The Clippers' stars shine bright in Game 1 blowout of Blazers

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Prior to Sunday, we wondered whether Blake Griffin would look healthy enough to play like a star, whether Chris Paul would continue to control his matchup at the point with Damian Lillard, and whether the DeAndre Jordan-led Los Angeles Clippers defense could clamp down on a Portland Trail Blazers squad that finished the season ranked seventh in the league in offensive efficiency.

Check, check and check.

[Follow Dunks Don't Lie on Tumblr: The best slams from all of basketball]

The Clippers crushed the Blazers, 115-95, at Staples Center on Sunday to take a 1-0 lead in their best-of-seven opening round series. A nip-and-tuck game for the bulk of the first half turned into a one-sided affair between the late second and early third quarters, with L.A. stars Paul, Griffin, Jordan and J.J. Redick ripping off a 26-8 run to knock Terry Stotts' team on its heels and cap a lopsided opening weekend of the postseason in the Western Conference:

This content is not available due to your privacy preferences.
Update your settings here to see it.

Just two weeks after returning from a three-month layoff due to a pair of injuries and a suspension, Griffin looked plenty healthy enough to dominate a smaller Blazers frontline. He attacked starters Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless right off the bat, getting himself to the rim and to the free-throw line, and punished Portland's guards when L.A. was able to generate switches on 1-4 pick-and-rolls — a defensive tactic with which the Blazers had some success during the regular season, but that did not bear fruit against Griffin on Sunday.

"He just kind of bulldozed his way to the rim," Lillard said after the game, in which Griffin shot 5-for-10 from the field (with all five baskets coming inside the restricted area) and 9-for-12 at the charity stripe. "It's tough, with a guy that's athletic and strong like him — if you get too physical, then it's a foul, because he's spinning in there, and jumping in the middle of the spin, and it's tough to defend."

Griffin scored 10 points in the first eight minutes and finished with 19 points — his most since Dec. 19, with six of them coming on very loud dunks in either the face or vicinity of Blazers center Mason Plumlee — to go with 12 rebounds and six assists in 32 minutes.

"It felt good. It felt really good," said Griffin, who said he's "pretty close to how I want to feel," during his postgame press conference. "Our offense was really clicking. I thought we were doing the things that we wanted to do. That helps, when you're getting easy shots."

It also helped that Paul got the better of Lillard in the series' marquee matchup, leading the way offensively with a game-high 28 points on 10-for-19 shooting, 11 assists, six rebounds and just two turnovers in 33 minutes.

The Blazers' defense is geared toward running opponents off the 3-point line — the Clippers didn't make a 3 in the first half and took only two, finishing 6-for-17 from deep — and enticing them to take pull-up jumpers from midrange or floaters outside the restricted area. It's sound strategy ... unless you're playing someone who's really, really good at those shots. Like, for example, Paul, who worked his way to 12 points in the second quarter to help give the Clips some breathing room before kicking their offense into high gear in a 31-point, 61-percent-shooting third quarter.

Perhaps more importantly, Paul teamed with Jordan to spearhead a defensive effort that held the Blazers to just 39.8 percent shooting, with their high-scoring backcourt producing just 30 points on 28 shots.

"Dame's a handful. He's got the pull-up, he's got the drive, he's got all that, along with C.J. McCollum," Paul said. "But when you got, to us, the Defensive Player of the Year in D.J., and then you got Blake back there, too, it makes it that much easier, knowing that you can crowd them sometimes and you're sending them into those shot-blockers."

Doc Rivers' club came out determined to force the ball out of the hands of Portland's gifted guards. The Clippers dialed up the pressure on the Blazers' pick-and-rolls, sending aggressive traps high on the floor aimed at getting Lillard and McCollum to either try to make plays through two defenders or pass the ball ahead to a teammate, putting the playmakng onus on less decorated contributors.

"It's obvious they were really pressuring Dame and C.J. on pick-and-rolls, doubling them and forcing them to pass out, and we have to make those plays," Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. "We had some 3s on the weak side, we had some rolls to the basket, and weren't able to finish them."

The primary release valves on those traps tended to be Plumlee, who often served as the screener before taking a short roll to the foul line to present a passing target, and Aminu, an iffy shooter who'd been knocking down triples at a 38 percent clip since the All-Star break, and who often found himself wide open beyond the arc.

