Ed Davis dominated the Clippers in four games this season. He gained the Trailblazers numerous extra possessions with his rebounding, he drew plentiful foul calls with his relentless motor, and simply maximized every playmaking opportunity he had. Davis averaged 11.5 rebounds per-game against the Clippers, with five offensive while also shooting 70-percent from the field.
But, and not to discredit everything Davis the player accomplished, a lot of the holes in the Clippers defense Davis took advantage of was created because of one man - Damian Lillard.
Over the regular season, the Clippers changed pick-and-roll schemes for only two point guards for entire games, Stephen Curry and Lillard. Rather than having a brief moment where Lillard comes off a screen with an opening while the big sits back, the Clippers trapped.
After re-watching every game between the Clippers and the Trailblazers, all nine hours and 31 minutes of game tape, the Clippers hedged hard on pick-and-rolls, trying to force Lillard to pass, going against the defensive style they adopted at the start of the year. For Portland, they tried to time screens for Lillard as he was on the move to use his quickness.
Every game Lillard played the entire first quarter, getting some favorable matchups with the second unit. From the November 20, 2015 game, Dame catches ex-Clipper Josh Smith charging too aggressively defending the screen, standing too high. Once Lillard crosses over and gets by the big, it's a four-on-three with shooters on the wing and somebody else occupying the post. Jordan's late to rotate, giving Lillard an easy floater.
From the third game between the teams, Lillard comes off the screen unabated. With Jordan guarding reactively instead of proactively, Lillard sets him up for the cross over. Once Jordan steps twice, Lillard changes direction and explodes into the paint. The man J.J. Redick is guarding rotates to the top, placing Paul Pierce in a two-on-one weak-side help dilemma, a no-win situation.
There's also plenty of instances where Lillard comes off the pick for a pull-up jumper, sometimes from five feet behind the line.
To prevent Lillard from attacking the bucket or pulling up for a jumpshot, the big has to be careful not to overextend like Smith in the first GIF, but also not be late like Jordan in the second. The defender has to close the gap with his feet between the screener and himself, while also showing a bit earlier, walling Lillard off.
Here DeAndre forced Lillard to take a step back, guarding the pick-and-roll well. The team defensive philosophy against Lillard stresses rotational awareness, as there is almost a 4-on-3 every time. Chris Paul gets screened for a little too long, constraining Pierce to help in the paint longer than hoped, causing a semi-late closeout on ex-Clipper Al Farouq Aminu. Despite the made three, the Clippers would be thrilled to execute this way defensively for the most part, having Lillard pass stepping back near halfcourt with Aminu shooting the partly contested jumper. Look at the first playoff game, Aminu shot two of eight from deep.
Another way the Trailblazers like to get Lillard loose is to set drag screens after the initial read in their fast break, also known as Phoenix. Sometimes there is one screener, sometimes its two, either way the Clippers need hustle back to the defensive end to matchup.
Off of a Jordan missed free throw during the second game, the Trailblazers run the Phoenix action. When Meyers Leonard is in, Portland will have him pop while the other big short rolls, setting a down screen in the process.
Lillard hits a tough fadeaway, but missed a wide-open Leonard at the three-point line.
In the fourth quarter of the fourth game, the Clippers showed how simple guarding the drags screens are, as long as the team is attentive. The team's willingness all season to switch on the perimeter combined with Lillard's tendency to settle for jumpshots after switches limits the potential of the play.
If the Clippers talk through the screens, there won't many issues with the secondary action on the break. If they spend too much time talking to the refs, there will be plenty of easy looks for Portland.
Terry Stotts really works to find creative ways to get Damian the ball in space off the ball, with most action happening around the high post/elbow area.
Lillard enters the ball to the elbow, in this case above being Mason Plumlee, and has Dame work the handoff action. Portland tries to isolate Lillard one-on-one on the weakside of the court, cutting the wing to the other side, while manipulating his defender to a trailing position. Once Lillard gets the handoff, alone on the left side with Paul trailing, it is an easy read to the bucket. The baseline help defender is the first and only real help option if Paul can't recover. Both Blake Griffin and Paul alter the shot just enough, but have to rotate sooner next time.
If Dame does not cut back for the ball, he'll set a screen for the other wing and possibly pop back out for the ball, which then evolves into a pick-and-roll.
Like the Phoenix drag action, the Traiblazers will set flare screens as quick hitters to get Lillard open looks. They'll have Lillard occupy the middle of the floor, wings on the side and onewith the ball on one side, while the big men stand at the high post. Lillard will nearly be a stand still, as will the off ball wing, waiting for the ball handler to dribble towards Lillard. In a simultaneous motion, the ball handler will move and Lillard will explode away, with a flare screen set by the high post as the other wing vacates the area, creating space for Lillard.
Similar to the Phoneix action, if the team defense is acutely aware of their surroundings, the play is rather simple to guard. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute switches marvelously on these flares, better than anybody else on the Clippers.
Portland runs some pin down screens and Floppy sets for Lillard, but not as much as on-ball screens and flares. His strength relies on his quickness and ball handling into shooting. There's nothing overtly complicated about Portland's sets, but they mask them well and force the Clippers to be engaged every moment. He's susceptible to being contained by physical play, which explains why Paul has dominated Lillard head-to-head. In the first game of the playoff series, the Clippers marked Lillard well, always cognizant of his location on the floor. However, If Lillard gets loose for even a second, it is over. If you're not early, you're late.