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Rally falls short as Clippers trip Blazers

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Trail Blazers guard Wesley Matthews loses the ball as he drives inside against the Los Angeles Clippers.For a while during a stirring second-half rally Thursday night at the Rose Garden, the Trail Blazers seemed destined for a landmark victory.

The Los Angeles Clippers had too much cushion, though. And too much Jamal Crawford.

Portland sawed off what was once a 24-point deficit to four with still seven minutes left before the Clippers regained command and put the finishing touches on a 103-90 win.

Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan played a major role in the Blazers’ demise, but it was Crawford who carried the most potent dagger.

Crawford — a Blazer last season before opting out of a two-year free-agent contract in July — scored a game-high 25 points and carried the Clippers (4-2) through turbulent waters in the second half.

“He played like the way he has played the whole season,” said Portland coach Terry Stotts of Crawford, who is averaging a team-high 21.8 points off the bench.

The Clippers toyed with the Blazers (2-3) through a first half that rookie point guard Damian Lillard called “embarrassing.” The L.A. gang outshot the Blazers .581 to .349 and won the rebound battle 28-15 en route to a 60-39 advantage at halftime, with Paul (13 points) and Jordan (12) leading the way.

“I wouldn’t say we came out flat,” Stotts said, “because we were down only one midway through the first quarter. But we weren’t getting stops. We were scoring; they were scoring. At the end of the first quarter, it started to slide away and continued in the second quarter.”

The Blazers turned it around in the third quarter, outscoring the suddenly befuddled Clippers 32-17 to get to within 77-71 entering the final period. Nicolas Batum, 2 for 10 in the fisrt half, scored 12 points as Portland made 12 of 17 shots in the quarter.

Batum, who made 2 of 10 shots in the first half, scored 12 points in the quarter as Portland outscored the L.A. contingent 32-17. And the 6-8 Batum took on the defensive assignment on the 6-foot Paul, who had only eight of his 21 points after intermission.

“The coach asked me if I wanted to guard him, and I’m like, ‘Yeah, why not?’ " Batum said. “Nothing going on for us right now.”

Crawford scored the Clippers’ first nine points in the fourth quarter, but the Blazers — much to the delight of the Garden throng of 20,425, the 194th consecutive sellout — kept coming. Portland rookie Meyers Leonard had three dunks in a three-minute span, the third drawing the hosts to within 86-82. But they would get no closer.

“We did it to ourselves in the first half,” said Lillard, who collected 16 points and four assists with three turnovers in 41 minutes. "IN the third quarter, we were able to find our way and dig out, and we just came up a few plays short.”

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Joel Freeland dunks for the Trail Blazers in their homecourt loss Thursday night to the Los Angeles Clippers at the Rose Garden.It was a good thing for the Clippers that they had put so much distance between themselves and the Blazers.

“We had a letdown, but those guys had a burst of energy,” said Paul, who also had six assists and four rebounds in his 34 minutes. “And this is a tough place to play. I put this as one of the top five toughest places to play in the NBA. That’s a credit to them and their fans and how they always play and never stop playing.”

The Blazers simply had too big a mountain to climb in the end.

“I was pleased with the way we came back in the second half,” Stotts said. “We competed and did a lot of good things.

“But in the first half, we didn’t defend, we didn’t give much resistence to what (the Clippers) were doing and put ourselves in a hole. The second half was what we need to do every time we’re on the court.”

The Clippers outshot the Blazers by a considerable margin — .532 to .427 — though the numbers got closer in the second half.

“The first half skewed the whole thing,” Stotts said. The Clippers “pretty much did what they wanted.”

The Blazers, coming off a three-game road trip, buckled early.

“The first half, we were soft defensively,” said Batum, who finished with a team-high 23 points to go with nine rebounds, five assists and three steals. “I don’t know what happened. Maybe we were tired. Maybe we were happy to be back home. When you’re a young team, sometimes that can happen after a road trip.

“We tried to put some energy in the second half. But you can’t wait 24 minutes to do anything. We won’t win many games like that.”

Notes: Portland’s next action is Saturday night at home against San Antonio. ... Paul and Lillard already seem to have a mutual admiration society. Paul on Lillard: “He can play. He’s aggressive, not scared of anything. Portland better hold onto him. (The Blazers) have a prize possession for the future.” Lillard on Paul: “He’s probably the best point guard in the league. I wanted to come out and get some respect, let him know I wasn’t going to lay down, and try to be effective with my team no matter who I was matched up with. He’s a tough guy to defend, he has really good hands on the defensive end and he runs his team. It was a tough matchup, but I’m going to come out and be myself every game.”

Leonard finished with eight points on 3-of-4 shooting with six rebounds in 24 minutes off the bench. “Meyers played a good game tonight,” Stotts said. “When I put him in, he played well and deserved to stay in.” ... Crawford, who finished 9 for 17 from the field and 6 for 6 from the line, was greeted by a smattering of boos when he entered the game late in the first quarter and heard them much of the night. ... Lillard was asleep at the switch in the third quarter when teammate Wesley Matthews tossed the ball to him to put it it in play after a Clipper basket. Paul picked Lillard clean. ... L.A. wound up with a huge advantage in rebounds (44-31) and points in the paint (56-30). ... Jordan’s 21 points were two short of his career high.