There’s some discussion as to whether the Portland Trailblazers operate at an incredibly slow pace offensively, or at merely a somewhat slow pace. That deliberate Portland tempo shouldn’t fool you — it’s propelled by a second-ranked offense that capably picks opponents apart in the halfcourt.
The first quarter plays to form with only 22 possessions — except the Blazers’ typically efficient offense isn’t exactly humming, and neither is the Clippers’ typically inefficient offense. The Blazers go early to LaMarcus Aldridge in isolation, while the Clippers find a handful of shots for Eric Gordon. Apart from that, very little is working for either team.
There are plenty of reasons to enjoy watching the Blazers, and one of the more appealing features of a Clippers-Blazers game is the number of weird matchups that materialize, a dynamic that’s amplified by the Clippers’ void at small forward. Once again, Blazers head coach Nate McMillan opts to start with his lanky small forward, Nicolas Batum on Eric Gordon [Over the two previous POR-LAC games, Eric scored only 8 points on 10 head-to-head possessions against Batum]. On the other end, Baron Davis takes Batum, then has to do battle with Travis Outlaw once Batum picks up his second foul at [1st, 6:11]. The Blazers move to exploit the Baron-Outlaw mismatch toward the end of the quarter. Outlaw posts Davis off the left block, and hits that undefendable high-release jumper over him [1st, 2:41]. On the next trip down, Baron gets his hand on the rock as Outlaw is bringing it up for the release. Outlaw recovers it, but his next attempt is off-balanced and nowhere close.
Gordon paces the Clippers in the first period. While he goes for 9 points on 6 chances, the rest of the team manages only 8 points on 13 chances [2-11 FGA]. He warms up early with a 20-footer off a Camby screen on an inbounds play [1st, 10:59]. A few minutes later, he blows by Steve Blake, and fearlessly draws contact on Joel Przybilla as he elevates for the finish at the rack.. +1 [1st, 5:48]. EJ then creates space for a step-back jumper against Blake along the perimeter with a quick, stationary cross-over dribble [1st, 4:43]. Finally, he drains an open look on the right side on a pin-down play — credit Kaman with the down screen on Rudy Fernandez [1st, 1:34]. The period ends knotted at 17.
Portland pummels the Clippers inside in the second quarter, and 11 of their 12 FGMs are at the rim. The other? A 7-footer just outside the restricted circle by Travis Outlaw [2nd, 7:58]. The Clippers have three guards on the floor, Alex Acker nominally playing the role of small forward. Eric Gordon actually starts the period on Travis Outlaw. While the Blazers are dominating the paint, the Clippers are sloppy on their end of court. Taylor occasionally runs hot when a game is being played at 33 rpm. He’s a little reckless, tossing up a couple of flailing runners [2nd, 9:37; 2nd, 9:09], then losing the ball while trying to maneuver a behind-the-back dribble just before halftime [2nd, 0:43]. Alex Acker blows his only good look, when his dunk attempt draws rim. His other two attempts in the 2nd are horrid, and he gives the team very little. The Clippers are thoroughly dominated in the period and head into the break down 15.
How do the Clippers claw back in the third? By adopting Portland’s second-quarter strategy. 13 of the Clippers’ first 15 shot attempts come from inside of 15 feet. On those 13 chances, the Clippers score 18 points — a strong 1.38 points per attempt. It’s an eclectic collection of goals: Layups off well-timed basket cuts [Camby, 3rd, 11:37 and 3rd, 7:45], audacious dribble-drives into the teeth of the Portland defense [Davis 3rd, 9:40 and 3rd, 7:11; Gordon, 3rd, 4:49], and well-executed transition buckets [Randolph 3rd, 9:15]. One of the most confounding things about the Clippers this season is their inability to work themselves more stuff inside. With a decent combination of size down on the block and strong guards who have the strength to bounce around in the paint, they should have spurts like this more often.
The Clips’ defense in the 3rd quarter is quick to collapse on Brandon Roy, and he gets only one attempt in the quarter — an unsuccessful 3PA — and one trip to the line. At times [3rd, 7:30], the Clips appear like a smart defensive team, helping each other on screens, timing their recoveries well. Zach Randolph turns in one of his best defensive efforts of the season. The momentum carries over into the fourth, when the Clippers take their first lead since the opening quarter at [4th, 7:43] as Gordon comes off a curl, then knives through the Blazers’ interior defense for a lay-in.
They won’t score again for six minutes, and watch their 2-point lead engulfed by an 18-0 Portland explosion.
The Portland starters [minus Batum] return, while Fernandez stays on the floor. The Blazers regain the lead on a follow-up slam by Przybilla. On the offensive end, the ball remains out on the perimeter. On three straight possessions, the Clippers settle for long 3PAs with the shot clock expiring [4th, 6:51; 4th, 6:05; 4th, 5:31]. Fernandez isn’t a particularly strong defender, but he clearly has a directive from the Portland bench to attach himself to Gordon. Rudy anticipates the screens from Kaman, watches the ball and his man, staying between the two at all times. After going 3-5 from the field in the first 5:10 of the 4th quarter, Eric never gets off another shot and the Clippers crumble. Meanwhile, Portland starts to execute their sets with their characteristic efficiency. A cross-screen from Przybilla gives Fernandez all kinds of space along the left arc, where Blake hits him for an open 3PA [4th, 5:17]. A few plays later, the Clippers blow a rotation and Fernandez is left with another open 3PA, this one on the right side [4th, 3:36]. The Blazers lead by 10 and the Clippers never mount a serious challenge after that.