The Trail Blazers losing streak extended to three games after a 107-101 loss to the Clippers on Thursday. Portland overcame a slow start on offense to control the lead for an extended portion of the second half. Due to a rally from Lou Williams and Kawhi Leonard in the fourth quarter, that advantage would not hold. Outside of a forgettable first half and a rough final three minutes, the Blazers showed signs of improvement.
A loss is never ideal, but Anfernee Simons and Hassan Whiteside provided valuable contributions in the second half. In order for Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum to succeed, those efforts will need to become the standard for the injury-depleted Blazers.
Before the Nets visit Portland, here is a look back at the result from Los Angeles.
The action opened with the Clippers pushing the pace on offense, a departure from their early-season form. Utilizing Patrick Beverley and Kawhi Leonard’s downhill movements, LA created open looks. When those shots didn’t fall, the Clippers feasted on offensive boards generated by the forced rotations of the Blazers’ interior defenders. Coach Doc Rivers’ squad finished the opening frame with seven offensive rebounds, a five-board advantage in that column.
Offensively, CJ McCollum connected on just one of his first five attempts. Lillard stabilized the Blazers scoring with seven points and Kent Bazemore kept pace with Lou Williams once the second units hit the court. The Clippers finished the first quarter with a 26-22 lead.
The first quarter’s modest shooting performance reached a new degree of cold in the second quarter. Single-pass possessions for the Blazers led to contested looks from all three levels, lowering their field goal percentage to a paltry 32 percent at halftime. Portland’s shooting struggles were compounded by Ivica Zubac’s domination of Whiteside in the post. The Clippers big fella easily secured rebounds, put together post moves and stuffed his counterpart’s attempts on the opposite end.
Struggles aside, there was a pair of positives for the Blazers in the second period: Mario Hezonja’s defense against Leonard and Lillard’s one-man offensive effort to keep Portland within striking distance. The Clippers headed to the locker room with a 47-40 lead.
The Blazers emerged from halftime with a completely different energy. Thwarted by a suddenly mobile Whiteside, the Clippers’ advantage on the glass suddenly vanished. That enthusiasm carried over to the offensive end, where the former HEAT big man started to roll to the basket off screens, creating scoring chances at the rim. Lillard and McCollum added to Whiteside’s efforts with crafty moves off the dribble. Both guards took turns torching their respective defenders with carefully timed attempts from inside the arc.
The Blazers finished the third quarter with a 76-70 lead.
Following Whiteside’s bounce-back effort in the third quarter, Simons took his turn in the spotlight. Simons established control early, exploding for all 12 of the Blazers’ points in the first six minutes of the fourth quarter. Buoyed by his outside shooting, Simons opened up lanes and controlled the pace with his outside shooting.
Portland’s lead began its disappearing act when a three-headed attack from LA materialized. Montrezl Harrell helped the Clippers re-establish their rebounding dominance, Williams provided timely scoring, and Leonard imposed his will to the tune of an 18-point fourth quarter. Leonard’s late-game arrival softened the Blazers lead, but it was Williams crushing three-point shot with 32.5 seconds remaining that extended the Clippers lead to 103-99. Portland never recovered, surrendering the victory after a prolonged free throw exhibition in the final moments.
Aided by a scathing halftime analysis from the TNT crew, Whiteside’s effort was heavily scrutinized. He was absolutely torched in the first half on both ends of the court. Whiteside was routinely caught out of position when hunting for blocks instead of rebounds and he was a step late to box out his opponent when attempts came from beyond the arc. Offensively, he was stagnate off screens, often staying in place instead of moving toward the basket. When he did catch the ball, he too often settled for shooting over smaller defenders instead of powering to the rim.
The third quarter brought a slight reprieve. Whiteside moved his feet on offense and he managed to play Zubac off the court down the stretch. Until an even effort is put forth, Whiteside’s critics will have plenty of ammunition.
Whiteside finished with 17 points and 19 rebounds (nine offensive) in 27 minutes of action.
Present vs Future
The battle between the backup guards served as an excellent subplot to Thursday’s contest. Both Simons and Williams took turns dominating the action at certain points. Williams proved he can easily generate something out of nothing. Even more impressive than that, he somehow maintains chemistry with his teammates regardless of the personnel on the floor. Simons displayed the early framework of the same archetype. Due to his ability to space the floor and beat opponents with his speed, Simons has become a key ingredient to the second unit and crunch-time lineups.
Williams finished with 26 points, Simons kept pace with 17 of his own.
Lillard finished with 22 points and six assists. His best work came against second-year wing Landry Shamet. The former Wichita State guard struggled to find an answer to the riddle that Lillard presented.
McCollum’s quiet start was rescued by a 14-point performance in the second half. Like Lillard, McCollum finished with 22 points. The former Lehigh standout continued to struggle from beyond the arc. During Portland’s current three-game losing streak, McCollum has gone 3-16 from distance.
The Blazers return to Portland to face the the Nets on Friday.