Clippers lose to Trail Blazers, 96-88, in Game 3 of Western Conference first round – Los Angeles Times

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The Clippers withstood the early onslaught from Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

They withstood the offensive ineptitude that resulted in a 40-point first half.

The complete breakdowns over the game’s final four minutes? There was no overcoming that Saturday night at the Moda Center.

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A litany of oddities that included an airballed three-pointer by Chris Paul and a corner three-point attempt by Blake Griffin that wasn’t close doomed the Clippers during a 96-88 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 3 of their first-round playoff series.

The Clippers hold a 2-1 lead in a series that continues here with Game 4 on Monday, but the Trail Blazers possess all the momentum after closing the game on a 15-3 run.

“When it was winning time they made the better plays,” Paul said. “The coaches always say it’s a make-miss league, but at the end of the day you have to give yourself a chance which means you have to execute.”

Deadpanned Clippers Coach Doc Rivers: “Tonight we made some really interesting plays. I can’t wait to look at it.”

DeAndre Jordan contributed to an unsightly stretch in which the Clippers scored only three points over the game’s final four minutes by missing five of six free throws.

The Clippers trailed by as many as 11 points in the third quarter and five in the fourth before their defense triggered a 7-0 run that gave them an 85-81 lead with 3:52 left on a Jamal Crawford 13-foot jumper in which he was fouled and made the free throw.

Everything went haywire from there.

The Clippers’ offense went into stall mode, with Griffin missing a three-pointer and Jordan missing four consecutive free throws as Portland surged into an 88-85 lead. The Clippers called timeout with 1:33 left to set up a play that never transpired after Griffin lost the ball for a turnover, leading to a breakaway layup attempt by McCollum in which he was fouled by Paul.

“I’ve got to be better at the end of the game in order for us to win,” Griffin said. “I take that one. It’s on me.”

The Trail Blazers pulled away behind a Maurice Harkless putback dunk and a flurry of free throws, most of the Clippers starters walking off the court as the final seconds counted down.

Lillard (32 points) and McCollum (27) combined to make 21 of 42 shots, far exceeding their efficiency over the series’ first two games.

Paul had 26 points and nine assists, but J.J. Redick (five points) made only two of 10 shots and Griffin (12 points) made five of 16. Jamal Crawford’s 19 points off the bench weren’t enough to offset those numbers.

Jordan had 16 rebounds and 11 points, but the number everyone will remember was his missing seven of 10 free throws. He was also outplayed in stretches by Portland counterpart Mason Plumlee, who had 21 rebounds, nine assists and six points.

Getting out-toughed was a theme for most of the night.

“They pushed and we didn’t really push back,” Griffin said. “You have to be the team that initiates it. You can’t be the team that responds to it. They did everything, I felt like, they wanted to do.”

Portland Coach Terry Stotts said before the game that success would be mostly about attitude, and the Trail Blazers showed some spunk even before tipoff.

Two fans sat along the baseline behind the Clippers’ basket during warmups wearing T-shirts saying “Clippers Equipment Manager” and sporting fake black eyes. One held up a sign saying, “I thought we were friends Blake,” a clear reference to Griffin’s having punched assistant equipment manager Matias Testi in January over teasing that went too far.

The Clippers figured they would probably have to withstand a bigger challenge than Portland had presented in losing Game 1 by 20 points and Game 2 by 21. Lillard and McCollum provided it by combining for 33 points in the first half.

Redick credited the Trail Blazers guards with attacking early in possessions before the Clippers’ defense could get set. Of course, there was another issue haunting the Clippers.
“I think some of it was us just not doing things as hard as we did in the first two games,” Redick said.

The Clippers did do one thing the hard way: try to make three-pointers. They made only three of 18 shots (16.7%) from beyond the arc, their worst percentage of the season.

McCollum was recognized before the game for winning the NBA‘s most-improved-player award and certainly looked enhanced from the player who made nine of 28 shots (32.1%) in the series’ first two games.

McCollum converted two three-point plays in which he was fouled on a basket and made the resulting free throw in an 11-second span early in the second quarter. Then he drove underneath the basket before pulling up on the baseline for a turnaround jumper that gave the Blazers a 36-26 lead. He ran to the other end of the court, arms raised to enliven a crowd already roaring.

Lillard provided the biggest early jolt. He made his first shot, a three-pointer, and further revved things up with a reverse layup, another three-pointer and a step-back jumper. Lillard made five of eight shots and had 12 points by the end of the first quarter, putting his 33% shooting in the first two games behind him.

Meanwhile, the Clippers’ offense was running in reverse. They made one of 10 three-pointers in the first half and Redick and Crawford combined to make three of 14 shots.

They’ll probably have to do better in Game 4 or the Clippers could be headed back here next week for a Game 6.

Clippers lose to Trail Blazers, 96-88, in Game 3 of Western Conference first round – Los Angeles Times