PORTLAND — All season long, the Trail Blazers have been looking for someone to close. But Thursday night, it seemed all they did was open.
They opened the door for the Clippers to climb back in the game. They opened an old wound they thought they sealed one night earlier. And after losing 74-71 — they opened themselves up to all sorts of criticism.
Portland, after all, led Los Angeles by 18 at one point in the third quarter, and was up by eight heading into the fourth. The Blazers had also managed to hold All-Star point guard Chris Paul scoreless through the first 36 minutes while limiting him to one assist.
But after managing just 11 points in the final period, Portland (16-15) left the court with its head hung lower than its late-game field-goal percentage.
“It’s a collapse — a total collapse,” said Blazers guard Jamal Crawford, who scored 19 points Thursday. “In the fourth quarter, it felt like we started playing like we were playing from behind and we were up. They became the aggressors.”
Paul scored all 13 of his points in the fourth quarter, delivering a dagger of a 3-pointer to put the Clippers (19-9) up by four with three minutes left. He followed it up with a 16-footer to give his team a six-point lead with 1:05 to go.
Before Portland guard Wesley Matthews knocked down a 3-pointer with 20 seconds left, the Blazers had scored just seven points in the fourth quarter.
Even so, they still had a chance at the end of the game.
After Matthews hit his first of two free throws with eight seconds remaining, the Blazers were within three points. Matthews then missed his second foul shot, got his own rebound, then tossed up a fadeaway 3-pointer at the buzzer that fell well short.
It was the Clippers largest come-from-behind win of the year. It was also the Blazers fourth straight loss at the Rose Garden — the first time that’s happened since January of 2007.
“The pressure tonight — again I’ll call it a self-destruction, this was us. This wasn’t the Clippers,” said Blazers coach Nate McMillan, whose team is now 2-10 in games decided by five points or less. “We didn’t execute, of course, down the stretch. We basically got stagnant and it became a one-on-one basketball game.
Blake Griffin led all scorers with 21 points. The Clippers forward also grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds while shooting 9-of-15 from the field. Nicolas Batum scored 19 points for the Blazers — but scored just four after the first quarter and none in the final period.
Much of this was due to the fact that the Clippers began switching every screen, leaving it nearly impossible for Batum to get free. And it didn’t help that Portland’s leading scorer, LaMarcus Aldridge, sat out his second consecutive game due to a sprained left ankle.
It was also the Blazers’ third game in as many nights, which might be why Crawford chalked the meltdown up to Portland “running out of gas.”
But there was likely a little more to it than that.
“On the road, you just have to keep it close, and we gave ourselves an opportunity,” Paul said. “I’m still mad I didn’t perform, but in the fourth quarter, I was telling the guys that’s where it all matters.”
The Blazers began the back-to-back-to-back with a home loss to the Wizards on Tuesday, continued with a two-point win over the Warriors in Oakland on Wednesday, and ended with Thursday’s result.
They’re next game is against the Hawks in the Rose Garden.