Monday’s game began on the strangest note: the game clock and shot clock didn’t start when the ball tipped, and the first eight points of the game were all scored on post-ups, a statistical oddity among two teams who don’t get to the rim much at all.
That beginning portended more unexpected happenings throughout the evening, chief among them a Trail Blazers team missing Dame Lillard and CJ McCollum keeping pace with the Clippers. But the Clippers had just enough down the stretch, using a five-point possession and some tough shots from Paul George to create separation, and the road team escaped with a 102-90 win. With the victory, the Clippers win the season series 3-1.
Portland made things mored difficult than would have been expected, even taking a one-point lead into halftime. Jusuf Nurkić and Cody Zeller made a series of weird finishes — some might call them lucky — in the paint. Norman Powell led all scorers with 18 points in the half, seamlessly stepping into the role of no. 1 option.
Ivica Zubac, normally a force to be reckoned with inside, was instead soundly outplayed by Nurkić. The Bosnian center had his way with his Croatian counterpart, bullying through him in the post, finessing Zubac with his footwork, and even flashing a triple. Nurkić averages 12.7 points per game and had surpassed that one-third of the way through the game. He finished with 31 points to lead all scorers.
The Clippers rotation also featured question marks. Serge Ibaka was replaced in the starting lineup by Luke Kennard, a logical decision considering how small this Portland roster is, but then Ibaka didn’t get into the game in the first 24 minutes, despite Isaiah Hartenstein picking up three quick fouls. The first player off the bench was Brandon Boston Jr., surpassing occasional spot starter Amir Coffey and even Terance Mann. Ty Lue’s faith in the rookie was rewarded, as Boston splashed two quick triples upon entering the game, but it was a curious decision nonetheless.
One thing that wasn’t a surprise? The Clippers offense completely falling off despite facing the worst defense in the league. Kennard had 13 first-half points and did well to create for himself, but he wasn’t generating offense for others. That was a team-wide theme, as the Clippers had eight assists on their first 18 field goals. They took three shots at the baskets out of 43 field-goal attempts in the first half and even threw in a patented four-plus minute scoring drought in the second quarter to really make fans want to pull their hair out.
The Clippers started to do a better job of getting the Blazers defense in rotation in the third quarter. An early pick-and-roll got two defenders on the ball and led to a dunk. Marcus Morris Sr., who looked frisky throughout and even took a charge early, hit two quick catch-and-shoot threes, forcing a quick timeout from Portland.
Ultimately, it was the team’s trusted defense that carried the day. Nurkić may have had his way, but the rest of the Blazers shot under 40 percent from the field. The Clippers didn’t shoot much better, but they got 13 more shot attempts and made them count.