Clippers reserves finish off a chippy victory over Trail Blazers
Dressed in street clothes because of an injury, Clippers guard Patrick Beverley opened his right hand and waved goodbye toward Portland’s opposing bench during the final seconds of the Clippers’ 122-117 victory Saturday inside HP Field House.
Five minutes before, the Clippers removed leading scorer Paul George in a three-point game and inserted a lineup featuring just one starter against a Trail Blazers lineup with four. Coach Doc Rivers said the decision was rooted in players reaching their allotted minutes limit because the Clippers play Brooklyn on Sunday. The decision was also read in the moment as gamesmanship because the Clippers had chosen to rest Kawhi Leonard for the game.
The Trail Blazers are chasing the eighth seed in the Western Conference, and a victory would have helped last year’s conference finalists — red-hot thus far in the seeding round of the NBA restart — toward a potential first-round matchup against the Lakers.
And yet the Clippers’ reserves willed a victory, leading the team’s bench to erupt with every surprise bucket in a chippy contest. Backup forward Patrick Patterson tied the score with one minute remaining before a layup by Portland’s Damian Lillard broke a 115-all tie with 41 seconds left.
Reserve guard Rodney McGruder, a 27% three-point shooter, drilled a three from the top of the arc with 26 seconds left for a one-point lead.
Jamal Murray scored 23 points in his first game of the NBA restart, and the Denver Nuggets beat the Utah Jazz 134-132 in two overtimes Saturday.
Lillard, an 88.9% career free-throw shooter and a star renowned for his clutch performances, could have pushed the Trail Blazers ahead but missed two free throws with 18 seconds remaining. He missed a three-point try in the final seconds that could have tied the score.
“I was shocked” by the misses, Rivers said, “because he doesn’t. He’s a very clutch player.”
The stunning misfires led Beverley to tap an imaginary watch on the bench, mocking Lillard’s “Dame Time” celebration. He then bent over laughing with teammate Marcus Morris.
As the seconds ticked off the unpredictable victory, Beverley waved goodbye to Portland’s bench using the same one-hand motion Lillard made famous last season, after his playoff series-clinching shot ended George and Oklahoma City’s season.
“I’ve sent [Beverley] home before at the end of a game,” said Lillard, who scored 22 points. “Paul George has got sent home by me last year in the playoffs. So they know the reason they’re reacting like that is because of what they’re expecting from me, which is a sign of respect.
“And it just shows what I’ve done at a high clip more times than not. So I’m not offended by it. If anything they should tell you how much it hurt them to go through what I put them through.”
CJ McCollum led Portland (32-39) with 29 points, but the Trail Blazers couldn’t stop the Clippers’ bench from closing the game on a 17-9 run in the final five minutes.
During a first half in which the Blazers made 52% of their three-point attempts and the Clippers 50% of theirs, the teams maintained a running score and commentary. After sinking a deep three-pointer, Lillard turned toward Beverley on the bench and told him, “I want you out here” while pointing to the court. Later, during the second quarter, George repeatedly told young Portland sharpshooter Gary Trent Jr., who’d just stolen George’s dribble, that he talked too much.
“It’s just competition,” George said. “Some people can play with talking, some people can’t.”
The back-and-forth continued long after the teams left HP Field House. Under an Instagram post quoting Lillard, George wrote: “And you getting sent home this year” with a laughing emoji followed by “respect.”
To that, Lillard replied: “keep switching teams … running from the grind. You boys is chumps.”
Before tipoff, Rivers said the decision to rest Leonard was not made with playoff ramifications in mind. Afterward, he added that George and other key contributors were pulled late because they’d reached their limit of minutes.
“The guys knew before the game we weren’t going to play them but a certain amount of minutes, and I made it a point that we’re going to try to win the game,” Rivers said.
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Portland coach Terry Stotts cautioned before the game that only two days earlier, his team had played a Denver team resting multiple players yet barely escaped with a victory because of the effort of the Nuggets’ bench.
His warning was prophetic. Hours later, he watched as a Clippers rotation full of rarely used crunch-time players snatched a victory.
“It doesn’t matter who we have on the floor, what five,” Clippers guard Landry Shamet said. “We’re all working towards the same goal.”
Three observations on the Clippers
— The Clippers (47-22) survived despite allowing 17 three-pointers for a third consecutive game. “We got lucky a little bit,” Doc Rivers said. “They missed some good shots.”
— Shooting guard Landry Shamet shifted into the starting lineup thanks to Kawhi Leonard’s absence and produced his highest-scoring game since Feb. 13 with 19 points. Shamet made three three-pointers Saturday, as many as he’d made in his previous four games combined.
— Patrick Beverley missed his second consecutive game because of soreness in his left calf but the guard took a step forward in his recovery by participating before tipoff in light sprints and shooting drills.
When: 6 p.m. PDT, Sunday
On the air: Prime Ticket, NBA TV; Radio: 570, 1330.
Update: Leonard is expected to play after sitting out the win over Portland. The Nets have clinched a playoff spot and are trying to secure the seventh seed ahead of the Orlando Magic, who also clinched a playoff berth when Washington fell to 0-5 in the restart to the season.
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