The Scouting Report: Los Angeles Clippers, Game 4
Projected starting line-up: Chris Paul, JJ Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan
The Los Angeles Clippers exploded in Game 1 and that appeared to set the tone for the series. But they’ve followed that up with a consistent skid in offensive production, culminating in Saturday’s 88-point outing in Game 3.
A consistent theme throughout all three games has been the dominance of Chris Paul. Paul has been the best player in the series, averaging 26.3 points, 8.3 assists and five rebounds with a Player Efficiency Rating of 35.1, the highest in the series. But at the very least, the Blazers have streamlined their approach, allowing for fewer rotations on every possession.
I covered the adjustments the Blazers made in guarding Griffin in the Scouting Report for Game 3 in much greater detail, but it essentially involves having Al-Farouq Aminu or Maurice Harkless, players who view themselves as interchangeable, being on him at all times. Save for a rotation in the fourth quarter at center, Griffin mostly matched up against Aminu and Harkess but was most unsuccessful. The Blazers may also continue to force Griffin to operate in the midrange, where he isn’t shooting efficiently. So far he is shooting 25% on shots from 16-feet out or further.
This is a frequent sight and this happened when Rivers had Griffin in at center with Jeff Green at power forward.
If the Blazers are going to leave Griffin this open he will have to start hitting it consistently to stretch the defense. The Blazers have started to treat Griffin like the Clippers are treating Aminu, at least when it comes to midrange shots out of pick and pop situations.
Harkless has gotten the match-up against Paul and the length has helped the Blazers make things harder. However, the Clippers are trying to finding unique ways to let Paul operate.
Paul below the elbow
The Clippers have found ways to get Paul in opportunistic position outside of some of the traditional pick and roll looks. Paul is excellent at getting his teammate involved but he doesn’t always have to be the one that initiates the offense. Even though he’s giving up over half a foot to Harkless, the Clippers are still posting Paul up to shift the geometry of the floor and get the Blazers defense in weird positions.
Here’s an early possession where they go to it and the Blazers don’t handle it very well. CP3 gets the ball at the elbow from Jordan.
Paul turns and faces on Harkless as Harkless concedes the drive left. Paul gets in front but here, Plumlee, who had an amazing Game 3, is a little too close to Jordan who provides no shooting threat. Aminu crashes down to protect against the drive to the rim, but it leaves the Blazers open for Paul to find a cutting Griffin for two points.
The Clippers went to actions like this more than once, even getting Paul posted up closer to the lower block. This is a way to change the geometry of the floor and along with the Paul-Griffin pick and rolls, JJ Redick’s off ball movement, another way for the Clippers to create match-ups. The Clippers had a lot of missed opportunities in Game 3.
The Blazers know the Clippers left a few shots on the table like this one from JJ Redick down the stretch.
They see the razor thin margins that decided the game and are still hoping to correct their defense. “Last night we did it but we also gave up some open looks,” Damian Lillard said at practice Sunday. “JJ Redick got some good looks, Chris Paul got some good looks os we got to tighten things up and understand it’s going to be a lot tougher tomorrow.”
The Clippers likely see an opening with Stephen Curry going down with a knee injury as everyone waits to hear about its severity. And the sooner they can get to the next round, the better their chances become that Curry misses games. They will certainly try to change things up and they will look for their bench to play better. The Blazers did a much better job of stopping dribble penetration with the second unit and forcing them to hurt them almost exclusively with jumpers.
The Blazers have done a good job in the series however of limiting the Clippers’ 3-point attempts. The Blazers have allowed the third fewest 3-point attempts per game so far in the postseason and they will need to continue their stingy play on Redick and company to have a chance at evening up the series.
Finding ways for Aminu
After the adjustments the Blazers made in Game 2 to get the ball in Mason Plumlee’s hands, I don’t think we need to go over how those worked after how good of a game Plumlee had in Game 3. The Blazers just increased Plumlee’s workload in Game 3 and he made the Blazers look good for their investment in his playmaking abilities. In Game 3, he was tied for Paul with the most passes in the game at 62, up from 43 in the last game. They’ve had him even initiate the offense when Paul is denying Lillard.
But the question of what the Blazers can do when Aminu gets the ball has been the only unsolvable question through the first three games. His jump shot looked a little bit worse in Game 3, but that doesn’t mean he was a non-factor. He found more shots from midrange and he hit a couple of his toughest looks, but the Blazers also had him handle the ball more in pick and rolls to create switches and use the Clippers’ scheme against them.
Instead of jacking up another 3-point shot, Aminu runs pick and roll with Plumlee. Instead of fighting over, the Clippers elect to switch it which puts Jordan on Aminu and takes him away from the rim. In the end, you are able to get premium opportunities with Jordan’s elite rim protection getting pulled out. Here it leads to an even better 3-point shot for Aminu which he hit, for his only 3-pointer of the game.
The end up getting another pick and roll with Plumlee across the court with Lillard and Griffin ends up far way from the action and Aminu is wide open.
The Blazers found another time to run that later in the game.
This last example is too late in the shot clock to really take advantage, but here the Blazers have another way to find points. Aminu may not be the best decision-maker with the ball but if he can create the switch and reserve the ball quickly, the Blazers would have better opportunities with Jordan away from the basket, even if it’s just momentarily.
Aminu isn’t the Blazers who is having the worst series, however. His defense on Griffin has been invaluable and he has at least made a hand-full of shots. The player currently having the worst series is Allen Crabbe and situations like this encapsulate the series for him. Here he has Jamal Crawford on him but can’t figure out a way to get open, leading to a turnover.
Crabbe has to find a way to be effective and trying to get to the rim could be a way he can do that. He’s been unable to get fouled and even though going to the rim isn’t a huge part of his game, it’s been microscopic in the first three games. If Crabbe can find a way to the rim, perhaps it can get his other midrange shots and 3-pointers going.
The Clippers left a lot of shots on the floor in Game 3 and so did the Blazers. The Blazers actually got more uncontested looks than the Clippers did in Game 3. The Blazers are hoping for a regression on their 3-pointers in Game 4 and the way Crabbe and Aminu leave little room to get much worse. The Clippers on the other hand will be looking to take a commanding 3-1 lead back to Los Angeles for a series-clinching Game 5. They have the opportunity to get to the conference semifinals quickly and face a weakened rival.
As for Portland’s rotations, it looked like Stotts found the right amount of Kaman (nine minutes) and Plumlee-Davis minutes as well. He used them only in spurts and mostly relied on Harkless and Aminu as the power forwards. But it seems that he’s found a workable rotation. If Crabbe can get a few shots to go to supplement the progress the Blazers have already made, the Blazers will have at least one more home game.
Rivers’ rotations have been erratic at best. After not playing in Game 2, Doc Rivers went to his old friend Paul Pierce in what would have effectively been a close-out game had they won. He played 11 players by the end of the first half. Could he start Pierce to try and jump start the offense?
No matter what, Game 4 is shaping up to be another good game with even more on the line.