The last time the Clippers played the Trail Blazers in December, they put up 76 points in the first half and cruised to a 23-point win. Tuesday’s game wasn’t as comfortable in spurts, but the Clippers still won going away, 133-116.
It looked like the matchup was trending in that same direction early, however. The home team made its first nine shots and set a season high with 47 first-quarter points while making 7-of-11 threes. Paul George was personally responsible for scoring 22 of those points, the most any Clipper has totaled since Blake Griffin in 2014.
The Clippers pushed their lead to 26 points in the second quarter thanks to a putback layup from DeMarcus Cousins, making his debut for the team.
DeMarcus Cousins scores his first basket with the Clippers.— Tomer Azarly (@TomerAzarly) April 7, 2021
Steve Ballmer is loving it. pic.twitter.com/sCBrWF7eUD
From there, the tenor of the game changed. The Clippers didn’t hit another three for the rest of the half while the Blazers hit five. Combined with 13 second-chance points and 21 free-throw attempts, and Portland was able to close the quarter on a 30-11 run to pull within seven.
What the Clippers did well in the first half was defend Damian Lillard. Lillard has his lowest scoring average against the Clippers, the only NBA team he scores less than 20 points against per game, and that continued early on. Lillard shot 1-of-7 from the field for seven total points in the first half as the Clippers blitzed him high, got the ball out of his hands, and generally frustrated his offensive effort.
LA regained control of the game to start the third, almost immediately extending the lead back to 14. The Blazers responded with a 12-0 spurt of their own, closing the gap to two points for the first time since the opening minutes. Reggie Jackson, the first sub off the bench with Patrick Beverley back in the starting lineup, calmly sank a 3-pointer and followed that up with two free throws to put the Clippers back up seven. The lead never got to one possession after that.
Jackson was tremendous for LA, putting up 23 points on 12 shot attempts. His best friend George was outstanding, leading all scorers with 36 while adding five assists and earning eight trip to the foul line.
• Powell misses the 3— Shane Young (@YoungNBA) April 7, 2021
• George pushes in transition, hits Batum in the corner
• George relocates, hops perfectly into a 3 of his own
PG now has 34 points on 11-of-17 shooting pic.twitter.com/WFSO63hBff
Beverley played four-minute stints in his return, looking as animated as ever. Cousins set some monster screens and looked comfortable on the offensive end while showing better than expected mobility on defense, even if the high screen-and-rolls gave him difficulty. And Kawhi Leonard somewhat quietly put up 29 points, 12 rebounds, and seven assists. It was Leonard’s 166th consecutive game scoring double figures, the second-longest active streak in the NBA.
More than anything, this game proved that the Blazers don’t have a way of guarding the Clippers. They can score with LA at times, but when the Clippers defend, Portland can’t keep up, and that proved true once again.