Ninety minutes before tip off, Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said staying focused and being ready to play the full 48 minutes were the keys to beating a talented but inexperienced and undermanned Portland team.
The Clippers achieved both aims Monday night at Crypto.com Arena, beginning a four-game homestand with a gritty 132-127 triumph for their ninth win in 12 games and 14th victory in their last 15 meetings with Portland dating back to the 2019-20 season — the highest winning percentage by one Western Conference team over another during that span. It was also the Clippers’ fourth consecutive win.
A layup by Anfernee Simons put Portland up 123-122 with two minutes to go, but Terance Mann was fouled driving to the basket and made both free throws to put the Clippers ahead. Paul George then blocked a shot along the baseline and made a layup at the other end to extend the lead to 126-123 with 31 seconds left. George made two free throws to ice it with 7.9 seconds left.
George finished with 20 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, Kawhi Leonard had 34 points and five assists, James Harden had 20 points, seven assists and seven rebounds and Ivica Zubac added 18 points.
Picking up where he left off in Utah on Friday when he netted a season-high 41 points, Leonard sank a 14-foot jumper to open the scoring and the Clippers raced to a 14-7 lead in the first four minutes, capped by a Zubac dunk off an assist from Mann.
Portland coach Chauncey Billups called a timeout in an attempt to halt the Clippers’ momentum and quiet the home crowd, but Mann drained a three-pointer, Leonard made a layup and Zubac followed with a five-footer to extend the Clippers lead. Shaedon Sharpe snapped the 13-point run with an 18-foot pull-up jumper.
Portland (6-16) pulled to within four points on a three-pointer from Jabari Walker with 7:35 left in the second quarter but moments after Moses Brown missed a dunk, Norman Powell swished a three-pointer from the corner. Portland crept to within four twice over the next two minutes, but James Harden answered both times to give the Clippers (12-10) a cushion.
Despite the absence of top scorer Jerami Grant (averaging 22.1 points per game), who remains in concussion protocol and did not make the trip to California, the Trail Blazers kept battling and took their first lead on a layup by Brown with 28 seconds left in the first half. But George hit a driving floater with seven seconds left to give the Clippers a one-point lead at halftime. The Clippers had only two turnovers while shooting 43.8 percent from beyond the arc in the first half.
Portland retook the lead early in the third quarter, jumping ahead by five points. The Clippers regained control with a 12-5 spurt capped by a 27-foot step-back jumper by Leonard that gave the Clippers a 105-99 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
The Clippers have won 70 of their last 71 games when scoring at least 100 points in the first three quarters.
Simons scored 38 for Portland, which has lost four straight and 13 of its last 16.
The Clippers evened their record to 9-9 since acquiring Harden from Philadelphia in a seven-player trade on Nov. 1. They are undefeated in December and hope to continue to gain ground in the Western Conference with seven of their next 10 games at home, starting Tuesday against Sacramento.
Mason Plumlee missed the game with a left MCL sprain but Lue said he is “progressing and feeling a bit better.”