There’s something about entering the All-Star break with a happy thought in your head, and that’s clearly the case for the Los Angeles Clippers after beating the Portland Trail Blazers 122-117, although things are quite different for their opponents.
The Blazers were in a close on for the second consecutive game against a strong Western rival but couldn’t hang on in the end. Bad defense and foolish turnovers helped the Clippers run away from them in the final seconds, the Blazers drop to 5-8 since a five-game winning streak last month. After an impressive November and December (25-7) the Blazers are only 11-10 so far in 2014, falling further and further away from the top spot in the West.
Not because of LaMarcus Aldridge, or at least not in this one. Aldridge finally put his shaky shooting behind him, scoring 25 points on 10-of-18 from the field. Damian Lillard followed suit with 21 points on 8-of-12 from the field. The problem, for him and Nicolas Batum, was the turnovers, as the two combined for 11 in the game. The rest is what we’ve known for a long time – no defense, which is proving more and more costly every game.
On the other end there’s no real surprise in seeing Blake Griffin do more than putting on a dunking show. He finished with 36 points and 10 rebounds, finding it extremely easy to find his way into the paint, as the Clippers scored 58 points in the paint and 34 on the fast break. They forced 16 turnovers off of the Blazers, but also made them pay dearly for every miss, with Chris Paul pushing the tempo to finish with 25 points and 12 assists.
We were up one, down one, up one. I told them in the timeout: ‘Fellas, we need to get a score and a stop.’ I told B.G. if we get a score and a stop, it changes the whole game. It was frustrating because it was me making mistakes on defense, and they were getting shots. But all in all, it was a good win for us. I’m in a great place, as far as our team going into the break. It’s one of the best feelings I’ve had about a team since I’ve been in the league, just strictly because of defense. The biggest thing with us is that everyone has bought into the defensive end. We understand that we can score every night, but it’s going to be our defense that carries us.
The Clippers shot 58.2% from the field and 40% from beyond the arc, and found it quite easy to get to the line, finishing with 26-of-31 in free throws. Blake Griffin doing so well from there after struggling earlier in his career has been another sign of just how far he’s come.
So while the Clippers once again look like a team that might be good enough to challenge for the top spot in the West with a bit more defensive consistency and maybe a trade or signing that gives them a little bit of help on the bench to give some minutes off to Griffin and Jordan, the Blazers are heading in a completely different direction, despite having two players in the All-Star game.
It’s tough, especially going into the break. You want to go into it with some momentum and on a good note. We played two good games, but we just weren’t able to pull either game out.