LOS ANGELES–There was a stretch of possessions in the third quarter when the Los Angeles Clippers could've really have used Danilo Gallinari.
Arguable the team's best player, Gallinari could've helped stifle the Portland Trail Blazers' momentum as it steadily picked up in the second half. Maybe it would've been the calm release and high-arching shot that would've snuffed out a run. Maybe it would've been quicker-than-you-expect feet stopping a Damian Lillard drive.
The way he's been playing, it's a safe bet that it would've been something.
But with Gallinari not available because of rest with the Clippers on the second night of a back-to-back, they had to get it from someone else. Not having Gallinari wasn't – and isn't – a good enough reason for Doc Rivers' team to stumble.
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"We told our guys from day one, we're not going to use all the excuses – youth, whatever," Rivers said before Tuesday's game. "We're just not going to use that."
So, it was execution, not fatigue, that cost the Clippers in a 125-104 loss. It wasn't being out-talented; it was being out-performed.
Gallinari, who also lightly twisted an ankle Monday against Boston, will be back in the Clippers' next game.
In the same pregame news conference where Rivers said the Clippers weren't going to make excuses, he also predicted that his team would have a tough time slowing down the Trail Blazer's backcourt.
"As long as they have those two guards there, they're going to do some winning. They're very, very difficult to guard," Rivers said. "If you put that plus the system that they're in, it makes them very difficult to match up to. It just does.
"You know it's coming. We just walked over it. And you know it's going to be hard to stop."
CJ McCollum, who started the game by missing his first seven shots, hit an open three right before the halftime buzzer, sparking as impressive of a shot-making run you'll see outside of the Golden State Warriors.
Including the three, McCollum proceeded to make 12-of-his-next-14 shots including eight-of-nine in the fourth quarter, the lone miss coming on a tightly contested leaning jump shot.
"We made a lot of mistakes but CJ McCollum was on fire," Rivers said.
He scored 23 in the fourth quarter – the Clippers managed just 20 as a team in final 12 minutes.
"What's it like lookin' at that?" Lou Williams said. "It's not a good time. But he's a talented player. He's done that before on numerous occasions, and unfortunately, one was tonight."
McCollum's barrage, paired with 20-point games from his backcourt mate, Lillard, and from center Jusuf Nurkic wiped out a Clipper lead that grew to as many as eight points in the first half.
The Clippers, who started the game hot led by rookie guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, never cooled down from three-point range, making 60 percent, but Portland's defense limited the Clippers to just 15 attempts.
Montrezl Harrell did what he does, providing energy and toughness around the rim, but his 22 points and 11 rebounds weren't enough to hold up against McCollum and Portland's big night.
"It was still a winnable game for us," forward JaMychal Green said. "Obviously (Gallinari) would've helped us. ... We just didn't lock down on defense."
Clippers to add depth in backcourt
The Clippers intend to sign Justin Bibbs to a 10-day contract Wednesday, a source not authorized to speak publicly on the matter told the LA Times. The signing will bring the Clippers' roster to the 15-player maximum, which does not include two players on two-way contracts.
The 6-5 guard has averaged 11.8 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.7 assists for the G League's Maine Red Claws this season, his first as a professional.
Bibbs averaged 13.3 points last season as a senior at Virginia Tech on 49 percent shooting overall and 40 percent shooting on three-pointers. He was undrafted but played with Boston during summer league before being waived during training camp.
Rivers admitted that forward Luc Mbah a Moute, who the team signed this season to add to its defensive versatility, could miss the rest of the season with a sore knee. Mbah a Moute tried to return to practice last week and couldn't make it through the workout. ... The Clippers favorable late-season schedule continues with an off-day Wednesday before returning to Staples Center Friday against the Chicago Bulls.
(Staff writer Andrew Greif contributed to this report.)