The Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Los Angeles Clippers last night 110-104. The Blazers have now won 8 of their last 9, and 5 in a row heading into the playoffs.
The NBA had a whopping 15 games tonight. Some of them had serious implications, as Memphis’ win over the Mavericks gave them the 7th seed out West. Some of them were soul-crushing, as the Timberwolves lost in double-overtime to the Jazz, leaving former Blazers head coach and legend Rick Adelman disappointed that his squad was unable to muster a .500 record.
And many of them, like tonight’s game in Portland, had no implications whatsoever.
If you were in crowd, everything looked the same. The duct-taped and dusty Ford blimp puttered its way around 200-level, dropping 25% coupons for Jo-Ann Fabric, or whatever else might entice anyone but who would be at a professional basketball game. The pre-game video intro, now a very cool and engaging comic book theme (thank you, Robin Lopez!) included all the stars. Mike the Red Vines guy was still joking about how no, he doesn’t have Mike’s Hard Lemonade, but he’s pretty hardcore, and that’s about as close as you’re gonna get.
But when you looked on the court, you realized neither team was playing with a full deck. For the Clippers, both Blake Griffin and Chris Paul got much-needed rest tonight, and while center DeAndre Jordan started, he played but a single minute before being yanked.
On the Blazers’ side, both LaMarcus Aldridge and Mo Williams were in street clothes. Head coach Terry Stotts allowed Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, and Robin Lopez to start (accompanied by Dorell Wright) to complete a feat the Trail Blazers had never before accomplished. It marked the first time in history that 4/5 starters started all 82 games. Still, their presence was largely ceremonial, as none would eclipse 15 minutes played last night.
With so may key players resting, it was the bench’s time to shine. For a full quarter, they did. Utilizing lineups that included Meyers Leonard, Earl Watson, and even the seldom-seen Allen Crabbe, the Blazers jumped out to an 18-point lead early in the 3rd. The always-yelling Doc Rivers then called two consecutive timeouts. He must have said something, because the Clippers then pasted a 17-0 run on the Blazes over the course of just over 4 minutes, leaving the crowd wondering why the third string looked so bad all of a sudden before remembering, oh yeah, it’s the third string.
Even when the Clippers built a 6-point lead, the game never seemed out of hand. And really, how could it when Willy Buckets (or as he’s known to us mortals, Will Barton) was jittering and jiving his way around the defense, pushing the fast break even when everyone else on the court and in the building was taking a nap? Speaking of Barton, he took a step in his development at some point late in the season. As cliche as it sounds, there’s no more accurate way to describe it than by saying the game has “slowed down” for him. Everything he does looks moderately in control, even when he’s twisting and contorting his way into drawing fouls or managing to pull off unsightly drives that look terrible when they miss, but amazing when completed.
The Blazers re-established themselves in the 4th, and even if the rest of the crowd started leaving minutes before, the Blazers faithful stayed until the final buzzer, grateful for an easy win and a positive end to an amazing season.
The Blazers will now face the Houston Rockets in a best-of-7 matchup in which Houston has home court advantage. The first game is this Sunday at 6:30 p.m. in Houston.
This season marks the single biggest year-to-year turnaround in franchise history (+20 wins). How may people would have predicted at the start of the season that the Blazers would have the NBA’s 5th-best record?
Willy Buckets finished with a career-high 23 points to go with 10 rebounds.
Robin Lopez had 15 and 9 in 14 minutes of action. With his 7th offensive rebound of the night, he secured the Trail Blazers franchise record for most offensive boards in a single season: 326.
The only other Blazers to break double digits were CJ McCollum and Victor Claver (12 points apiece).
You can thank the new training staff for 82 games from four of our starters. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.