Damian Lillard, Blazers Collapse Late vs. Clippers with Kawhi Leonard out

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistAugust 8, 2020

Los Angeles Clippers guard Paul George (13) looks to pass as Portland Trail Blazers guard Anfernee Simons (1) defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Aug. 8, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kim Klement/Pool Photo via AP)
Kim Klement/Associated Press

Defense is so overrated. 

That seemed to be the theme for both the Portland Trail Blazers and the Los Angeles Clippers in L.A.'s 122-117 win Sunday. It was raining threes in Orlando—Portland sunk 17 shots from deep on 44 attempts, while the Clippers went 15-of-34 from beyond the arc. 

A clutch Rodney McGruder three in the final minute and Damian Lillard shockingly missing two free throws on the next possession—and an open look at three in the closing seconds—helped seal the tight win for the Clippers. The Blazers held a five-point lead with 1:36 remaining before letting the game slip away. 

It was a fun one to watch if nothing else, though Doc Rivers and Terry Stotts might have preferred the occasional defensive stop. 

It also had important playoff implications for the Blazers (32-39), who currently sit 1.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the No. 8 seed in the West and just 0.5 games ahead of the San Antonio Spurs for the No. 9 spot. 

The Clippers are now 47-22 and remain the No. 2 seed, two games ahead of the Denver Nuggets. 

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Key Stats

CJ McCollum, POR: 29 points, eight assists

Paul George, LAC: 21 points, six boards

Damian Lillard, POR: 22 points

Reggie Jackson, LAC: 17 points, five assists

Gary Trent Jr., POR: 22 points, 6-of-10 from three

Landry Shamet, LAC: 19 points

Carmelo Anthony, POR: 21 points, seven rebounds

Marcus Morris Sr., LAC: 15 points, eight rebounds

                

The Bubble Blazers Threw One Away on Saturday

The Blazers are an enigma.

On one hand, it's hard to imagine any teams excited by the prospect of the Blazers making the playoffs. Lillard had a subdued performance by his own lofty standards Saturday, but he's good for at least one playoff win all by himself. Carmelo Anthony has settled into the third-scorer role nicely. Having Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic healthy gives the Blazers excellent inside-outside balance, and Gary Trent Jr. has been an absolute menace in Orlando. 

McCollum was the starring figure on Saturday, leading the team in scoring, and his perimeter combination with Lillard makes the Blazers difficult to handle. They could feasibly pull off a major upset in the first round of the playoffs. 

The Los Angeles Lakers would never admit it, but surely they'd prefer to see a team other than Portland emerge from the crowd. And yet, the Blazers are also just 3-2 in the bubble.

For as dangerous as they are, they can't seem to ever quite put it all together. Failing to beat a shorthanded Clippers team Saturday was the perfect example. 

                                

Reggie Jackson, LA's Role Players Stepped Up in Kawhi Leonard's Absence

The Clippers needed some of their role players to offer a bigger impact and assist Paul George on Saturday with Kawhi Leonard not playing because knee soreness and Patrick Beverley (left calf strain) and Montrezl Harrell also unavailable. Reggie Jackson answered the call. 

His scoring output highlighted a balanced showing from the Clippers' deep reserve of role players. The fact that Jackson can step in and give this team a boost when it needs it is a boon for their title chances. 

Most teams don't have the ability to bring players like Jackson, Lou Williams, Harrell, Marcus Morris Sr., JaMychal Green and McGruder off the bench. Jackson and those role players stole a win Saturday. 

                   

What's Next? 

The Blazers take on the Ben Simmons-less Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. ET, while the Clippers take on the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday at 9 p.m. ET.