Felton, Griffin Return To Action To Help Clippers Edge Blazers
LOS ANGELES – Raymond Felton boarded a cross-country flight Monday back to Los Angeles, the day of the Clippers’ matchup against the Trail Blazers after an emotional weekend.
In head coach Doc Rivers’ mind, Felton’s presence turned out to be the difference in the game.
“His ball pressure, even before the ball got across half court, was absolutely wonderful for us,” Rivers said. “It’s why we won.”
Blake Griffin returned from a one-game absence with a sore right knee and added a team-high 26 points and 12 rebounds and six assists, while Felton returned from his hometown South Carolina after a two-game absence following a death in the family, then hounded the Portland backcourt every chance he got.
“I worked out every day I could while I was there in the morning before I went to go be with my family,” Felton said. “I was winded, but it was good to be out there, get my mind off things a little bit.”
There was no easing in for Felton, who played at least 24 minutes for just the third time this season. Rivers knew they’d need Felton for this matchup against Portland’s versatile guards, particularly with Austin Rivers (concussion) out.
And Felton delivered, staying in the air space of any Trail Blazers player who had the ball the second that player touched it.
“I love to play defense, and with this team, that’s what I have to do every night,” Felton said. “I don’t need to worry about trying to come in and score. We’ve got scorers from all angles.”
Beyond his 4-for-8 shooting, it was his work on the defensive end that allowed him to stay on the court in the final minutes. That was much appreciated by Chris Paul, who called Felton’s performance “amazing.”
The two point guards played off each other, and Felton’s work defensively allowed Paul to save some of his energy while the two were on the floor together in the final crucial minutes.
“Doc was trying to figure out who to go back with, and I was like, ‘Stay with Ray,’” Paul said. “Ray creates shots for everybody, and defensively it gave me an opportunity to stay on (Maurice) Harkless and not do as much running around, so I appreciate Ray like crazy.”
If not for Felton’s defense on the Portland backcourt with 20 seconds left and the Clippers nursing a three-point lead, maybe Damian Lillard hits the go-ahead shot. Instead, Lillard drove.
And if not for Felton’s defense, maybe Paul doesn’t have the energy to soar over everyone to grab the rebound off that miss and head to the line to hold off Portland.
“I was yelling at Ray to stay up, don’t let (Lillard) shoot the 3,” Paul said. “Then when he drove, Ray played great defense. I saw he missed and was like, ‘Might as well get the rebound.’”
The Clippers had to fight for everything to hold off Portland, sometimes literally. In the fourth quarter alone, Evan Turner and DeAndre Jordan were ejected in the final seconds, Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts and center Mason Plumlee were handed technicals, Paul was given a flagrant and both DeAndre Jordan and Evan Turner were ejected.
Griffin’s face after the game, with stitches in his upper lip and a cut under his right eye, said it all.
“It was pretty physical,” Griffin said. “We were trying to attack, trying to be physical. Not a lot of fouls (called) either way, really. I thought we did a good job early of being the aggressor, being the instigator, then somewhere we lost it. But down the stretch, guys made big plays.”
It helped having Felton and Griffin, who was able to return from his knee pain.
“When it’s ever the knee areas or the ankle areas, you’re always more cautious,” Doc Rivers said.
Felton said his job is made easier late in games when he gets to play with Paul, because he can focus on making things as difficult as possible for his opponent while leaving the heavy lifting to the Clippers’ stars.
He may need to do that again on this upcoming trip if Austin Rivers can’t play.
“He’s doing better,” Doc said of Austin. “He will go on the trip, he passed two tests today that will at least allow him to travel. As far as playing, we don’t know yet. He still has several tests. Once you get put in the protocol, you have a lot of steps to take. So, he has more steps to take.”