Portland Trail Blazers
Los Angeles Clippers
MVP: C.J. McCollum took off in the second half, scoring 10 points in the third quarter and another 9 in the 4th and final frame. He lead all Blazers starters with a plus-minus rating of +18.
That was … stamina loss: The Clippers held a 50-45 lead at halftime, but with heavy minutes to many of the players, including 22 first half minutes alone for Jamal Crawford, the team simply couldn’t keep up with the opposition for all four quarters. Doc Rivers mentioned in the postgame that he felt the team was flat in the second half, and by the final minutes, an all-bench unit that included C.J. Wilcox and Jeff Ayres was brought in as most of tonight’s Clipper rotation was completely exhausted.
X factor: Rather than start the fourth quarter with C.J. McCollum, Terry Stotts opted to begin the period with Damian Lillard. The Oakland product responded by scoring 8 points within the first three minutes of the quarter en route to a 37 point Blazers quarter that the Clippers simply had no answer for.
— Brandon Tomyoy
Tweet(s) Of The Game
Next man up…
Waaaay up! 🙏https://t.co/GU6QnFfYSM
— LA Clippers (@LAClippers) April 28, 2016
Blake Griffin underwent a bone-marrow procedure, similar to PRP therapy, on his injured quad Wednesday morning. He's not on the bench.
— Dan Woike (@DanWoikeSports) April 28, 2016
DAMN DEANDRE https://t.co/kYfZ3CIJcu
— The Cauldron (ICYMI) (@CauldronICYMI) April 28, 2016
DAJ really did the Air Jordan on a dude. pic.twitter.com/pNgwTQQp95
— Adam Mares (@Adam_Mares) April 28, 2016
"Coach Paul was great," Rivers joked about Chris Paul on the bench. "Blake was great at halftime."
— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) April 28, 2016
Check Your Messages
They say it’s better to be lucky than good.
So, what do you do when you’re neither?
The Clippers had to ask themselves this question heading into Wednesday night’s game; missing their two best players due to unforseen (at least in
Chris Paul’s case), miserable misfortune, the Clippers’ reserves had to check their intestinal fortitude at the players’ entrance. Would they fold under the crushing weight of expectation of failure, or rise to the challenge and give the Blazers a run for their freshly minted Harriet Tubmans?
For 3 quarters, it seemed like they might pull off the latter. Between DeAndre Jordan’s dominance in the paint, Jamal Crawford’s adamant motivation to beat the world, and Jeff Green’s solid(!) performance throughout, the Clippers remained right in there. But there was a reason Vegas swung the odds in Portland’s favor. There is just no way a pack of 38 year-olds and bench pinch hitters were ever going to keep up with Dame Lillard and CJ McCollum, let alone the emergence of Mason Plumlee, Playmaker.
J.J. Redick’s sore left heel clearly prevented him from getting going, Paul Pierce was negligible, and Austin Rivers was Austin Rivers. Que sera sera. At least the Clippers went down fighting, which is more than anyone can say for the Rockets in their concurrent matchup with the presumptive champs tonight. The least we can point out is that 3/4 of what was probably the penultimate game of the Clippers 2015-2016 season was entertaining, and for a just a moment, there was hope. Just like the good ol’ days.
The playbook for most pick and roll defenses says to leave the big man alone when he’s beyond the perimeter. Barring the exceptions of the few that have a three-point shot, there is little risk in leaving the player that far away from the basket. This is how the Clippers defended Mason Plumlee before he became a savant for finding the cutter on the weak side, and that’s how the Blazers have continually defended DeAndre Jordan.
With most of the Clippers offense also standing beyond the perimeter for many of their possessions, there was also nobody on Portland’s side that was patrolling the lane. That may still have meant there was no threat that the Clippers center would pull up for a long range jumper, but with a stride that is likely matched only by a gazelle, it’s also no problem for DeAndre to gather and take two steps before arriving directly at the basket.
He did this on a few occasions during the game to a high degree of success, and it will be remembered most by the poster he made of Mason Plumlee. There might be some trepidation in doing this constantly for concern of having to convert these points at the free throw line as defenders start getting in the lane, but with a fair amount of Portland’s offense running through Mason Plumlee, it might not be a bad idea to force Plumlee to make the decision between giving up the dunk or having to take a foul. It certainly doesn’t hurt the Clippers to force one of their opponents playmakers to see heavy minutes on the bench.
I abhor blaming injuries. It’s obvious that a team’s personnel is affected when high-salary talent is not available to play, but I’ve always believed that injuries alone won’t be the reason why a game is won or lost. I respect the fact that there are two teams playing, and that the affected team still has a head coach to prepare his team, there are still talented players in the lineup, there are professional replacements, and there is a certain attitude that you can bring to the table.
For three quarters, you saw those four factors at work, as the Clippers battled the Trail Blazers to a 71-71 tie entering the final quarter of play. Clippers head coach Doc Rivers broke down before the game when he was asked who he would lean on through adverse times such as this one – Rivers mentioned his mother, who passed away last year. (For perspective, see Dan Woike’s December 2015 story from the Orange County Register.) Rivers had his undermanned team up at halftime. By the end of the third quarter, C DeAndre Jordan, who reneged on a verbal agreement with Dallas to re-sign with the Clippers last summer, had 13 points (making 5-of-8 FTs!), 15 rebounds, and 3 blocks. Jeff Green, a midseason trade acquisition, had as many points (16 on 9 shots) as Portland’s bench (16 on 12 shots). The Clippers had a real shot to beat the Blazers.
But Lillard Time happened. And oh boy, was Portland PG Damian Lillard terrible through three quarters, with only six points on 1-of-10 shooting from the field. But he started the 4th quarter, something he usually doesn’t do. By the end, he had STAPLES filing out for what could be the last time this season. Lillard had 16 of Portland’s series-high 37 4th quarter points, hitting 6-of-10 field goals and 4-of-6 threes. For the first time all series, the Trail Blazers broke 100 points, ending a season-long drought of missing the century mark.
This kind of loss, along with the men down for the Clippers, makes for a tough plane ride. In 2013, the Clippers went meekly at Memphis. But last year, the Clippers found a way to go into San Antonio and found a way to win and force a Game 7.
The Clippers lost Game 5 because they couldn’t find a way to keep their defense going in the face of Lillard Time. Give the Trail Blazers and Lillard credit for coming through when it mattered most. But anybody can be beaten. It will be interesting to see if the Clippers can play well and steal the games they need with their backs against the wall.
Hapless, Not Hopeless
In a strange way, the Clippers seem to band together when they are at their weakest. When Blake Griffin was out for large chunks of the regular season they surprised pundits around the league by actually improving in many ways. But no matter how well they outperformed expectations sans Griffin, they remained the weak link among the top 4 contenders in the Western Conference – or so the collective narrative went.
But even by Clipper standards, losing both Griffin and Chris Paul presents an extremely daunting and new task. The Clippers may be decimated, but they are not without pride. The Clippers, more than anything, seem eternally stricken down by the basketball gods, but they did not fold in Game 5. That will not be what will be remembered. Rallying from 9 down in the 3rd quarter to tie the score should not be just a mere footnote, but an underscore of exactly how scrappy and effective they can be in the most dire of situations.
The game got away in the fourth – ultimately the weight of talent from Portland’s backcourt dynamo’s Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum had their say. The Blazers capitalized as they should, wrestling away a game that felt completely deflated with a haze of melancholy stench in the air. Portland is now in pole position to close this out on their court. The Clippers played with a lot of things out of their control. The one thing they brought was a competitive edge, regardless of roster shortcomings.