Clippers reserves make difference late in emphatic Game 2 win over Blazers 102-81

 (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Perhaps the Blazers aren’t actually a good offensive team and the Clippers’ defense is just that good. Either way you slice it, the Blazers played better but were still dominated in Game 2 of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs, 102-81. Damian Lillard had help this time around, but he was a terrible 4-of-22 from the field and was clearly frustrated by the Clippers defense. The Blazers made some small changes but none of them were enough to swing the game in their favor.

CJ McCollum was more active but was 6-of-17 for 16 points and Mason Plumlee woke up from a terrible Game 1, finishing with 17 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. But none of that mattered as poor outside shooting killed any chance of winning this game despite holding the Clippers below 46 percent shooting from the field.

The Blazers started the game with Harkless on Chris Paul, a slight change I thought we would see from the last game where the Blazers kept match-ups the same across positions. Better defenders were wasted on Mbah a Moute and the Blazers made a smart change by allowing Lillard to rest a little more on him and not have such a tough task. Paul was still effective as expected, with 25 points and six assists, but wasn’t quite as dominant as he was in Game 1. But the Clippers didn’t need him to be.

The Clippers bench were the ones who put the game away in the fourth quarter as Austin Rivers, Jeff Green and Cole Aldrich went to work. The lead was already in double-digits when the starters came back in and the Blazers were forced to think about Game 3 long before the final buzzer. The Clippers bench outscored the Blazers bench 43-10. Overall, the Blazers bench has been outscored 76-52 in the series and that includes some garbage time buckets in Game 1 from Luis Montero and Pat Connaughton. What was thought to be an advantage has been a huge net-negative for the Blazers.

The Blazers made some adjustments which looked to have some effect until the Clippers reserves put the game away, which is a trend in this series.

(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Lillard started the game working off the ball more than usual but the Blazers couldn’t get any shots to go. The Clippers started the game on a 13-4 run and the Blazers started the game 2-10 from the field. But the Blazers made some changes and had to like what they were seeing. The biggest change was getting Mason Plumlee involved offensively as a release valve. The Blazers guards found him earlier and trusted him to make the right plays, which he did. The Blazers got some shots to go finally and were able to somewhat withstand a red-hot start from JJ Redick.

After recording 0 assists in Game 1, Plumlee had three in the first half. But the Blazers outside shots still did not fall and the Blazers could never really get going once again. Al-Farouq Aminu was a shell of himself offensively and while McCollum and Plumlee both played better, the Blazers bench didn’t provide enough against the Clippers second units to make this a close game at the end. Aminu shot 1-7 from the 3-point line and 4-of-13 overall.

As I expected, Stotts went with the combo of Chris Kaman and Ed Davis in the first rotation of big men. The Blazers are unable to have the trusty combo of Davis and Meyers Leonard, so the Kaman-Davis combo gives them a bargain basement combination of a skilled offensive player and dedicated offensive rebounder.

Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin, left, goes up for a dunk as Portland Trail Blazers forward Maurice Harkless defends during the second half in Game 2 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series, Wednesday, April 20, 2016, in Los Angeles. The Clippers won 102-81. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin, left, goes up for a dunk as Portland Trail Blazers forward Maurice Harkless defends during the second half in Game 2 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series, Wednesday, April 20, 2016, in Los Angeles. The Clippers won 102-81. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

The Blazers couldn’t buy a bucket and Lillard started 1-7, but they still only trailed by five despite shooting 30 percent overall and 1-6 from beyond the arc. The Blazers were much closer than they probably should have been thanks to the Clippers also missing some shots.

Then history repeated itself in the second quarter as the Clippers bench outplayed the Blazers bench for the second straight game. The Blazers got down by as much as 15 in the second quarter with Paul and Griffin watching from the sidelines.

The Blazers starters got the game going back in their favor and Plumlee continued playing much better basketball. He wasn’t as bad as he showed in Game 1 and he was predictably better in Game 2.┬áThen with under three minutes left, Paul went to the bench with three fouls and the Blazers down by 9.

