Rowan Kavner Digital Content Coordinator
PORTLAND – Head coach Doc Rivers thought the Trail Blazers were a step faster, a step stronger and, when it mattered most, a step ahead of the Clippers in the final minutes Saturday night.
That was unlike a Clippers team that rarely had trouble finishing games throughout the year, but as the Clippers nursed a slim lead after playing from behind the majority of the night, a Trail Blazers team playing at home for the first time this series had more juice at the end in a 96-88 loss.
In short, Rivers and many of the Clippers players felt they didn’t match the intensity or physicality of their competitors, who were playing in front of their predictably animated crowd in Portland for the first time while fighting to get back in the series after going down, 2-0.
Chris Paul finished with 26 points and nine assists and Jamal Crawford added 19 points off the bench, but no other Clippers player scored more than 12 points on a group that seemed out of sorts offensively, kicking, passing and losing the ball out of bounds in uncharacteristic ways at different points of the night.
“Our execution was bad tonight,” Rivers said. “We’re really good down the stretch, and tonight we made some really interesting plays.”
"Interesting" was a euphemism, on a night little went right offensively, shooting just 40.9 percent from the floor.
For the Clippers to stick around, it would have to be defensively, and they were up to the challenge most of the night holding Portland to 42.5 percent from the floor, allowing the Clippers to get within three points after three quarters and stay in striking distance until the final seconds, even taking the lead late despite Portland’s dynamic backcourt getting going for the first time this series.
Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum combined for 33 points in the first half – more than the Clippers’ starters had at the time combined – and finished with 59 points on the night, yet there the Clippers were with a four-point lead as the clock ticked under the four-minute mark in the fourth quarter.
That’s when things went downhill.
McCollum answered with a 3-pointer, and the defense the Clippers had kept it close with began to give up good looks, while the offense continued to struggle with missed shots, missed free throws and turnovers down the stretch.
When the Clippers did get a stop – as they did down three points with a minute left – too often another Portland player was there to provide another opportunity, which Maurice Harkless did putting Portland up five points with an offensive rebound and dunk to put the Clippers away.
Every Portland starter finished with at least two offensive rebounds, while the Clippers were stuck on 85 points for more than two and a half minutes at the end of the night as the Blazers finished on a 15-3 run. Ultimately, they watched the chance for a 3-0 lead slip out of their grasp as they now try to get their offense back on track and prevent Portland from tying the series Monday night.
Key Moment: The Clippers took an 85-81 lead with a Crawford and-one with 3:51 left, when McCollum answered with a 3-pointer. After missed shots, missed free throws and turnovers, the Blazers had the lead fewer than two minutes later.
Clippers Star: Chris Paul – He led the Clippers in almost every category, including points, field goals, 3-point field goals, assists and steals, but he needed more help offensively the way Portland’s backcourt was rolling.
Trail Blazers Star: C.J. McCollum – He was presented with the NBA’s Most Improved Award before the game, and he probably could’ve won it within the series as well based on his bounce back performance. McCollum shot worse than 36 percent each of his first two games in the series, then scored 27 points on 11-for-22 shooting in Game 3, including some clutch shots late.
X-Factor: Portland’s “other starters” – So much is made of Lillard and McCollum in this series, and understandably so, particularly Saturday night. But the Trail Blazers’ other contributors still made a major impact, with Mason Plumlee pulling down 21 rebounds and dishing out nine assists, while Maurice Harkless had five of Portland’s 16 offensive boards.
What’s Next? The Clippers play Monday night in Portland, leading the series, 2-1
Quotes of the Day:
Doc Rivers – “I thought they were way more physical than us, thought their ball pressure got to us, they sped us up. I didn’t think we handled it very well, but I thought they had a great defensive plan. I just thought they were the more physical, tougher team tonight, for sure.”
J.J. Redick – “We really don’t want to go into these long playoff series. Anything can happen, as it showed last year against Houston. When you have a team down, and we had a four-point lead against a team we had 2-0, we had a great opportunity to go up 3-0. On Monday we’ll have an opportunity to go up 3-1.”
Chris Paul – “We have to get off to a better start. They got going early and Dame had 11-12 in the first quarter with pull-ups and getting to the line, and we’ve got to be better on them. At one point in the first half they had two guys that had 33 of their 49 points.”