Redick jumper beats Blazers at the buzzer

(AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

(AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

Although the Blazers are in sunny Southern California, they’re probably feeling the old saying “when it rains, it pours.” The Portland Trail Blazers lost an ugly, but hard-fought game to the Los Angeles Clippers, 96-94, capped off by a JJ Redick buzzer-beating jumper. The Blazers led by as many as seven points in the final three minutes but the veteran Clippers stormed back to hold off the Blazers and hurting Portland’s slim chances of passing the Memphis Grizzlies for the 5th seed.

The Blazers shot the ball terribly and Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum didn’t shoot particularly well. Yet, the Blazers and their slashing, small ball attack kept the Blazers right with the Clippers, who were also playing on the second night of a back to back. Both teams looked like they had some dead legs and just before tip-off. ┬áBut just before tip-off, the Blazers announced some bad news.

Meyers Leonard is done for the season and will undergo season-ending shoulder surgery Friday in Los Angeles. But perhaps we should have known something was off when the team made big changes on Wednesday night, moving Moe Harkless into the starting line-up and going to a smallball look to start the game.

As I wrote in my gamer Wednesday, the Blazers have every reason to stick with the small line-up. It’s been their best combination of the four regular starters (Lillard, McCollum, Aminu, Plumlee) and one other player. The difference? It can mostly be reflected in their pace. That line-up turns the pace up to over 100 possessions per 48 minutes and you can see that with how they run the floor with that line-up. Harkless cutting and offensive rebounding has added another dimension. Harkless had 10 points, eight rebounds and finished with a team-best +/- of +15.

The Blazers were shooting below 40 percent for much of the half and were sloppy with the ball on the offensive end. They finished the game shooting 40 percent and 25 percent from 3. This allowed the Clippers to stay in the game and get the lead back with only a few minutes left in the third. The Blazers struggled to get going offensively and resorted to the Hack-A-Jordan against Clippers center DeAndre Jordan. The Clippers tried to do it to Plumlee but didn’t have enough fouls to send him to the line.

(AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

(AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

The Blazers didn’t look like they would fare any better early in the second half. The Clippers extended their lead, but only momentarily. In an ugly game, the Blazers were able to find a way to get the Clippers on their heels. Lillard attacked the rim and helped Portland get the Clippers into the penalty. Seconds later, Jordan picked up his fourth foul and had to be subbed out with over half the quarter left to go.

The Blazers had a golden opportunity with the Clippers’ game-changer on both ends. But thanks to the swashbuckling of Jamal Crawford, the Clippers turned a deficit into an advantage, leading by as many as six points after Jordan went to the bench. The Blazers were tied after three but it took a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Allen Crabbe to do it. Although the Redick shot was the game’s memorable play, this stretch was one where the Blazers blew a major opportunity.

Stotts went back to small ball, playing Harkless at power forward, which as we alluded to after last night, is a sign of things to come. It was a good look again and down the stretch it looked like the Blazers were kicking things into gear.

Their final offensive possession was a disaster and it was interesting that Mason Plumlee didn’t get the call to be in the game on that possession. It’s easy to second guess everything, but when Lillard didn’t get open, having Plumlee’s patience and skill as a playmaker would have been an asset when the play broke down. Ed Davis got the ball to Harkless, who attacked the rim but didn’t make the shot or draw a foul call.

Before that, Lillard and McCollum looked like they were going to do just enough to steal the Blazers a win and keep hope for No. 5 alive. Jamal Crawford hit big shots all night long and Redick pushed through a rough shooting night to come up big.

The Blazers did almost everything they needed to do on a bad shooting night to get what may have been their most impressive wins of the year. Instead they come back home with more pressure to take care of business in a four-game home stretch, which begins Saturday against Philadelphia.

Notes

  • It’s likely been by necessity but the Blazers move to start Harkless is still the biggest story from this game. Although they lost and they’re now without a game-changer in Leonard, this move is the type of thing that could swing a playoff series. Even in a match-up against the Thunder, their chances are slim no matter who they start. But creating a little more havoc by increasing the pace and making teams guard Lillard and McCollum at hyper speed presents another challenge.
  • I really hope these two teams don’t play in the playoffs. The amount of fouls on both sides made it hard to watch. Obviously strategy played major part in that but they also clearly don’t like each other.
  • McCollum appeared to talk some trash to Doc Rivers and Austin Rivers a couple of times throughout the game. In case you missed it, he had some choice words for the father-son duo, as reported by Joe Freeman of The Oregonian.
  • I said this on twitter but now that Leonard is injured, it makes the minutes that Vonleh got as a member of the starting line-up even more important. Against a lot of teams, especially an Oklahoma City, Chris Kaman would have a tough time keeping up. The Blazers need Vonleh and now that they do, he is getting on the court after a season gaining experience. He only played 10 minutes but was active on the glass alongside Ed Davis. Also, Brian Roberts got some run once again. Without Leonard, they’re going to need a little extra offense, which Roberts can provide.
Erik Gundersen

Erik Gundersen

Erik Gundersen is the Trail Blazers beat reporter for The Columbian. He's a graduate of the Allen School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon in addition earning a degree in Spanish. He's covered the NBA for four seasons. You can also occasionally find his work on ESPN.com's NBA section for their TrueCities series. He also fist-bumped with Kanye West once. Follow @BlazerBanter on twitter for more Blazers and NBA news.

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