If revenge is a dish best served cold, the Moda Center air conditioner must have been put on “Antarctic” tonight when the Damian Lillard and Portland Trail Blazers cut Paul George and the Los Angeles Clippers apart 111-92. The win was, at least in part, a 30-point squashing that the Blazers took in LA earlier this week.
If you missed the festivities, you can find a quarter-by-quarter summary of the game from Marlow Ferguson right here. Once you are done with that, here is your in-depth analysis.
The Blazers defended themselves incredibly well inside most of the evening. They converted LA’s penetration passports into revenue. They swarmed the ball every time Clips came inside, but still managed to get across the field to prevent the short dish-and-dunk or offensive rebound. This was as coordinated and energetic of an effort as we have seen. Clippers guard Eric Bledsoe, who normally scores 92,000 points inside the arc, was a serious victim. He tried only 6 shots, hit 1 and made 3 turnovers. Take a few nunchucks, remove one of the handles, and then replace it with a Christmas wrapping tube. You get an idea of the effect on the Clippers’ attack.
Three and easy
The Clippers countered Portland’s inner defense by going deep. They found extreme success at the three-point arc early, but eventually cooled off. Portland made a credible effort to shut out. At least they never gave up. They still need to solve the problem of having to choose between good defense in the paint and good defense on the outside edge, but right now they will probably have to settle for a good defense somewhere at least. They had it tonight.
Panic shots in the fourth quarter lowered LA’s three-point percentage to 35.7% for the game, but they started by making 7 threes in the first period alone. For a while, it looked scary.
One place the Blazers simply could not defend was where Paul George happened to be standing. His combination of height and talent was simply too much for them. As he dived inside or shot over Portland’s common heads, George looked quite comfortable all night. The Blazers are hardly the only team he makes it against, but the frequency with which he is able to punish Portland disagreements is pretty amazing.
George scored 42 on 15-24 shooting, with 6-9 shooting from distance. Ouch.
When in doubt, run!
Portland’s second unit may still be finding its way, but they’ve found a safe way to bridge the gap while figuring it out: run like hell. As soon as Anfernee Simons, Nassir Little and Cody Zeller check in, the Blazers become super active in the passing lanes and look to convert every opportunity in the transition. In most cases, especially in the regular season, games quickly equate to playing well. It is a good cover for whatever may happen. It’s also great to see young players bursting with energy.
Three-er and lighter
Even with all that, Portland’s success still depends on the three-pointer. It shows they repeatedly in the early season. Their new focus seems to be keeping them fairly straight with opponents. They only rush forward when the long ball falls.
Tonight, Portland shot 19-41, 46.3%, from the arc. Many of them were helped. Those who were not came from Damian Lillard, who packed the win away in the fourth when the Clippers threatened. It was a good night for the Portland shooters.
If the three were the icing that completed the cake, the screen and roll game was the dough. If one would not do so, the Blazers tried two. If they needed more, they threw three or four. Either way, Jusuf Nurkic was a reliable pick-setter and had impeccable timing on dives to the bucket. The Clippers’ defense concentrated on stopping Portland’s guards and suddenly … boom. The ball landed at the feet of Nurkic, who was completely unmarked in the box. Screen-roll has replaced iso guard moves as Portland’s go-to set. Tonight it worked well.
Aggression pays off
Portland’s bench accounted for just 37 of their 111 points tonight, but two players deserve special mention for kickstarting the second unit with their aggression: Nassir Little and Cody Zeller.
Ever since Little got started in his dunking game, he has been looking for trips to the hoop in the same way that Mick Foley sought opportunities to take a chair shot: constantly, begging gullibility sometimes. Little’s eyes are burning right now at both ends of the field. If the Blazers did not want to run, he would almost force them to do so with his zeal. Ironically, he didn’t actually manage to jam tonight, but he pressed hard, hit a couple of threes, snatched 8 rebounds in 24 minutes and looked like he meant business.
Zeller may not match Little’s showmanship, but he gave the Clippers a ride on Zellerama tonight, anchored Portland’s defensive line with the other unit, was busy, snatched rebounds and generally made himself so annoying that the LA centers could make no progress. , even when Nurkic was out of the game. Ivaca Zubac and Isaiah Hartenstein combined for 7 points on 3-8 shooting in this game. Zeller scored 8 at 3-7. It was an experience to see him throw two badly missed threes, but everything else about his game was solid.
CJ McCollum started the first and third quarters smoothly, and looked like he, who has put the NBA defense in spin cycle this season, ready to lead Portland’s offense. His second and fourth quarters, however, contained no shots made. He finished 6-18 to 14 points with 3 turnovers.
But who should come to the rescue and come out of the shadows of anonymity to boost his team to victory? I’m not sure if you heard his name, but it was … Damian Lillard. Lillard hit a season-long downturn from long range and hit 5 out of 7 threes tonight, leading the Blazers by 25 big points. He hit 4 of 5 shots in the fourth, including 2 triples, to secure the win despite LA’s best effort to rally. Equally crucial, Lillard played the pick-and-roll game with Nurkic persistently, but not flawlessly. 6 assists and 6 turnovers are not Lillard’s most flashy stats of the season, but the Blazers were MUCH better off scoring in the middle of a little chaos than they were with him subdued with everything else seemingly in order.
Anfernee Simons was not so productive. His shot looked hurried, and often came in spite of the offense instead of through it. However, he had 4 assists. Plus his defense was decent.
Norman Powell returned to the starting lineup and hit 4 of 6 from the arc en route to 12 points. His knee looked ok, at least on TV.
12 Blazers played and 12 Blazers scored in this game.
The Blazers now head to the East Coast and face the Charlotte Hornets on Sunday in a game starting at 4 p.m., Pacific.