Portland Trail Blazers
Los Angeles Clippers
MVP: Damian Lillard mentioned after Game 1 that Chris Paul proved to be a problem for the Blazers defense, as the Clippers floor general likes to shoot from exactly the areas of the floor that Portland’s defense likes to guide their opposition. Game 2 of the series proved to be more of the same, as Paul would score the majority of his 25 points on his bread and butter: the midrange jumpshot.
That was … bench excellence: Much criticism has been given to Doc Rivers for his use of the all-bench unit, which tonight comprised of Austin Rivers, Jamal Crawford, Wesley Johnson, Jeff Green, and Cole Aldrich. The group rewarded the coach’s trust by providing some the best minutes on the floor for the Clippers tonight. In the 11 total minutes this lineup played, they held an offensive rating of 134 and defensive rating of 80.2 for a net rating of 53.8. For the game, the bench would score 43 points and also combined for 5 of the 9 blocked shots the team made.
X factor: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute continues to be an unsung hero for the team, and has done so with aggressive defense against C.J. McCollum for the entire series. Tonight, he’d also find himself cutting through the passing lane for 3 steals, including one that concluded with him going coast-to-coast for a slam dunk.
— Brandon Tomyoy
Tweet(s) Of The Game
Doc and the Clips coaches have done a pretty ridiculously good job of putting together a defensive gameplan vs this Blazers team.
— Haralabos Voulgaris (@haralabob) April 21, 2016
— NBA (@NBA) April 21, 2016
The Blazers found more shots for Lillard & McCollum tonight. Next step: making them. They're a combined 11/38. https://t.co/KjDRw3KEGu
— J.A. Adande (@jadande) April 21, 2016
— Isaac Lowenkron (@isaaclowenkron) April 21, 2016
More importantly, the Clippers have won both games by 20 and their starters are playing BELOW their regular-season average in minutes
— Adithya (@brownasthenight) April 21, 2016
Check Your Messages
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
The Clippers’ bench players have been replaced.
Whether these doppelgangers are clones, aliens, or robots I know not.
I just know that I didn’t recognize the group that took the floor Wednesday night against the Portland Trailblazers. Not judging by the leap in effort, energy, and efficiency they collectively took from the beginning of the season. Early just this year, Clippers fans lamented the lack of offseason wizardry that left them with what looked like another year of spare parts and subpar performances under Doc Rivers.
Yet, somehow, it was the bench that came out and stretched the lead in the first half, after the starters struggled to score. It was the bench who maintained that lead through the end of the 3rd quarter and beginning of the 4th. It was Cole Aldrich, Austin Rivers, Jamal Crawford, and Jeff Green who matched the starters’ scoring and gave the Clippers their biggest lead of the game at 15 when the starters returned to finish the 4th. They tripled the Blazers’ bench unit’s score for the game. They stifled so many possessions on the defensive end they resembled nothing so much as a multi-limbed sea creature, swarming and surrounding Portland’s scorers before they could even initiate offense. It didn’t seem possible or likely that THAT group would do what THIS one did tonight; the only explanation is the inevitable takeover of extra tall, shapeshifting swamp creatures through the sport of basketball. I, for one, welcome our new overlords.
One component of the Blazers livelihood has been neutralized through 2 games.
For some context, it is important to remember just how perimeter dependent Portland is offensively – particularly from 3-point range. This is a team whose regular season 3-point rankings went like this: 10.5 makes (5th), 28.5 attempts (6th), 37 percent efficiency (4th). The Clippers keyed in on that very aspect and got aided by Portland’s own inability to connect on open perimeter shots – most notably Al-Farouq Aminu and his 1-for-7 from 3-point land. All of it snowballed for the Blazers into a miserable 19 percent shooting night from long-distance.
Just as they did at times in Game 1, the Clippers trapped Lillard off of nearly every pick-and-roll, hedging high on the screen to funnel him repeatedly into the lane and the waiting swatting arms of DeAndre Jordan. When Lillard did get the space to fire away, it was always uncomfortable, always contested. The 2-for-13 from 3-point range between he and McCollum effectively shifted some of the offensive playmaking and scoring burden onto Portland’s frontline who didn’t fare much better. The Blazers can still find their stroke back in Portland but it feels like it could not be enough to overcome the Clipper defense, unless they receive dramatically more support from their bigs.
Attack 2, Da Sequel
After Game 1, I broke down the Damian Lillard-Chris Paul matchup, which was more like a mismatch. Lillard struggled in Game 1, scoring 21 points on 7-of-17 shooting from the field, while mixing four turnovers in with eight assists. Paul scored a game-high 28 points on an uncharacteristically high 19 field goal attempts, with 11 assists and only two turnovers.
Surely, things would be different in Game 2, right?
Well, yeah, some things were different. Lillard took a break guarding Paul, as he was hidden onto SF Luc Mbah a Moute as often as possible. Paul stayed on Lillard for the most part, though, and Lillard was even worse in Game 2. Lillard missed all six of his three-point attempts, and he finished with 17 points on 6-of-22 shooting from the field. That’s 27.2 percent. Lillard took 20+ shots in a game 35 times this season, and only twice did he shoot worse than 30 percent – one of those times was against the Clippers in January. Lillard also had four more turnovers and was held to only three assists; Lillard had only eight games all season where he had no more than three assists (one of them being against, you guessed it, the Clippers).
Paul, on the other hand, was even more aggressive than in Game 1. He had only five assists, but without a single turnover, while adding 25 points on 10-of-22 shooting from the field. The only game this season where Paul shot more than 22 times was February 7th at Miami, where Paul scored 22 points on 23 shots a week before the All-Star Game. Game 1 and 2 are one of only three times this season where Paul has attempted 19+ field goals in back-to-back games.
In addition to this onslaught at the point guard position, Lillard has had to play 38 minutes in each game, with Paul playing no more than 32 minutes. Lillard and his backcourt mate, SG C.J. McCollum, are hoping that youth minimizes the factor of heavy minutes.
“At this point, it’s going to be what it’s going to be,” Lillard said after the game. “If [he and McCollum] got to go out there and play 44 minutes, it’s not like we’ve got 82 games of it. We’re going to be out there as long as coach (Terry Stotts) needs us to be out there. All we know for sure is we have this series, and we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do.”
Doc Rivers doesn’t get enough credit for how much he is able to get from the centers. The rise of DeAndre Jordan under his coaching is perhaps the most recent and well known case, but even going back to his time in Boston, he’s gotten the best from his bigs, whether that player might be Kendrick Perkins or even Glen Davis.
There’s an irony, then, in how it took him three years to finally land a big man that likes to play in the paint. Even then, it took one more failed attempt at playing a stretchier big before finally handing the reins to one Cole Aldrich.
During yesterday’s award ceremony for Jamal Crawford winning the 6th Man of the Year award, Blake Griffin had mentioned Aldrich has lost 25 pounds after Doc Rivers challenged the backup center to get in better shape, and his hard work has paid off, posting career highs in points per 36 minutes and Player Efficiency Rating while also having the third-best Total Rebound Percentage of his career.
Tonight was an especially good one for the Cole Train, with the moniker reaching a ubiquity that followed with its own graphic on the Staples’ jumbotron, but mostly in the way he has dominated the matchup against Portland’s big men. His ability to seal off Ed Davis has been critical in the series, and one of the primary reasons the Clippers 5-man bench lineup was able to pull down 91.7% of the available defensive rebounds in the 11 minutes they were on the floor. Aldrich himself would pull down 8 of his own rebounds in the 12 minutes of game time that he saw.
Maybe it’s time to consider that the frontcourt advantage that the Clippers hold in this series extends beyond Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.