It wasn’t easy because the Blazers still needed to contend with Griffin and Jordan, but the Blazers did well to cut the Clippers lead down to just four going into halftime. Lillard was 2-of-10 and the team as a whole was 2-of-9 from downtown. All things considered, being within just four points was a small victory.

The start of the second half was a struggle and the Clippers almost immediately ran the lead back up towards double-figures. But the Blazers weren’t done yet and although Lillard still couldn’t get going, the Blazers were saved by some outside shooting from Harkless. McCollum hit a 3-pointer with 6:30 left to cut the Clippers lead to just three.

But would the improved 3-point shooting be a sign of things to come or just a blip on the radar? The Blazers got to within three but the Clippers remained in control. Lillard never seemed to be able to get a shot to change the momentum. He got a dunk to go and a couple of lay-ups, but the outside shots which sets him apart, remained elusive all night.

The Blazers went into the fourth quarter down by six, still with a chance, even though the Clippers controlled most of the action.

The changes the Blazers made, sticking bigger guys on Paul and moving the ball better, closed the gap between the two teams. But the Blazers needed to make shots and also win the battle of the benches. The Blazers second unit was called upon to start the fourth quarter and once again they were outplayed by the Clippers reserve and saw the lead go back to double-digits and as high as 15.

The Blazers had a chance to get into this game and perhaps steal it heading back to Portland for Game 3. But the bench left opportunities on the table for the second game in a row and bit them again. Their starters played much better but the rest of the team needed to step up and did not.

The Clippers have been the most complete team through two games and unless the Blazers start shooting like they showed they could in the regular season, the Blazers are likely in for another gentlemen’s sweep.

Notes

  • I’m not sure what to do with the whole Aminu thing. He shot 36 percent this year on the highest volume of 3-pointers he’s ever attempted in his career. 82 games say he is not a bad shooter but the Clippers have been consistently rewarded throughout the series for treating him as such. He turned down a few open looks and put the ball on the floor, but at some point he has to start making them. Mixing it up is good, but he can’t stop shooting them. If he does, the Clippers get what they want the Blazers best defensive player becomes a complete non-factor, allowing the Clippers to play 4-on-5. He was 1-of-8 tonight from 3. I would say that the regression is coming but if Aminu doesn’t think it will, then this series is already over.
  • The Blazers tried Kaman tonight and it looked okay at times. The Blazers clearly miss Meyers Leonard in this match-up against two centers in Jordan and Cole Aldrich who are controlling the paint. The last card the Blazers really have left to play is go super small, slide Aminu to center and try and make it a perimeter game. They have no other options. Match-up two bigs against the Clippers second units hasn’t worked and trying to speed up the game is the only avenue they really have left. There is a major gap in experience, but the Blazers shouldn’t bother trying to match-up with the Clippers. They need to try and get the Clippers to match-up with them and taking the game to the extremes may be the only way to do that. It leaves them exposed on the boards, but it’s a risk they need to take if they want to swing this series.
  • Allen Crabbe, where have you been? The wing who was such a crucial part of Portland’s success all season long was an no-show in his L.A. homecoming. Crabbe was 0-for-3 tonight making him 2-of-8 for the series and 0-of-2 from 3. Gerald Henderson has been excellent in his role as a bench wing. Crabbe has been a consistent minus, unable to get open against Jamal Crawford and make open shots. If the Blazers can’t make shots, it won’t matter what type of line-up they put out there. Crabbe would be a crucial part of a more perimeter oriented attack but he has to start hitting shots like he did in the regular season for that to be an option.
  • Austin Rivers keeps killing the Blazers. He’s averaging 10 points per game in the first two games and is basically getting into the paint anytime he handles the ball. This can’t happen for the Blazers to have a chance. Right now, they don’t.

 

 

Erik Gundersen

Erik Gundersen

Erik Gundersen is the Trail Blazers beat reporter for The Columbian. He's a graduate of the Allen School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon in addition earning a degree in Spanish. He's covered the NBA for four seasons. You can also occasionally find his work on ESPN.com's NBA section for their TrueCities series. He also fist-bumped with Kanye West once. Follow @BlazerBanter on twitter for more Blazers and NBA news.

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