Juwan Howard may typify this current incarnation of the Blazers perfectly. While most everyone expected the Blazers to fall apart long ago, they simply haven’t. Tonight the 36 year old Howard throws down a devastating jam on Chris Kaman at the end of the first half that defies all logic, but logic just doesn’t seem to apply to these Blazers. After all, this was a Portland team who had won six of their last seven games coming into tonight despite having eight regular rotation players injured. There’s a certain level of confidence a rogue unit like this develops and carries, and when it goes unchecked it can lead to results similar to what we saw five days ago.
Tonight it’s Eric Gordon who does most of the heavy lifting in the second half (16 third quarter points, 19 total), but it’s Rasual Butler who really crushes the Blazers spirit at the 8:57 mark of the fourth quarter. Down only three out of the timeout, it’s likely Portland had quite a bit of confidence going forward. Brandon Roy had yet to make his impact felt on the game whatsoever (3 for 12, 6 points total) and the Clippers were turning the ball over with such high frequency that a big run was very possible. Let’s take a look at the series that dramatically shifted the momentum in the Clippers favor:
[8:57, 4th Quarter] – Coming out of the timeout, the Clippers set deteriorates into Rasual Butler being isolated on the right wing in a late shot clock situation. Rasual typically takes poor, off balanced shots in these situations, but he’s fortunate enough to be slightly closer to the paint than usual. After a soft attempt to drive, Rasual picks up his dribble and launches a 19 foot step back jumper. It’s good.
[8:36, 4th Quarter] – The ensuing defensive possession is solid team defense all the way around. It takes the Blazers most of the shot clock to foray into the paint, but when Jerryd Bayless gets there he’s surrounded by shot blockers like Camby and a smartly collapsed Clipper defense. A smart wrap-around, baseline skip from Bayless to the corner finds the sweet shooting Martell Webster with some space, but Rasual Butler quickly rushes to close on Webster and executes a perfect “Bruce Bowen” closeout. With both hands raised, Rasual invades Webster’s shooting pocket and landing zone. The shot misses, and Butler is off to the races on the other end.
[8:26, 4th Quarter] – A long shot attempt results in a long rebound, which results in a transition opportunity. Often times it’s the secondary break that yields points, and here Rasual Butler fills the lane on the left wing and eventually positions himself in the corner where he’s most dangerous. A good kick to the corner from Sebastian Telfair against a scrambling Portland defense finds Rasual Butler all alone. With all day to set his feet, Rasual knocks down the open three.
It’s a frantic 5 point swing that seems even quicker live. The ensuing defensive possession is a Marcus Camby blocked shot, which leads to a quirky flip from Craig Smith on the other end to push the run to 7-0 in less than a minute of playing time. With the lead to double digits and momentum on their side, the Clippers never look back.
- Shot Selection: Portland executes a zone defense for a good portion of the game, and once the Clippers settle down in the second half they begin to truly exploit it. When they weren’t turning the ball over (20 TO’s) the Clippers were very selective in their shot selection and it paid off: The team shot an incredible 57.8% from the field, as well as hitting 8 for 13 from behind the arc. The 63.4 eFG% is one of the better marks of the season.
- Bench Contributions: Craig Smith had a rough December. After being weeded out of the rotation on occasion and ineffective on many nights, it looked like Smith’s days of contributing were over. But tonight in a juicy matchup against the depleted Portland front line, Smith returned to his productive ways. Rhino did a nice job in matching the energy of the Portland bigs and put up 8 points and 4 boards in 11 minutes of play. Also resurrected tonight was Ricky Davis, who was called upon to fill in for an ailing Al Thornton. Ricky responded nicely with 10 points on 4 for 6 shooting in a season high 25 minutes of play.
- Chemistry: It’s a tough thing to pin down, but the Clippers did seem a little more fraternal with each other tonight. Both K.A. and Don MacLean pointed out how the players were celebrating more, rushing to pick each other up off the floor, and generally enjoying themselves more than usual. Maybe the recent winning is making us all imagine things, but it appears as if this team is starting to come together.