With time expiring in the first half and Portland leading 63-39, Brandon Roy brings the ball upcourt, covered tightly by Baron Davis. Roy guards his left-handed dribble by squaring his shoulders parallel to the sideline against Davis. At about :09, Roy lowers his right shoulder into Baron’s chest. It’s not a forceful advance, and though Baron teeters before falling on his tuchus, the no-call is probably correct. Fred Jones moves over to pick up Roy on the drive. This leaves Travis Outlaw wide open along the arc to Roy’s right. Roy finds him there, but Outlaw’s 3PA is well short. No worries for Portland, though, because Roy is there to collect the miss and lay it up and in with :01.1. When DeAndre Jordan inbounds the ball to Baron, the horn sounds to end the half. Seconds later, as the siren tails off and the crowd rises from their seats, Baron heaves the ball 100 feet, well beyond the Clippers’ hoop. This isn’t a desperation, end-of-the-quarter Hail Mary. It’s an expression of pure disgust.
How bad is it today?
Here’s your first half highlight:
- [1st, 3:03] The Clippers work it into Baron far off the left post against Steve Blake. As is the case whenever a Clipper gets the ball below the stripe, the Blazers send a double-team — this time it’s Joel Przybilla. Baron struggles against the trap, but manages to wiggle free and walk the tightrope along the baseline before firing a pass to Mardy Collins in the right corner. Collins slings it to Novak, who tries to keep the ball moving over to Gordon — only Novak’s intended pass to Gordon is deflected into the backcourt by Outlaw. Eric runs the ball down about 85 feet from the Clippers’ basket with :06 remaining the quarter. This is what the Saturday All-Star Skills Challenge should be: Can the contestant race the ball upcourt in six seconds against the defense, and convert a shot before the shot clock buzzer sounds? Eric, quite impressively, does just that: He beats Rudy Fernandez at halfcourt, meanwhile his teammates scatter along the perimeter for a possible kickout, but Eric keeps zipping toward the hole. Przybilla meets him in the painted area [which, at the Rose Garden, is paint-less], but Eric muscles his way to the rim. His layup at the buzzer just misses.
This is the first sign of vitality all afternoon for the Clippers. Gordon actually has a tough game. In what’s a reprise of the Clippers’ last meeting against Portland, Nate McMillan assigns his small forward, Nicolas Batum, to guard Eric, and again the Clipper rookie struggles. Batum’s combination of length and lateral quickness denies Eric both clean looks from the perimeter and open lanes to the hole. Gordon finishes the first half with 10 points on 4-11 FGA, 2-2 FTs, with a pair of turnovers. Eric’s final tally is a bit nicer-looking: 21 points on 56.7% TS, though the entire second half is temps d’ordures.
Without the services of Marcus Camby [can’t fly], Al Thronton [strained right arch], and Zach Randolph [psychosis], Mike Dunleavy starts Steve Novak in the frontcourt — initially opposite Joel Przybilla, then later against LaMarcus Aldridge. The results are predictable, as the Clippers get bullied in the paint. Aldridge records his season-high in points  in only 32 minutes of action. The Blazers’ distributors are able to find their bigs all afternoon with deep passes over the Clippers’ lilliputian defense, though the Clippers yield only 56 points in the paint today.
Again, the Clippers’ empower another opponent into the record book. Blazers’ point guard Steve Blake chalks up 14 assists in the first quarter, tying John Lucas for most in a single quarter. My favorite:
- [1st, 4:46] The Blazers often take their time getting into their sets. Here, Blake swings it over to Roy up top on the left side. Przybilla gets a baseline screen from Aldridge, but Novak is able to run under the screen and front Przybilla on the block to deny the entry pass. Meanwhile, Aldridge flashes off the screen to the foul line, where he receives the pass from Roy. DeAndre Jordan steps out on Aldridge denying him the clean look. Fairly good defense here by an undermanned Clippers’ unit. With :12 left on the shot clock, Aldridge passes it out to Blake on the right side perimeter, and the Blazers’ reset. Aldridge sets a screen on Baron Davis. Blake, who isn’t the quickest of PGs, fakes as if he’s going to use the pick and drive left. This gets Aldridge’s man, Jordan, leaning right to pick up the switch — only Blake drives right, which fools everyone. Nicolas Batum is set up deep in the right corner. With Przybilla and Roy on the weak side, Batum’s man, Ricky Davis, is the only help available. Ricky collapses on Blake. Just as Blake elevates for a layup, he swings a backward two-handed pass over his head to Batum in the corner. Batum drains the 3PA.
Despite tying Lucas’ record, Blake doesn’t score a single point in the period.
In the fourth quarter, Ralph Lawler and Mike Smith recount the story of the Blazers’ rebuilding effort. Without a hint of irony, they discuss how the 2005-06 Blazers fired John Nash, then cleaned house, dumping some “bad character guys.” Referring to the c. 2004-2006 team, Ralph says, “People were ashamed of the Blazers…All of the sudden, there was such a bad taste in everybody’s mouth about this ballclub.”