The Portland Trail Blazers had a four-day break for the Christmas holiday, so it’s only fair that their first game back at the Moda Center would be a 116-112 overtime victory against the Clippers in front of a sellout crowd of 20,053 Thursday night.
“Another good win for us, obviously against an elite team in the West,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “We keep finding ways to win games, making clutch shots, getting stops. (We) make it interesting at times, but thought it was a terrific game and glad to get a win.”
Portland is now 5-1 against other 20-win teams and are 9-1 in their last 10 overtime games.
It looked at numerous times throughout the game that the Trail Blazers might pull away from the Clippers, a team playing on the second night of a back-to-back. But Portland, despite leading at one point by as many as 12, never found a way to put the Clippers away, resulting in yet another heart-pounding finish at the Moda Center.
“On the whole, they are an explosive team and I thought Blake Griffin and Chris Paul played at a very high level,” said Stotts. “They made some tough shots. For the first 20 minutes of the game, our defense was very sold. Maybe it was becaue they were missing shots, but I thought they defense was very solid.”
Chris Paul, who finished with 34 points, 16 assists, six steals, three rebounds and just one turnover in almost 45 minutes of play, took control in the fourth quarter, scoring the Clippers’ last eight points, including a fadeaway baseline jumper with nine seconds left in regulation that gave L.A. a 101-98 lead.
“Out of bounds, back pick, wide open,” said Batum describing his game-tying shot in the most deadpan tone possible. “I was surprised to get the ball that wide open. Just get one dribble and take a shot. I had to get a shot anyway. That was a good play drawn up by the coach.”
While Batum liked the call from Stotts, the opposing sideline was not nearly as enamored with their execution in the final seconds of regulati0n.
“We gave them a three at the end, that can’t happen,” said Clippers head coach Doc Rivers. “Number one, we should have fouled and that’s on me. We had too much indecision, that’s why I called the twenty (second timeout), because I could see the guys weren’t all on the same page defensively. I always foul. The one time I don’t, they score. That’s why I always foul, so that’s on me.”
Paul had a clean look at a 17-footer to win the game, but the shot rimmed off, sending the game to overtime and the Moda Center crowd into hysterics.
The teams would trade baskets for much of the overtime period before the Trail Blazers took a three-point lead after two Batum free throws with 26 seconds to play. The Clippers would respond with a Blake Griffin dunk before Damian Lillard converted two free throws of his own to put the Blazers up 114-111.
The free throw shooting in overtime would continue with Jamal Crawford earning a trip to the line with 13 seconds to play in overtime. But Crawford, a career 85 percent free throw shooter, would miss his first attempt, preserving a two-point cushion and forcing the Clippers to foul on the ensuing possession. Wesley Matthews would draw the foul and hit both free throws with 12 seconds to play to give Portland’s a four-point victory and their 24th win of the season.
“31 shots, I think anyone can find a groove,” said Aldridge. “I definitely felt better. A little rusty to start having four days without easting or taking one shot, but I felt good going into the second half.”
While Aldridge and Blake Griffin (35 points, 11 rebounds) canceled each other out, Robin Lopez won the center battle for the Trail Blazers, finishing with 11 points and 15 rebounds while his counterpart, DeAndre Jordan, scoring just two points, though he did pull down a game-high 19 rebounds. Lopez, Joel Freeland and Meyers Leonard, who grabbed seven rebounds in just under 13 minutes, drew praise for their defensive effort against L.A.’s athletic frontcourt.
“(Lopez) was guarding Griffin for much of the night with (Aldridge) getting in foul trouble early and then trying to keep (Aldridge) out of foul trouble,” said Stotts. “I thought he did a nice job defensively. Both he and (Aldridge) with our pick and rolls, they did a nice job of minimizing the lobs and things like that. RoLo, he just competes and he talks.”
Batum went six of 11 from the field to finish with 19 points while adding seven rebounds and three assists. Both Lillard (four of 12) and Matthews (5 of 12) struggled from the field, but were nonetheless able to finish with 19 and 14 points, respectively, in the winning effort.
“I think any given night, guys can step up,” said Aldridge. “Nic makes a huge three to even give us a chance to win it. Wes makes big shots, Dame. We have so many guys that can make plays, it’s been great for us.”
Portland’s best playmaker Thursday night might have been Mo Williams, who came off the bench to hand out a team-high eight assists while hitting four three-pointers, all seemingly at critical moments in the game, to finish with 12 points.
“Mo was terrific,” said Stotts. “His line was great and he brought energy, he made his shots, I think he had eight assists. That second unit was very productive in both halves and he had a lot to do with it. I think he’s the best backup point guard in the league and we’re lucky to have him.”
Next up, the Trail Blazers host the Heat on Saturday night. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 PM on KGW.