Chris Paul doesn’t often struggle to score. But on Thursday, the Los Angeles Clippers guard was having one of those nights.
Through three quarters against Portland, Paul was scoreless, shot 0 for 7 from the field and had just one assist. But the four-time All-Star saved his best for the fourth quarter, as Paul scored 13 points to help the Clippers rally for a 74-71 win over the Trail Blazers.
”I’ve had bad games before, so I didn’t care,” Paul said. ”If we would have lost, I would have beat myself up. The fourth quarter is when it all matters.”
Blake Griffin had 21 points and 14 rebounds to lead Los Angeles, which won for the first time in Portland since Dec. 12, 2008. The Clippers (19-9) trailed by as many as 18 points during the second half, and outscored Portland 22-11 during the fourth quarter.
Portland led 60-54 when Paul scored his first basket of the game, with 9:15 remaining. That seemed to ignite the Clippers, who went on a 14-3 run to take command of the game. Paul scored 11 points during that seven-minute stretch.
Paul was puzzled about his early struggles, saying ”I had a bunch of gimmes, but I couldn’t get it going.”
Griffin didn’t believe the Blazers could blank Paul for an entire game.
”He said, `Man, I just need to see it go in,”’ Griffin said. ”I noticed he shot a little jumper after the whistle and I thought to myself, `I hope that was the one he needed.’ Then, he hit a little jump shot and it was rollin’ from there. He can do that.”
Paul said he gathered the team right before the fourth quarter and gave his teammates an inspirational message. Then Paul delivered with his performance, hitting five of eight shots, as well as collecting two steals during the final 12 minutes.
Williams scored 17 points for Los Angeles.
Nicolas Batum and Jamal Crawford scored 19 points each for Portland (16-15). The Trail Blazers were playing for a second straight game without All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who sprained his left ankle in Tuesday’s game against Washington.
Both teams were held to season lows for points.
Portland was playing its third game in three days, and Griffin acknowledged that the combination of Aldridge’s absence and fatigue might have been a factor in the fourth quarter. Crawford said it had to do with the Blazers’ playing style.
”It was a collapse. A total collapse,” Crawford said. ”In the fourth quarter, it felt like we started playing like we were playing from behind, and we were up. They became the aggressors. We were the aggressors the first three quarters.”
Portland’s defense stumped the Clippers for most of the first half. Los Angeles made just 15 of 45 shots, and of its 15 field goals, seven were putbacks of offensive rebounds.
Batum got Portland rolling, scoring 15 points during the first quarter to stake the Blazers to a 27-20 lead. Early in the second, Crawford hit a 3-pointer as Portland scored eight unanswered points to build the lead to 15 points. The struggling Clippers were able to pull to within 43-32 by halftime.
Portland went on a scoring spurt by scoring the first seven points of the second half to take a 50-32 lead. But the Blazers’ offense suddenly went cold, and Los Angeles slowly began its huge rally.
Portland made two field goals during a 9-minute stretch, and the Clippers shaved the deficit to 64-62 on Paul’s layup with 6:56 remaining. Three minutes later, Williams’ 3-pointer gave Los Angeles the lead at 67-66.
Paul hit a 3, then followed with a 16-footer with 1:05 left to put the Clippers ahead 72-67. Portland had chance to tie, but Wesley Matthews’ wild 3-point shot missed at the buzzer.
”This says that we’ve matured as a team,” Griffin said. ”I think we’ve answered the question that we can win on the road.”
Notes: Blazers owner Paul Allen issued a statement regarding news of a proposal of a new arena in Seattle and the possible return of the NBA to that city, saying: ”It’s exciting to think about the NBA coming back to Seattle and renewing the rivalry with the Portland Trail Blazers. However, it is too early for me to comment further without a specific plan or proposal to review.” … Los Angeles’ 32 first-half points were a season low. The previous mark was 36 against San Antonio. … The Clippers missed their first 11 shots from 3-point range.