Kawhi-less Clippers beat back Blazers in blow to Portland's playoff push

Jason Owens
·3 min read

The Portland Trail Blazers got a big break on Saturday.

They didn’t take advantage, posting a 122-117 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers as Kawhi Leonard watched from the bench. They did so while blowing a late lead against a lineup of mostly Clippers reserves, putting a dent in their playoff hopes in the process.

Clippers backups seal victory

Portland looked in control late, but couldn’t maintain a 115-110 lead in the final 1:39, even as Clippers head coach Doc Rivers looked to his bench down the stretch.

Backups JaMychal Green, Rodney McGruder and Patrick Patterson all scored in the final minute for the Clippers, with McGruder’s uncontested 3-pointer with 26.5 seconds remaining giving Los Angeles a 118-117 lead.

Lou Williams and the Clippers topped the Trail Blazers despite key players sitting on the bench.  (Photo by Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images)
Lou Williams and the Clippers topped the Trail Blazers despite key players sitting on the bench. (Kim Klement/Getty Images)

Not Dame Time

Portland had a chance to retake the lead, but a pair of missed free throws by Damian Lillard with 18.6 seconds remaining doomed the Trail Blazers. His 3-pointer to tie with 9.5 seconds left clanged off the rim.

Clippers guard Patrick Beverley took pleasure in Lillard’s missed free throws from the bench.

‘Load management’ doesn’t stop Clippers

Leonard sat on the front end of a back-to-back with a game against the Brooklyn Nets slated for Sunday. Rivers also pulled fellow All-Star Paul George down the stretch, even as the game was tied at 115 in the final minute.

Asked after the game why he sat late, George told TNT “load management.” The Clippers were also without Montrezl Harrell, who has yet to rejoin his teammates after leaving the bubble for a personal issue. Beverley sat with what was described as a calf injury.

George led six Clippers in double figures, scoring 21 points along with six rebounds and four assists in 28 minutes. Lillard, CJ McCollum, Carmelo Anthony and Gary Trent Jr. all broached 20 points in the losing effort. McCollum led the way with 29.

What loss means for Portland

The loss is a blow for the Blazers, but they still maintain a half-game edge over the Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs for the critical No. 9 spot in the Western Conference standings.

They drop to 1.5 games behind the reeling Memphis Grizzlies, who maintain the No. 8 seed despite a 1-4 record in the bubble and the loss of starting forward Jaren Jackson Jr. to injury.

The No. 9 seed will face the No. 8 seed in a play-in series for the final playoff spot and the right to face the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round. With Anthony finding his groove, Trent catching fire off the bench and Jusuf Nurkic returning to the starting lineup alongside Lillard and McCollum, the Trail Blazers are expected to be the biggest threat of the potential No. 8 seeds to the Lakers.

The Clippers, meanwhile, have little to play for down the stretch with no shot of catching the Lakers from the No. 2 seed. They could drop to the No. 3 seed behind the Denver Nuggets. But with home-court advantage not an issue in the bubble, the difference between the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds is negligible.

More from Yahoo Sports:

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+140+4O 214.5
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