98 and played back-and-forth with Portland for most of the fourth quarter. They took the lead for good on McGruder’s jumper and then were unexpectedly lucky when Dame Lillard missed two free throws on the other end with 18.6 seconds left. Green hit both of his free throws on the intentional foul, and the Clippers were in the clear.
Green was tremendous, scoring 13 points, including three made 3-pointers, and adding eight rebounds. His ability to pop out as the backup center, especially in lineups with Patterson as another shooting threat, were difficult for the Blazers to contain.
Shamet had his best game of the restart, though it didn’t seem that way early on. He began the game slow, despite earning his second consecutive start with Leonard and Patrick Beverley out. He seemed a little rushed on his 3-pointers and wasn’t impactful on defense.
However, that all changed in the second half. Doc Rivers challenged Shamet at halftime and then ran a designed play to start the third quarter to get his sharpshooter an open corner three. Shamet canned it, and the Clippers ran the same action the next time down. Even though Shamet missed that look, his confidence had clearly perked up.
A highlight of Shamet’s game was a dunk to tie the game at 85 in third quarter on a possession when the Clippers got multiple offensive rebounds. LA had been playing catchup throughout the entire game until that point, and the momentum swing was palpable.
The loss was a bit of a disaster for the Blazers, who surely expected to earn a win against a shorthanded Clippers team as they continue to fight for the eighth seed. After the game, Rivers maintained that he had no interest in manipulating potential playoff seeding.
“I heard our guys talking about it, that’s their business,” Rivers said. “Our business is winning the game.”
And the Clippers handled their business.