Clippers smother Blazers in Game 1, 115-95
The Los Angeles Clippers dominated the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 1 of the First Round of the Western Conference playoffs, 115-95. Chris Paul had a game-high 28 points, outdueling Damian Lillard. Lillard led the Blazers with 21 points but unlike Paul, he hardly had any help from his supporting cast.
The Blazers’ chances in this series will be determined by how Lillard matches Paul but also how well their supporting cast plays. In Game 1, every rotation play excluding Gerald Henderson (16 points, 7-12 FG) failed to step up and make shots. Most concerning of all for the Blazers, CJ McCollum had only nine points on 3-of-11 shooting. McCollum only had one game in the regular season where he failed to score in double-figures.
The reason I focused on the stretch of the season without Lillard for my playoff preview feature was because the Blazers had to become more than just him to make the playoffs and needed to do that if they were to advance. The first half was a perfect encapsulation as Lillard got going but the Blazers as a group were slow. Lillard was 5-of-10 in the first half but the rest of the Blazers were 12-of-38 (31.5 percent). Other than Henderson, nobody was there to help him and the Blazers must once again “dig down” if they are to make this a series.
“Will Blake Griffin be Blake Griffin?” was one of the key questions entering the game. Griffin had the game’s first basket on a tip-in but the player having the biggest impact in the first few minutes of the game was playoff rookie Maurice Harkless. I included Harkless for a reason in the scouting report for Game 1 and he made me look smart. But Griffin was also Griffin.
The result was the Blazers surprisingly sticking with the Clippers even though Lillard and McCollum were slow to get going. They were tied at 12 at the first stoppage in play thanks to a 3-pointer from Lillard. JJ Redick was cold to start as well and neither team played too efficient offensively, but the both teams did interesting things.
The Blazers threw the ball to Harkless in the post against Redick, which led to some successful possessions, until Harkless picked up his second foul early in the first quarter. The Clippers were flexible with match-ups and blitzed Lillard in pick and rolls, which caused some problems for the Blazers thanks to the foul trouble for Harkless. Noah Vonleh had to play earlier than normal and the spacing for the Blazers offense wasn’t the same. The Blazers still were only down five thanks to some excellent shot-making from Lillard, who made good on his guarantee to come out firing.
Things stayed interesting, as everyone watching the playoffs had hoped. Most of the other first round series’ have been snoozers but Blazers-Clippers had the promise. The Blazers tied the game and even took the lead in the second quarter. It may have taken forever and a day to finish the first half, but it was close, full of drama and even saw Lillard have his first blow up of the season after DeAndre Jordan picked Lillard up with the ball in his arms extended in a precarious position. Nothing came of the call but the Clippers were the ones to close the half well and take a 50-42 lead into halftime.
Henderson, who promised to do nothing different in the postseason, joined Lillard in the playoff party. Aminu hit a couple of shots to keep things interesting after the Clippers got the lead up near 20. But the Clippers were clearly in control and did not relinquish it, even when the Blazers made runs. The Clippers kept things in the high teens and other than Henderson, nobody helped Lillard.
Making matters much worse, Paul continued his domination of Lillard. Lillard and Paul has to be even for the Blazers to have a chance but if he is being clearly dominated and the other Blazers can’t make shots, that’s a nightmarish scenario for Portland. CJ McCollum has to bring more than he did in Game 1 and the coverage of Luc Mbah a Moute isn’t a good reason for him to have a bad game, considering he’s played well against all types of defenders and defenses. But you do have to wonder how much chasing JJ Redick all over the court took out of him. There could be an adjustment there in Game 2.
Stotts threw Chris Kaman into the fire against Cole Aldrich, who was eating things up in the lane, as he tried to find any line-up that would work. The Clippers continued to school the Blazers with any line-up they threw out. Thought to be a strength for Portland, the battle of the benches was clearly in favor of the Clippers in Game 1. Ed Davis getting outplayed by Aldrich, even though Davis finished with decent numbers, is something that can’t happen for the Blazers to have a chance.
The Blazers resorted to the Hack-A with about five minutes left down by 19. It was a struggle for the Blazers all night and shooting free-throws was a struggle for Jordan. It made sense but it wasn’t fruitful enough for the Blazers to continued using the strategy. The result was clear and the Clippers were dominant. Back to the drawing board for the Blazers.
- Obviously the Blazers need more from CJ McCollum. A game-changer late in the first round series last year against Memphis, he had a bad Game 1. He’s a student of the game and could very well make adjustments to what the Clippers did. He had a bad one tonight, but I don’t see him having a night like tonight again. And while I’m sure every Blazers fan reading this will laugh, the same goes for Aminu. Aminu is not a 25 percent shooter. He will have a regression game and that could come as quickly as Game 2. The Blazers will be hoping so and Blazers fans will likely still be cringing when he shoots.
- Harkless cannot get in early foul trouble again. He’s too important, not only as their starting small forward, but their back-up power forward. Noah Vonleh wasn’t terrible but he just doesn’t bring enough to the table offensively. Harkless can hit 3’s on the right night but more importantly, his cutting without the ball and decent post game help provide relief for Dame and CJ. The Blazers didn’t have enough tonight. It was his first playoff game, but for the Blazers to have a chance in Game 2, he’s got to play smarter.
- Allen Crabbe has to get some buckets. Aminu is the one catching the most flack right now, and he did miss more shots, but the recipe for this Blazers team often involves multiple players hitting shots. Crabbe was 2-for-5 and not as solid defensively as he has been most of the season. He will likely get more time on Paul.
- I mentioned in my keys to the series that an important thing for the Blazers to try and do was get DeAndre Jordan off the court. They tried to do that with the Hack-A, but the Blazers may have to go a less-traditional route if they want to win. Their big men were completely overmatched in Game 1. Plumlee looked out of his depth and Ed Davis work on the glass wasn’t as effective against Cole Aldrich. The Blazers’ one clear advantage in this series is wing depth. Putting Aminu at center and Harkless at power forward is something they’ve done before and may be their only hope of putting the Clippers on their heels. They need both at power forward and it’s a risk with how important both are. But winning in the playoffs rarely happens without taking risks, especially if you’re the underdog. Getting more from McCollum is priority No. 1 but the ways Portland goes about attacking the Clippers may have to change. From what we saw in Game 1, playing the Clippers in a straight-up style will only lead to a predictable result. We didn’t see any of the Plumlee-Davis look together which has worked against them before and goes in the other direction. But seeing how the Clippers defended the Blazers with only one non-shooter on the court makes it hard to see playing two non-shooters as an effective strategy. Stotts has options and I think we will see plenty of them in the next few games, although I’m sure he hopes he can just fine one that works.