"We had to make the play and get the ball in the middle to the big, and find the weak-side guy," Lillard said. "Just, as a team, we didn't have a great offensive night."

Given opportunities to attack 4-on-3, Plumlee finished with four points on 1-for-6 shooting with no assists. Given opportunities to fire away, Aminu missed nine of 12 shots and six of eight 3-point tries. With Harkless battling foul trouble for much of the night, only veteran swingman Gerald Henderson (16 points on 7-for-12 shooting, three assists, two rebounds, two steals, sound defense in 30 minutes off the bench) proved capable of answering the bell, leaving Portland wildly outgunned.

McCollum, too, struggled with long-limbed veteran defender Luc Mbah a Moute, scoring just nine points on 3-for-11 shooting — just the second time this season that the Most Improved Player candidate failed to crack double-figures. On the other end, he couldn't stay within hailing distance of Redick, who showed no ill effects from the left heel bruise that had him in a walking boot last week as he raced off screens and curled his way to 17 points on 8-for-12 shooting.

"I think we did a pretty good job to them, on their scorers," said Jordan, who finished with 18 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks. "Their guards are going to have the ball in their hands a lot of the time, and our coverages that we're in, you know, we rely on each other. We've got to continue to be on a string and continue to talk, and just cover for each other."

Whether frustrated by his teammates' inability to generate opportunities or simply determined to kickstart his scuffling squad, Lillard tried to fight through the Clips' traps and take the ball himself. He carried the offense early, accounting for 24 of Portland's 42 first-half points, and finished with 21 points and eight assists. As the Clippers clamped down, though, his attacking did little to lift Portland out of the doldrums, and little to compromise a defense equal to the task of dictating the terms of engagement.

"They were physical, they were ready every time, they communicated, and it was tough to deal with," Lillard said. "Usually, the things we get to with myself and C.J. — ball-screen actions, flares and pindowns — they were pretty disruptive."

After the five-minute mark of the second quarter, just about the only thing the Blazers were able to do to disrupt the opposition was dispatch former Clipper Chris Kaman in to intentionally foul Jordan, a notoriously poor free-throw shooter who fired up a Clipper-record 34 freebies (and missed 22 of them) in a win over Portland back in November:

This content is not available due to your privacy preferences.
Update your settings here to see it.

Jordan went 8-for-18 from the line on Sunday, with 12 of the attempts coming in a two-minute, seven-second stretch of the fourth quarter in which the Clippers' lead fluctuated between 17 and 20 points. It was ugly, and it was ultimately pointless, but Stotts felt he had to try something.

"When you're down and you have an opportunity to extend the game ... you know, it's the playoffs," Stotts said. "As long as he's in there, it's something we have to employ, and I know it's not necessarily pretty, but you've got to do whatever you can to try to extend the game and win a game."

Stotts' task now is to figure out which adjustments can be made before Wednesday to give the Blazers a better chance of changing the script in Game 2. Does he move Lillard off Paul in favor of a longer defender like Aminu, to stall the point guard's probing? Does he look for another matchup for McCollum, in hopes of saving the scorer's legs for offense rather than having him chase Redick? Does he go bigger earlier, whether with the more traditional (and less speedy/stretchy) Plumlee-Davis combo or with the veteran Kaman? Does he stay small and start sending double-teams at Griffin in the post?

Despite the 20-point margin, the Blazers' between-games tweaks might not wind up being drastic. Both Stotts and Lillard said after the game that they felt happy with the looks the Blazers got against the Clips' traps, especially during the first half, and that they felt confident Portland's role players would knock those shots down if they saw them again. If a few things break differently — Harkless stays out of foul trouble and punishes the smaller Redick, Plumlee makes a couple more plays in the 4-on-3, Lillard gets the ball out of his hands a bit quicker on a few traps — maybe the outlook's a bit sunnier after Game 2.

Whether big or small, though, something will need to change. The Blazers can't afford to allow the Clippers to get and stay as comfortable as they did in Game 1, when their stars got damn near whatever they wanted, whenever and wherever they wanted it.

"I think the best thing about it is that we executed on the points that we wanted to execute on," Griffin said. "There was obviously some things we can clean up and things we can get better at, but I thought for the most part, we really did everything we wanted to do."

More NBA coverage:

Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

Stay connected with Ball Don't Lie on Twitter @YahooBDL, "Like" BDL on Facebook and follow Dunks Don't Lie on Tumblr for year-round NBA talk, jokes and more.