The Los Angeles Clippers hounded Damian Lillard all Tuesday night.
They figured out how to outmaneuver the Trail Blazers star and frustrations mounted in the third quarter as Lillard was given a technical foul.
The Clippers defensive assignments paid off at the game’s conclusion. Lillard was 2-of-14 for 11 points, a far cry from his average of 29.6 points per game. Four of those points came in the second half.
“We played a good offensive team tonight,” Clippers guard Patrick Beverley said. “Of course, Dame and CJ are the head of the snakes. Just try to make it hard, try to make it tough for them tonight, and we were fortunate in doing that.”
While LA stole Lillard’s thunder as Portland trailed by as many as 26 points and eventually fell 133-116 at Staples Center, the Clippers couldn’t keep all of the Trail Blazers players under wraps. Two of the players in Portland’s three-guard lineup shined.
CJ McCollum recorded 24 points, 3 rebounds, 6 assists and two steals, and Norman Powell added 32 points and 4 rebounds in only his sixth game as a Blazer.
After the game, Powell explained why it was important for him to step up on Lillard’s rare off-night.
“I think that’s what’s so special about me being on this team,” Powell said after the game. “Any given night, that three-guard lineup could go off, provide an offensive spark, depending on how the game flow was going. I was just trying to be aggressive, trying to get something going, playing off those guys. They were really tight in on Dame, so coach told me I need to be another ball handler...
Lillard’s uncharacteristic outing wasn’t the only reason Portland struggled, though. The Clippers were 18-of-25 from the field early on and 7-of-11 from three-point range. Led by Paul George, who scored 22 points in the first quarter and 36 in the game, the Clippers built a 26-point lead at Staples Center.
Portland put up a valiant effort in the second half, erasing that lead to all but two points, but Los Angeles responded with a 17-7 run heading into the fourth and the deficit was too much to overcome.
Blazers coach Terry Stotts called the teams’s first quarter defense “embarrassing." Powell, too, did not mince words about his team's effort from the jump.
“We have to come out and be physical,” Powell said. “I think Dame said it first. The way we were playing they were taking advantage of how soft we were being on the defense end. We were getting punked. Him getting on us like that in the huddle motivated us. We came out of the time out and went on that run, but it shouldn’t take that, or your star guy coming out and getting on it, we gotta have that mindset at the start of the game, and coach said it again at the end of the game...
The Trail Blazers won’t have long to regroup. Up next, is the Utah Jazz (38-12) on Thursday in Salt Lake City.
After lapses in their commitment to the defensive end of the floor, Powell knows that it's going to take a complete effort from the Trail Blazers to beat the top team in the Western Conference.
“We’ve got to put together a full 48-minute effort on the defensive end,” Powell said. “Whatever’s going on offensively, not too worried about it, but defensively, you know we got to come out with the same energy and effort we had late. I think 8-minute mark into the second quarter on when we went on that big run to close out the half. We did it in stretches tonight and they felt us, our physicality on the defensive end, working together which got us back into the game, but we got to continue to have that effort from the jump.”