The Clippers manage to stay close to Portland for three quarters, but they play much of the game on borrowed time. How can we tell? By taking a closer look at the shot distribution. While both teams shoot well in the first half — Portland 55.9%, the Clippers 48.5% — Portland gets precisely the shots they want [Brandon Roy 8-9 FG, 4-4 FT], while the Clippers make do with the ones they get [Fred Jones 4-7 FG, 2-2 FT; Al Thornton 3-10 FG -- almost all of them a high degree of difficulty -- 3-4 FT].
Nate McMillan makes a couple of smart defensive decisions: He puts Brandon Roy on Al Thornton, and assigns his small forward Nicolas Batum to guard Eric Gordon. In doing so, McMillan dares Thornton to shoot over a smaller defender [seven of Thornton's 11 shot attempts in the first half are jumpers from outside the paint], and challenges Gordon to free himself against a bigger, longer defender. Gordon gets only one shot against Batum in the seven minutes to start the game. Eric never gets on track against a Portland team that refuses to leave him at any cost. Gordon manages only five shot attempts in the first half [2-4 FG, 2-2 FT] which, when you consider who else is out there with him, is pretty incredible. Here’s an illustration:
- [2nd, 4:25] Rudy Fernandez is EJ’s official designee, while Jerryd Bayless guards Fred Jones. The Clips get into this set quickly. Jones runs up the left side and initiates a dribble handoff for Gordon along the arc. Gordon immediately rubs Fernandez off a Steve Novak perimeter screen, but Brandon Roy picks up Eric as he moves left. Quick, decisive perimeter defense by Portland. But the Clips don’t give up. They’re determined to get Eric Gordon his shot, dammit, because here’s DeAndre Jordan with yet another screen for Gordon at the top of the circle. Roy runs through Jordan’s screen, so Jordan/Gordon reverse it. Jordan’s second attempt is solid — it catches Roy and gets Eric the space he needs to advance into the paint. Yet Greg Oden has never taken his focus off Gordon for an instant. Oden cuts off Gordon’s drive perfectly, never giving DeAndre Jordan a second thought. EJ is forced to kick the ball out to Thornton on the weak side where Al is guarded tightly by Batum. The Clippers ultimately settle for a contested Novak jumper, but the point here is that three different Blazers account for Gordon on this possession. And Batum is ready to help if Oden decides to funnel Gordon his way.
In many respects, the superb performances by Fred Jones and Steve Novak are by Portland’s design. McMillan decides he won’t allow Gordon anything and will happily force Thornton into difficult shots on the right wing. As a result, the easy shots are ceded to the Clippers’ secondary scorers. For three quarters, Jones and Novak make him pay. Eventually, though, order is restored. Both Jones and Novak cool off, and Gordon begins to force some ill-advised shots — something we’ve never really seen him do.
Brandon Roy torches the Clippers in the first half, going 8-9 from the field with a couple trips to the line for good measure [111 TS%]. In the first quarter, Fred Jones is the victim, but you’d be hard-pressed to find any film from the first 12 minutes that incriminates his defense. In the second quarter, it’s a series of miscues by various Clippers: DeAndre Jordan fails to challenge Roy off the S/R [2nd, 3:03]; Gordon forgets about Roy after the Clippers break up the set with a tipped ball, only to be burned by a successful Roy 3PA when the Blazers recover [2nd, 2:01]; the entire Clippers defense fails to account for Roy in transition, as he trails the play, then steps into a rhythm 3PA [2nd, 1:31].
Despite all this, the Clippers give Portland a game for 36 minutes, but ultimately wilt against a much deeper, much more talented team.