Both teams struggled on offense, but Chris Paul made the difference in the fourth quarter as the L.A. Clippers edged the Portland Trail Blazers.
It's a common trope in the sports lexicon -- the ugly win. The ugly win occurs when a team plays less than it's best game. When the offense is not clicking and the shots are not falling, but the team still finds a way to come out on top. But "ugly win" does not begin to describe what the Los Angeles Clippers did on Thursday night in Portland against the Trail Blazers. We need something more to convey how horrid, how noxious, how truly gruesome this game was. To the thesaurus! I hereby propose a new basketball cliche: the repugnant win.
The Clippers got a repugnant win Thursday night against the Blazers, 74-71. The points scored marked a season low for both teams. The Clippers scored a season-low 32 in the first half and just 12 in the second quarter. Portland scored just 11 in the final quarter. Neither team could break 40 percent shooting from the field. The Clippers made only 2 of 17 three-point attempts. It was a game only a Clipper fan could love. Actually, strike that. This game was not in any way lovable by any person.
Blame the lockout. The Clippers were playing their eighth game in their eighth city in 13 nights, and had arrived in Portland in the wee hours after their game in Los Angeles on Wednesday. The Blazers were playing their third game in three nights, the finale of a back-to-back-to-back. Portland started well, scoring 27 in the first and jumping out to a big early lead. But they were playing on pure adrenaline, pumped up by their home crowd. This effect was heightened by the fact that they were playing without leading scorer LaMarcus Aldridge, who sat out his second straight game with a sprained ankle. The crowd tried to encourage and reward the undermanned Blazers for their scrappiness and hard work, but after the initial buzz wore off, there was nothing left -- no one on the Blazers had their legs by the fourth quarter (their 12th quarter in 51 hours, as it happens).
The Clippers came back from 18 down in the game, and the truly astounding thing is that they were not behind by more. L.A.'s offense in the first half was an abomination. In fact, their most effective set early on was a little thing called the "offensive rebound" -- that's where someone misses a jump shot, and then either Blake Griffin or Kenyon Martin gets a putback. The advantage is that it's easy to run -- the disadvantage is that it's not a very efficient strategy. Of L.A.'s 15 first half field goals, more than half were after misses.
Griffin is really the only reason L.A. was still in the game and close enough to think about a comeback in the third. He led all scorers with 21 points and also had a game high 14 rebounds. All 21 of his points came in the first three quarters -- and his teammates had pitched in with a mere 31 more to that point.
Of all the out-of-sorts players, no one was more discombobulated than Clippers point guard Chris Paul. Through three quarters he was scoreless on seven shot attempts, with one assist and three turnovers. He was, in short, unrecognizable.
Actually, it was quite a compelling illustration of his MVP credentials -- for those three quarters he was terrible, and he took his entire team down with him. His face might as well have been on a milk carton because he was just plain missing.
And then he showed up. After going scoreless through three quarters, he single-handedly outscored the Blazers in the fourth, 13-11. He was 5 for 8 in the period, including a three-pointer with the clock running down that gave L.A. a four-point lead with three minutes to go, and a jumper a couple minutes later that stretched the lead to five, which proved to be enough.
Fittingly, on a night when the Clippers missed their first 11 three-point attempts and trailed because of those misses, it was their first three-pointer of the evening by Mo Williams that gave them the lead, and Paul's own dagger less than a minute later that put Los Angeles up by two possessions for the first time in the game.
In addition to Griffin's 21 and Paul's 13, Williams had 17 off the bench for L.A. No other Clipper had more than six. For the Blazers, Nicolas Batum started red hot, making six of seven first quarter shots for 15 points -- but he only scored four more the rest of the way. Wes Matthews had 16 for the Blazers, and Jamal Crawford put up 19 off the bench.
The Clippers will take a win, even a repugnant win. With it, they improve to 19-9 with a big showdown against San Antonio looming on Saturday. The Blazers have now lost four straight home games after beginning the season 11-1 at the Rose Garden. They drop to 16-15 overall. They need some rest -- and to get LaMarcus Aldridge back.