Shorthanded Blazers Play Hard But Come Up Short Versus Clippers

by Casey Holdahl
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PORTLAND -- The Trail Blazers might not have come away with a win Monday night, but at least they didn’t leave the game embarrassed.

After losing their last two games by 31 and 28 points, respectively, the Trail Blazers played the LA Clippers tough all night before eventually falling 102-90 in front of a crowd of 15,865 Monday night at Moda Center.

“These dudes played hard,” said Trail Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups. “And that’s what it’s all about. You play hard and see what happens. I say this all the time: Every team that plays hard no matter what, you give yourselves a chance. And we did that tonight. As shorthanded as we were, we had opportunities to win that game. That’s all you ever want.”

The Trail Blazers are now 11-14 overall and 10-4 at home this season. Portland has now lost three-straight and six of their last seven. And with the loss, the Blazers have dropped the season series 3-1 to the Clippers.

On paper, there wasn’t much reason to expect a performance much different than what Portland offered up in blowout losses to the Spurs and Celtics over the last week with CJ McCollum (rib contusion) joining Damian Lillard (abdominal tendinopathy), Nassir Little (left ankle sprain) and Anfernee Simons (right ankle sprain) on the inactive list for Monday night’s contest.

But games aren’t played on paper, and while the Trail Blazers were certainly facing a talent deficit versus a Clippers team featuring the likes of Paul George, Reggie Jackson and Ivica Zubac, NBA players tend to relish the chance to expand their roles when given the opportunity.

And that’s what most of the Blazers in uniform did Monday night.

Jusuf Nurkic had on of his best games of the season, scoring almost at will versus whoever the Clippers threw at him while limiting LA’s center rotation to 10 points and six rebounds.

“I was happy for Nurk, he had a huge night,” said Billups. “There was no answer for him, there was nothing that (Zubac) could do. I found myself just trying to give him plays off and not run every single play for him just to wear him out and get him tired. He was really good.”

Norman Powell, who usually starts in a three-guard lineup along with Lillard and McCollum, had the freedom to take all the shots he could handle, eventually finishing the game with a season-high in scoring while playing all but four minutes of the game.

And Dennis Smith Jr., who had to beat out multiple players in training camp in order to earn a contract this season, got his second-straight start and once again shot better than 50 percent from the field and finished with a game-high in assists while playing over 38 minutes.

But a valiant effort can only take a team so far. Portland would go into the fourth trailing by just three points, but after 11 lead changes and eight ties in the first 36 minutes, the loss of four rotation players was especially noticeable in the fourth. The Blazers never lost contact, but they also never managed to get the lead in the fourth, and were eventually legged out in the final few minutes to come away with another home shorthanded home loss.

“I loved the way we competed, I loved the way we were playing for each other, I loved the way we were talking,” said Powell. “That’s how we’ve got to play. I’m not happy that we lost, obviously, but losing like that, especially being down some bodies, the way we fought, the way we sustained some runs that they put on and made some runs of our own, taking the lead, back and forth action like that, it was good basketball. Couple mistakes we made down the stretch, if we tighten that up, we right there. But I like the way we competed. I think we all need to look at this game and learn from it and carry that over.”

STATISTICS

Jusuf Nurkic came within two points of his career-high with 31 points on 12-of-19 shooting while also adding five rebounds and a block in 30 minutes.

Norman Powell went 10-fo-24 for 29 points and also grabbed five rebounds in nearly 44 minutes. Dennis Smith Jr. went 6-of-11 for 13 points, seven assists, six rebounds, a steal and a block in 38 minutes.

Robert Covington went just 1-of-8 but grabbed 10 rebounds in 30 minutes. Tony Snell, Cody Zeller and Larry Nance Jr. all finished with four points, though all did the lion’s share of their work on the defensive end.

Paul George had 21 points on 9-of-18 shooting for the Clippers. Marcus Morris Sr. finished with 17 and Reggie Jackson and Luke Kennard combined for 31.

HIGHLIGHTS

NOTABLE

• The Trail Blazers outrebounded the Clippers, 45-37, and outscored them in the paint, 52-42.

• Portland scored 21 points off of 13 Clippers turnovers while the Clippers forced 18 Trail Blazers turnovers, leading to 19 points.

• The Clippers won the season series against the Trail Blazers in 2021-22, 3-1.

• Portland made 15-of-20 free throw attempts (75.0%) while the Clippers shot 9-of-14 from the line (64.3%).

QUOTABLE

“If we had gotten a couple of those shots to fall down the stretch, it could have been a different story.” -- Chauncey Billups

NEXT UP

Now that a four-game homestand is finished, the Trail Blazers hit the road for a quick trip back to the bay area to face the Warriors on Wednesday before returning home for another four-game homestand. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

NEXT UP:

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