Road Takes: Clippers D, poor shot selection hurts Blazers late in final game before break
Another game that had fans hearts racing. Another game that came down to the final moments. Another game that the Trail Blazers had in their grasp and saw slip away.
The Portland Trail Blazers made their money, their early surge to the top of the Western Conference and caught the attention of the basketball fans by winning these types of games.
Now, they are losing them. Every game a little different than the other. They go into overtime against the Pacers because of their inability to end defensive possessions on the first shot. They lost to the Thunder because Damian Lillard had three three-pointers go in and out in the fourth quarter and LaMarcus Aldridge missed an open midrange jumper to win the game.
Tonight, it was their inability to get quality looks in the final few minutes and their inability to play defense for any of the game that cost them.
The Blazers were in a shootout from the outset at Staples Center with both teams running at high gear. There have been many times this season where the Blazers have been in high scoring games but have been able to get key stops late in games. Tonight, it was the Clippers that showed they have another gear defensively.
When the Blazers were able to get stops, the Clippers completely shut them down on the other end. In the final four minutes of the game nearly everything the Blazers attempted was with a Clipper right in there face. However, things got really bad in the final three minutes.
After Damian Lillard hit a pair of free-throws, the Blazers only scored two more points in the final 3:16, which came off an offensive rebound by LaMarcus Aldridge with nobody around him.
The Clippers deserve credit for not giving the Blazers room to breathe and it appeared that the Blazers were trying to will the ball into the basket as opposed to making it look natural with good ball movement. The Blazers offense looked like the Blazers offense of November and December in the first three and a half quarters.
The Blazers were noticeably gassed during last night’s loss to the Thunder and last night’s game likely caught up with them. But, everybody is gassed at this point in the season in the NBA.
Each night it appears it’s a different combination of factors that hurt the Blazers lately. The defense has been the one that has caused the most problems but whether it’s shots not falling that have been there consistently all year, not getting a rebound or the offense being stagnant, it’s always been something different.
Losers of eight of their last 13 it’s clear what the Blazers is a break. That goes double for LaMarcus Aldridge who is nursing a groin injury and is the NBA leader in field goal attempts. They stagger into the All-Star break 5th in the standings in the Western Conference.
- They are 5.5 games behind the Thunder who are in first place and are 4.5 games ahead of the 6th seed Mavericks who just beat the Pacers in Indiana tonight. Because the Clippers are division leaders, they are guaranteed a top-four seed and that is why they are ahead of the Blazers despite a lower winning percentage. The Rockets, who have the same winning percentage as the Blazers, are ahead of Portland because they lead the season series 2-1. The Rockets are ahead of the Clippers because of their superior winning percentage. I think that makes sense.
- The loss overshadowed the third straight solid performance by rookie guard CJ McCollum who looks more like a seasoned vet by the game. His patience off the dribble, shooting ability and ability to change speeds has been very effective. Tonight he scored 11 points off the bench. He’s scored in double-figures in the last three games and scored nine points and didn’t miss a field goal attempt against Indiana the game before these last three.
- Meyers Leonard also did a lot of positive things on the night. He scored 8 points, had four rebounds and a block shots. He also caught an elbow below the eye from Blake Griffin. Either way, Leonard had a productive outing and it shouldn’t go unnoticed.
- Dorell Wright also gave the Blazers some pretty good minutes. At least against the Clippers, it appears that Stotts will look to go with more small line-ups alongside Robin Lopez rather than increase the minutes of the Thomas Robinson-Meyers Leonard tandem. Wright had five points and three assists in nearly 13 minutes and the spacing those small-lineups can provide some juicy driving angles for Portland’s playmakers.