- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
It's no secret the the Portland Trail Blazers offense follows the lead of backcourt scorers Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. The duo combined for nearly 46 points per game this season to give the Blazers one of the most efficient offenses in the league, and it stood to reason that both would have to excel to give the No. 5 seed a chance in its first-round series against the Los Angeles Clippers. It didn't go their way in Game 1 — Lillard and McCollum had just 30 points combined on 10-of-30 shooting in a blowout loss.
[Follow Dunks Don't Lie on Tumblr: The best slams from all of basketball]
Wednesday's Game 2 went even worse. Head coach Terry Stotts shifted Lillard off the ball more often to help combat the Clippers' traps, but he could only muster a 6-of-22 showing (including 0-of-6 from deep) for 17 points. McCollum struggled mightily, as well, shooting 6-of-17 from the field and 2-of-6 from three-point range for 16 points. The results were predictable — Portland scored 20 points or fewer in three quarters on their way to a 102-81 loss. The Clippers' two one-sided wins have them in terrific position to take what most expected to be the West's most competitive first-round series. The Clippers' defense has controlled the matchup and will continue to define it until the Blazers come up with a solution.
Lillard and McCollum are now a combined 22-of-67 in the series, a figure that's obviously not going to lead to much success for Portland. But it's even more problematic due to the struggles of the secondary players. Starting forwards Al-Farouq Aminu and Mo Harkless combined to go 9-of-26 from the field and 3-of-11 from deep, and the bench managed just 10 points to make up for the starters' deficiencies. The Blazers better hope that everyone shoots more comfortably at the Moda Center in Games 3 and 4, because the team that took the floor at Staples Center looked out of sorts.
By contrast, the Clippers got contributions from virtually the all over the roster. The oft-maligned bench was stellar on the night when Jamal Crawford accepted his Sixth Man of the Year award, scoring 43 points with only Crawford and Austin Rivers making fewer than half their attempts (and their 8-of-20 was just fine). This was the kind of full-lineup performance that can make the Clippers more than just dark-horse challengers to the Warriors and Spurs atop the conference. It's also telling that the starting frontcourt of Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute combined to shoot 6-of-17 from the field and had a demonstrably terrific game. Jordan was especially excellent, putting up 18 rebounds (five offensive), five assists, and three blocks to more than make up for a mere three points.
As usual, though, Chris Paul was the linchpin of the Clippers' plan. His offensive stats were plenty good — he had a game-high 25 points on 10-of-22 shooting and added five assists.
However, Paul impacted the game because he was able to dictate terms when the Blazers had the ball, as well. Defending Lillard and McCollum was a total team effort, but Paul hounded the former so thoroughly that it's hard to imagine the plan being executed as well as it was without that initial effort.
Portland can find a silver lining to the loss in that it was a competitive contest up until the fourth quarter. At the same time, L.A. looked on the verge of putting it out of reach for most of the game. When Griffin spiked home this slam in the middle of the fourth quarter, the result looked well in hand:
The challenge for Portland at home won't be only to shoot better, but to change the terms of the series in a way that allows improved shooting to rest on a more stable foundation. The Clippers have robbed the Blazers of their greatest strength in the first two games. They'll either have to assert control of the backcourt or find a new way to win.
- - - - - - -