You could see it coming. And then you couldn’t. A low-energy start resulted in a 19-point deficit for the Clippers, who somehow fought back to emerge with a 126-122 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night at the Moda Center. Here are five takeaways from the game:
1. The Clippers’ resolve cannot be questioned now. They were worn out after having played the previous night. They trailed by as many as 19 points in one of the NBA’s most inhospitable environments. Their point guard was shoved to the court. The Clippers had every excuse but didn’t use any of them, fighting back against a playoff-bound team. “We kept hearing all day, ‘Oh, you guys must be tired,’ ” Clippers forward Blake Griffin said. “We’re coming in off an emotional game and the Blazers got six games at home where the opponent’s playing off a back-to-back and they have a day off. All that stuff. It’s all stuff that’s such a mirage. You can just get lost in it and feel sorry for yourself and talk yourself out of coming out and playing hard. We didn’t do that tonight. We came out and played and kept fighting.”
2. Chris Paul deserves to be at least mentioned in the MVP race. All he does is continue to lead one of the NBA’s best teams in super steady fashion. He scored 41 points and distributed 17 assists against the Trail Blazers, but his most impressive statistic might have been the one turnover in 39 minutes. And it came 15 seconds into the game on a bad pass. “I should have benched him,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said. “It was the first play of the game.” Somehow, Paul’s name is not among those generating MVP buzz (James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, LeBron James). “He’s so good,” Rivers said of Paul. “I mean, I don’t take anything from any of the other guards because they’re all good. But it’s just, he gets overlooked every night.”
3. Griffin continues to extend the shooting range on his jumper. The Clippers forward made two three-pointers as well two 20-foot jump shots and a 19-footer on the way to 24 points against Portland on Wednesday. “I feel a lot more comfortable,” said Griffin who made 10 of 18, including his only two tries from three-point range. “The strength is pretty much there. Kind of where I expected to be at this point, so just trying to keep it that way.”
4. Glen Davis is starting to flop more than a 2-year-old in a bouncy house. Perhaps the most entertaining moment during the Paul-Chris Kaman dustup late in the third quarter Wednesday came when Clippers forward Glen Davis appeared to propel himself backward and onto his rear end after briefly becoming entangled with Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge. Even Davis’ coach laughed about it afterward. “Baby, no comment,” Rivers said, referring to Davis’ nickname. “I just saw him flying. When I saw the refs look at me like, you’ve got to be kidding, I kind of had a feeling what happened.” Davis could be fined $5,000 after having already received a flop warning earlier this season.
5. The rest of the schedule should be kind to the Clippers. Of the six Western Conference teams packed together like a family of five inside a studio apartment — only two games separated the teams seeded second through sixth as of Thursday — the Clippers have the easiest remaining schedule. The Clippers (50-26) will play only two more games against teams with winning records. Portland (48-26) will play four games against above-.500 teams, Houston (51-24) and Memphis (51-24) will each play five such games and San Antonio (49-26) six games. That strength-of-schedule discrepancy could help the Clippers climb as high as second in the standings or, at the very least, obtain homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The Clippers are currently in fifth place, 1 1/2 games behind Houston and Memphis for second.