Another day, another rout. Read on for a full Clippers vs Blazers game recap, as Kawhi Leonard returned to the lineup to lead the LA Clippers in a breezy walk over Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers. The Clippers improved to 4-1. (No, there’s nothing unusual about that 4-1, why do you ask?)
The first weeks of the 2020-21 NBA regular season have been marked by an inordinate number of lopsided contests. The Clippers, crisp and effervescent like your New Year’s toast, submitted their second contribution in as many nights, handling the Trail Blazers by a score of 128-105.
Kawhi Leonard started after a two-game laceration-related absence, and the newly masked man keyed a potent and multifaceted offensive. The Clippers controlled this one from tape to tape, shy of a brief second-quarter run, a noble but fruitless third-quarter stand, and a garbage-time spurt by visiting Portland. Instead of going blow-by-blow, let’s look at some superlatives:
Ball movement: The Clippers assisted on 30 of their made baskets and turned it over just 10 times, a season low. (Their second lowest turnover game was the game that shall go unmentioned. Weird!) Kawhi Leonard and Paul George led the team with seven assists a piece and pushed the ball in transition with conspicuous frequency. For tonight at least, they caught the ball sharing bug from Head Coach Tyronn Lue and spread it to the rest of the team. The Clippers’ offense was a whirring machine, drive followed by kick followed by swing followed by splash. Seven Clippers tallied at least two assists. Tonight was sweet.
Shooting: Speaking of splashes, the Clippers did a lot of it, and I’m sure Ty Lue will remind them that the first superlative here leads to the second. (I don’t actually think he’ll refer to this recap, though he should.) The Clippers built a lead that would not relent by shooting true from beyond the arc. They led by 11 after the first by making eight-of-12 threes. They led by 19 at the half and still converting two-thirds of their deep tries. Every starter made a three, and four of them made more. It was splash city.
Defense: The Blazers didn’t play badly, not THAT badly at least. In fact, at halftime they had made nine (39%) of their 23 three-point attempts and 12 (92%) of 13 free-throw attempts. But the Clippers made them work for all of it. Damian Lillard had a shooting night to forget, converting just three of 14 field goal attempts and none of his eight threes. His shooting was off, but the Clippers pushing him way beyond the line had something to do with it too. (He made up for it in other ways. More on Dame below.)
Fouls aside, the Clippers’ defense was on-point, walling off the paint — Ivica Zubac blocked three shots in 15 minutes — and harassing the Blazers into 17 turnovers. And the fouls were more the result of calculated aggression than wanton recklessness. (Like when Patrick Beverley began the second half with no fouls and realized he had six to play with and earned four in the next eight minutes.) The Clippers played with punishing physicality, and for tonight at least, the brutish Blazers couldn’t cope.
Backcourt reserves: Lou Williams was typically effective. He paced the bench with a plus-10 mark and tallied a tidy 15 points. Reggie Jackson was more atypically effective. He’s off to a strong start this season, and his second-quarter stint tonight might have been his best run of play so far, earning himself a little extra burn from the coaches. His box score line (11 points, two assists, 4-6 FG, 2-4 3PT, 22 minutes) may not flash, but his on-court play did.
Best of the Blazers: To give credit where credit is due, the Blazers didn’t submit. With his outside shot betraying him, Lillard toggled into attack mode, driving the paint and earning 15 free throws to get to 20 points the hard way. Carmelo Anthony returned from an absence forced by health and safety protocols to bully his way to the charity stripe 10 times, sinking nine on his way to 15 points. CJ McCollum supported the Blazers shooting line almost singlehandedly, canning seven treys and leading his team with 25 points. Enes Kanter was an obvious target on defense but did his paint thing for a 10-and-10 double-double in 25 minutes off the bench. Anfernee Simons made a basket.
Best of the rest: All five Clippers starters finished plus-20 or better. Serge Ibaka was a do-everything monster, and his fit with the team continues to feel tailor-made. Nicolas Batum was a team-high plus-26 in 26 minutes and continues to be NOT WASHED. Daniel Oturu outscored Mfiondu Kabengele two to zero.
The Clippers were sharp, engaged, and, importantly, fun. That should carry more resonance than even the result.
This was the final game of the calendar year for the Clippers. They resume their campaign on New Year’s Day in Utah.
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