Kawhi Leonard Leads Clippers Past Damian Lillard, Blazers in 107-101 Thriller

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorNovember 8, 2019

Los Angeles Clippers' Kawhi Leonard (2) grabs a rebound in front of Portland Trail Blazers' Hassan Whiteside, center, during the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Kawhi Leonard scored 27 points, and Lou Williams added 26 off the bench to lead the Los Angeles Clippers to a 107-101 win over the visiting Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center on Thursday.

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L.A. led by seven at halftime before the Blazers outscored the Clippers 36-23 in the third quarter to take a six-point lead into the final 12 minutes.

However, Leonard scored 10 of the Clippers' points during a game-closing 19-8 run. Williams knocked down L.A.'s biggest buckets during the stretch, hitting a pull-up jumper to give the Clippers a 100-98 lead before knocking down a three-pointer on the next possession.

The 6-3 Clippers, who dropped the first game of their back-to-back set to the Milwaukee Bucks the night before, have won three of four. Los Angeles also gave Doc Rivers his 900th career head-coaching victory, placing him 13th all time in the NBA.

Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum co-led the 3-5 Blazers, who have dropped three straight, with 22 points apiece.

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Notable Performances

Blazers G Damian Lillard: 22 points, 6 assists, 6 rebounds

Blazers G CJ McCollum: 22 points, 7 rebounds

Blazers C Hassan Whiteside: 17 points, 19 rebounds

Clippers F Kawhi Leonard: 27 points, 13 rebounds, 4 assists

Clippers G Lou Williams: 26 points, 8 assists

Clippers C Ivica Zubac: 15 points, 13 rebounds

     

Kawhi Leonard's Off Night Washed Away in 4th Quarter

A few numbers in Kawhi Leonard's stat line are particularly ugly, including the six turnovers and a 9-of-23 shooting performance. He also missed all five of his three-point attempts.

But the problem with players like Leonard, who may be considered one of the game's all-time greats when his career is over, is that they're always dangerous, even on off nights.

Leonard had 18 points and six rebounds in the fourth quarter alone, helping Los Angeles outscore Portland by 12 during that frame. He was particularly dominant in the final four minutes and nearly had a hand in every point.

The lone exceptions were the two aforementioned Williams buckets. But otherwise, Leonard scored or assisted on 14 of the Clippers' 19 points in the final four minutes.

The Leonard-led Clips are tough to put away already, as the Blazers learned firsthand on Thursday. It doesn't help that the reigning Finals MVP entered the evening as the league's top fourth-quarter scorer, per NBA Central, and ended the contest in the same spot:

But the bigger problem will occur when Paul George returns to the court, as Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times noted:

The Clips have won twice as many games as they've lost sans George, and they've been without Leonard for two outings. When this team finally returns to full strength, it will likely be ready to fulfill lofty preseason expectations that had it making a deep playoff run—perhaps one that leads to a championship.

      

A Tale of 2 Whitesides

Blazers center Hassan Whiteside couldn't have been much worse in the first half, but he played about as well as possible in the second.

Three of his shots were blocked in the first 24 minutes, and he also committed three turnovers. He had more shots blocked and turnovers than he did points (two). On the defensive end, Clippers center Ivica Zubac was cooking against him, scoring 11 points and grabbing nine boards.

It was a bad performance by any standard, leading Charles Barkley to say on the TNT halftime show that Whiteside's strength was "going to the bank twice a month, stealing money."

However, the big man emerged from the halftime locker room a completely different player to help Portland outscore L.A. by 13 points in the third.

He was aggressive and powerful down low, as evidenced by this and-1:

Whiteside also had a double-double in the third quarter alone with 10 points and 12 boards in addition to two blocks.

In the fourth, Whiteside found Mario Hezonja for a bucket and scored five straight Blazer points off a dunk and another and-1 down the stretch:

The last bucket tied the game at 98, but the Clippers were too strong in the closing minutes.

As for Whiteside, his enigmatic career continues. At his best, he's capable of leading the league in blocks and rebounds, as he's done once each. At his worst, he struggles on both ends and sees extended time off the court, as was the case in the first half.

But at 3-5, the Blazers sorely need the Whiteside from the second half to have any chance at returning to the playoffs.

             

What's Next?

The Clippers will stay home to welcome the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday at 10:30 p.m. ET. The Blazers have a quick turnaround with a Friday home game against the Brooklyn Nets at 10 p.m.

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