Paul George scores 42 points, but Clippers lose to Trail Blazers and fall to 1-4
At a certain point, games can cross an invisible threshold after which so much has gone wrong that coaches deem it no longer valuable to watch the film.
“There’s too much to watch,” he said, “and because of that, you don’t watch that much of it, you know?”
Paul George will be focal point of the team with fellow All-Star Kawhi Leonard sidelined. He’s ready for the challenge with a new belief and attitude.
But as Lue stalked across Moda Center’s court here, eight hours before tipoff Friday, it appeared he hadn’t so simply brushed off Wednesday’s loss, which had reinforced early trends. Terance Mann and Luke Kennard had passed up open shots, a cardinal sin at a time when shot creation is at a premium with Kawhi Leonard, Marcus Morris and Serge Ibaka unavailable. Eric Bledsoe’s offensive efficiency outside of the paint had continued to wane. Who is this team’s second-best offensive option? Check back in November.
Lue came prepared Friday with changes. He moved Amir Coffey into the backup forward role in place of Justise Winslow, whose defensive versatility and passing had yet to outweigh the lack of offensive spacing his 37% shooting had created. Lead ballhandler duties were shifted to Reggie Jackson, moving Bledsoe into an off-ball role for the first time this season.
Through nearly three quarters, all it did was create another game that appeared headed toward the virtual trash bin. A 20-9 Clippers lead, built by making their first six three-pointers, disappeared during a six-minute scoreless drought. When Kennard passed on a transition opportunity in the second quarter, then missed a three-pointer later in the possession, Lue shook his head and raised his palms. Bledsoe wasn’t used in the lineup that closed the first half’s final minute. By the third quarter they eventually trailed by 20 points.
Kennard got the message during a 17-2 third-quarter run to trim the deficit to five. He took 11 three-pointers, making four, and finished with 16 points. One game after saying his legs felt “heavy,” George scored 42 points, with six three-pointers, and eight rebounds, saying he felt fresher after resuming a postgame recovery routine that worked for him last season. But the rewatch won’t be easy of a loss that dropped the Clippers to 1-4.
Three of George’s four turnovers came during the third as the gap was closing. Down six with 6:34 to play, and eight with five minutes left, the Clippers scored just 12 points after that, as their dependence on George, though no secret entering the season, continues to be striking.
“We can’t wear him down, expecting him to get 40 every night for us to be in the game,” Lue said.
Kennard was the only other Clipper to score in double digits. Bledsoe scored a season-low three points. He, Ivica Zubac and Nicolas Batum combined to make three of their 17 shots. One game after being outrebounded by 21, the Clippers were outrebounded by 20 despite having a 7-footer on the floor for all but five minutes. Yet Isaiah Hartenstein and Ivica Zubac combined for just eight rebounds.
“I think we’re a group not to point fingers, we’re going to stay together as a group,” Kennard said. “We’re just going to have to figure things out.”
Norman Powell, who had missed Monday’s Clippers game because of a hurt knee, returned for the Blazers to score 12 points, but it was Damian Lillard, who had missed his first nine three-pointers against the Clippers this season and shot just 33% overall, who finished off the Clippers with 25 points, connecting on five of his seven shots from deep.
Billups had called Lillard a “ticking time bomb” before tipoff, and he blew up the Clippers’ chances with back-to-back three-pointers in the closing minutes.
Easy answers for the Clippers’ offense don’t appear to be arriving anytime soon. Morris, after sitting all four preseason games to rest his knee, “tried to do it for the team in the first couple games, just tried to play and try to play through it,” Lue said, “but he wasn’t really ready.” There is no timeline for his leg to be strong enough to return yet, though he has participated in some on-court drills, Lue said. Ibaka also has a fuzzy timeline to return, because of his back.
“I think we’re good, I think we’re in a good position,” George said. “We just got to get better.”
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