Raymond Felton danced around an Ed Davis screen, attached himself to C.J. McCollum’s hip and then reached up to block McCollum’s mid-range jump shot with the Clippers’ clinging to a slim fourth-quarter lead against the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night.
The Clippers eventually squeaked past the Trail Blazers, 121-120, and Felton’s unrelenting on-ball defense was a big reason why. To Clippers Coach Doc Rivers, it was the reason why. Felton, who missed the Clippers’ previous two games following the death of his grandmother, spent Monday shadowing the Trail Blazers’ electric young backcourt of McCollum and Damian Lillard.
He could have been rusty. He could have been out of shape. Instead he held McCollum to one point in the fourth quarter, pestered Lillard into a critical miss down the stretch and even added 10 points while hitting two threes. It all illustrated his true value to the see-sawing Clippers: As a 32-year-old defensive stopper who takes great pride in an unheralded role.
“I love to play defense, and with this team that’s what I have to do every night,” Felton said. “I don’t have to worry about trying to come in and score.”
Felton’s return was doubly important given the absence of guard Austin Rivers, who sustained a concussion in the Clippers’ win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday.
Rivers has been cleared to travel on the Clippers’ upcoming three-game trip — which starts against the Orlando Magic at 4 p.m. on Wednesday — but still needs to complete the NBA’s concussion protocol. He, Felton and Luc Mbah a Moute are the three players who regularly guard opposing teams’ top perimeter scorers.
Without Rivers in the lineup, Felton’s role as an off-the-bench defender is only magnified. It then becomes even more important when he is paired with starting point guard Chris Paul, like he was in the fourth quarter against the Trail Blazers, because the Clippers like to keep Paul off top-flight scorers.
“Doc was trying to figure out who do we go back with, and all that stuff like that, and I was like stay with Ray,” Paul said after the win. “... Ray creates shots for everybody and defensively it gave me an opportunity to stay on [Maurice] Harkless, you know what I mean? And not do as much running around, so I appreciate Ray like crazy.”
Felton played 24 minutes, including all but five seconds of the fourth quarter, on Monday. That was his second most of the season, and came after flying back to Los Angeles from South Carolina, which is where his grandmother’s funeral was held, in the morning.
The veteran guard said he was able to squeeze in workouts when he wasn’t spending time with his family, but admitted he felt winded while fighting around screens, picking up Lillard or McCollum around midcourt and pressing up on them at every opportunity.
It would be hard to blame him for that. Felton said playing helped take his mind off things. The Clippers are feeling just as lucky to have him back on the court.
“Raymond was fantastic tonight,” Doc Rivers said Monday night. “His ball pressure, even before the ball got across half-court, was absolutely wonderful for us. It’s why we won.”
CLIPPERS AT ORLANDO
When: Wednesday, 4 p.m. PST.
Where: Amway Center.
On the air: TV: Prime Ticket; Radio: 570, 1330.
Records: Clippers 18-7; Magic 10-15 (through Monday).
Records vs. Magic (2015-16): Clippers 2-0.
Update: The Clippers have defeated the Magic five consecutive times, six of the last seven. The Magic are just 4-8 at home, while being a respectable 6-7 (before playing at Atlanta on Tuesday) on the road. Under new Coach Frank Vogel, the Magic have been good on defense, allowing 100.1 points per game, sixth-best in the NBA. But the Magic aren’t very good offensively, averaging just 94.8 points per game, the second-lowest output in the league.
-- Broderick Turner
Follow Jesse Dougherty on Twitter @dougherty_jesse