For the third time, the Clippers couldn’t win more than three games in a row. It upheld to more than that pattern though, the Clippers started strong again, beating the Blazers 27-23 in the first before they crumpled in the second and third quarters, surged in the fourth (twice) and then collapsed terribly down the stretch.
Like many of their early season losses, the Clippers fought until the end, they cut the lead to 8 with 11 minutes left in the fourth before Rudy Fernandez flipped up a flamenco shot that helped the Blazers regain momentum. Portland found contributions from all over, the Blazers ran a UCLA cut for an Andre layup oop for two points (high post screen by Pryzbilla for Andre Miller at the top, Rudy recognized Miller’s opening and threw it to him from the wing) and found Miller on the ensuing possession in the fast break. The Portland fans thought that the Clippers were done.
If there is anything that the Clippers have done this season it’s fight (I even predicted as much, check 12:50 on the Daily Dime Live Recap and while you’re there, look at Jordan’s play-off post). Eric Gordon bookended a Blake jumper with cuts off screens to get two open threes (a step back three at the top of the key and one on the wing) to cut the Blazers lead to 3 with only 6 minutes left to play. Miller scored on a driving baseline layup, Gordon answered with a steal and a coast to coast layup of his own. There was life for the Clippers and the possibility of improvement. Then the Clippers devolved.
In the last 3:30, Rudy Fernandez scored 5 more points, Wesley Matthews scored 5 and LaMarcus Aldridge did the impossible, bullying Blake for easy buckets. Had this been at home, it may have been different, because Blake had a pounding dunk off that silenced the Rose Garden. At home, that might have fired the crowd up and gotten the Clippers ready for the run, but instead they gave up oddball shots to Rudy Fernandez and lost easily.
So the road still isn’t friendly to the Clippers. Despite the fact that the Clippers starters didn’t play nearly the same minutes as the Blazers (who even went to OT last night), the Clippers looked like the team that was lethargic and unwilling to defend. This was supposed to be a test for the Clippers who are about to go on some serious travels. Next week they face the Mavericks and the Rockets before that dreaded eleven game road trip that starts with the Hawks, Heat, Magic and the Knicks. They Clippers have to solve these road woes if they are going to even think about competing for the last playoff spot for the rest of the year.
– Eric Gordon had a doozy of a game on offense tonight. 35 points on 13 for 26 shooting, 7 for 11 behind the arc, 5 rebounds, 4 assists. He diligently made an effort in the third quarter when the Clips are typically weak, Gordon repeatedly made three pointers off of Blake Griffin passes (a dribble hand off, a feed after Gordon ran through multiple screens on the baseline and a pin down screen where he got an open look after Blake kicked the ball back out to him) and he even had one of his reclining floaters. He added more magic in the fourth in the form of 11 points, but failed to score in the remaining 4 minutes, during which the Clippers fell apart without his offense.
– Clipper wings could not defend. Gordon or Foye, didn’t matter, Wesley Matthews went off for 28 points on 10 for 18 from the field and his backup Rudy Fernandez scored 17 points on 7 for 10 shooting. They ran multiple screens for Matthews, not particularly tight ones (and he’s no Reggie Miller or Ray Allen) and Matthews found plenty of open shots. Rudy made his points off of his slashing and open court hustle plays (one in the fourth was uniquely sloppy, involving the Clippers and the Blazers batting around the ball like a shuttlecock only to have Rudy pick up the ball and lay it in easily) making him a tough cover for the less athletic Randy Foye.
– The Clipper highlight of the night came from Al-Farouq Aminu, even with Blake’s dunks. With a little more than eight minutes left in the second quarter, Aminu picked the pocket of Batum and initiated one of his knuckleball fast breaks*, weaved through 4 Blazer defenders and laid the ball in the hoop for two points. It wasn’t an alley-oop, but that play took more coordination than I was willing to give Farouq credit for before the start of the season. Like his three point shot (struggling now, but still), he’s showing way more than most of us could have reasonably expected.
– Clippers earned their third technical foul from the bench in two games. I’m not sure what the Clippers are saying, if it’s really that bad or offensive (it’s not visible) but they need to cut it out.
*Knuckleball fast break is a John Krolik-ism