PORTLAND — The Trail Blazers are showing a knack for this.
Already in the young season, the Blazers have slumped into dry spells that make it seem like the game should be called for mercy, only to recover, make shots and make stops and come back. This worked last week in Houston.
On Thursday night as the Los Angeles Clippers built a 21-point halftime lead, the lifeless and rudderless response from the Blazers did not promote much confidence. Then, it happened once again.
Rookies grew up a little and their veterans stabilized the runaway game so that the Blazers could rally and the Rose Garden would roar. But this time, the narrative ends with an “almost.”
The Blazers almost pulled off the comeback but fell to the Clippers 103-90.
Nicolas Batum filled the stat sheet with 23 points, nine rebounds, five assists and three steals. His driving layup near the end of the third quarter lifted the Blazers to within nine points. Then with 7:28 remaining in the fourth, Batum’s alley oop assist to rookie center Meyers Leonard made it 86-82 — the closest Portland had been since the first quarter.
Even so, the updated Blazers’ record will indicate a drop to two wins and three losses — and maybe, one moral victory.
“I was pleased with the way we came back, obviously in the second half,” coach Terry Stotts said. “I was very disappointed in the way we played, the way we competed in the first half, but the second half was what we need to do every time we’re on the court.”
The Clippers (4-2) stormed the court through the second quarter, dizzying the Blazers with a 22-2 run that mostly came from their reserves. And there was Jamal Crawford in the midst of it all.
No other Clipper ruined the Rose Garden vibe on Thursday more than Crawford did. Booed at the 1:34 mark of the first quarter when he first stepped onto the floor — fans inside the sold-out arena remembered the skinny scoring machine as a Blazer a year ago and must have wanted to blame him for the 28-38 record — Crawford continued making his case for Sixth Man of the Year. He scored eight points during the second-quarter run and finished with a game-high 25. By halftime, Portland trailed 60-39 and gave no reason for even the most faithful to believe.
“We didn’t offer much resistance in the first half,” Stotts said. “They pretty much did what they wanted.”
The mood shifted slightly when LaMarcus Aldridge started the third quarter with a 21-foot jumper. From there, the Blazers outscored their Western Conference rivals 32-17. During this stretch, rookie Damian Lillard hit two 3-pointers and chipped in three assists. Leonard, who played more minutes than starter J.J. Hickson, energized the crowd with plenty of hustle plays and dunks. And although the spark would die in the fourth quarter, a lesson was learned.
“They just played harder, we didn’t have a lot of energy,” Lillard said. “Just as something as simple as (playing) with more energy, that led to shots falling.”
“When we play like that with a lot of energy and when we’re flying around, playing hard, moving the ball, we know that we can play with one of the best teams in the league.”