NBA Preseason: Clippers Defeat Blazers, Ending Preseason on High Note


For the first 12 minutes of Thursday’s preseason finale against the Portland Trail Blazers — a new-look Portland team without four starters from last season — the Clippers looked to be throwing in the bag, tired of meaningless exhibition games and ready for the “real stuff” to get started.

After leading 8-4, Portland went on a run worthy of nothing in any basketball setting that includes a professional team on both sides, leading 45 to 17 by the opening quarter’s end — 29 of 45 came from the backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, a pair who could be a thorn in defense’s sides all season long.

Then the Clippers remembered they were vastly better than the team across from them, began to care, and the tides turned, outscoring the Blazers 98-64 the rest of the way to win 115-109.

The second and third quarters were the Clippers sparking the comeback. The fourth quarter is where the show happened, and by show, a display that fully encapsulates what this Clippers team could look like if all meaningful parts deliver as expected on the season, aka the bench consistently carrying its on weight.

In the final quarter where only Prigioni, Pierce, Rivers, Johnson, and Smith played, the Clippers locked in defensively, forcing Portland to shoot 34% and allowed only 20 points (12 of which came from Lillard who tried his best to carry his team to a ‘W’ all by himself), and finding it’s groove offensively, scoring 34 points in the quarter.

It was Smith’s all-around play, whether it be the 4 points, 3 assists, 3 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block, and a fine bout of rim protection.

Austin Rivers‘ on-ball scoring, who scored 8 points in the fourth.

Wes Johnson finding his niche as the team’s lone athletic 3-and-D guy, finishing with 9 points.

Prigs’ ball movement.

Paul Pierce‘s late-game brilliance, which is what the Clippers brought him over for — PP scored 14 points in the fourth.

And that’s where the high note comes into play.

Seeing the Clippers’ starters perform at a high level has become so routine it’s often perceived as boring or generic. But seeing the Clippers’ bench do the same? It’s something this group hasn’t been able to do since “A Tribe Called Bench” (Odom, Barnes, Bledsoe, etc.) took the floor in 2012. As stated above, the sample size is small, but it looks like the placement of Lance in the starting lineup has opened the floor for others to make their impact on the game, though it should be noted the Clippers were without Jamal Crawford tonight as he sat with what doesn’t look to be a serious injury. And there’s the instance of gauging the foe: the Blazers aren’t going to be a good defensive team this season unless key guys in Ed Davis, Noah Vonleh, and Miles Plumlee break out, so taking much from this isn’t an ideal method.

But this is progress. In China, the Clippers’ bench looked a mess, overpassing in hopes of not seeming too selfish, and when ditching that idea, hoisting long two’s because that’s just their favorite shots. The Warriors game (Lance also started this one), we saw the step forward needed, because though it’s the preseason and none of this matters, I — and likely others — began to grow worried of this bench. Names don’t get the job done; that’s what this bench has. It’s production, flow, ball movement, chemistry, etc., and this group looked as if it’d never gain any of the above labels, but the final two games have forced the ledge-steppers to back up and enjoy the view for the time being.

Now, we play the waiting game until the Clippers hit the floor against the Sacramento Kings on Oct. 28.

There’s excitement surrounding this team, and the preseason ending builds onto that. See you then, guys — and of course, there’ll be some posts in between now and the 28 to get us and you all ready for the season.