I'm happy to welcome Eric Griffith from Blazers Edge to chat a little bit about what adjustments we can be expecting from Portland heading into Wednesday night's Game 2.
Larson: Whew. So Game 1 is officially behind us, and I'm sure Blazer fans will want to forget it as soon as possible.While I did pick the Clippers in 5 in this series because I felt they were the better team, especially defensively, I did not expect them to look that stifling against Portland's offense. Damian Lillard looked flustered and a little clueless as to handle the Clippers blitzing pick and rolls, C.J. McCollum got outscored by Austin Rivers (enough said), and the Clippers were more than willing to let Portland's role players try and make plays, of which only Henderson seemed competent.
I don't think Game 1 is by any means a sign of what the rest of this series will look like, and I think Terry Stotts is one of the better coaches in the NBA at making in-series tactical changes. All that remains is what those changes will be, and if they the Blazers have the personnel to make a difference.
That being said, how do you think the Portland is going to adjust offensively? There's been a little bit of speculation from different writers as to how best Dame can counter the Clippers hyper-aggressive defense. Do you think Portland will make a change to the starting lineup? Maybe inserting someone like Henderson or Crabbe to put a little more play making and shooting on the floor? Or do you think it'll be simpler adjustments like Dame looking to pass out of the trap quicker to a rolling Plumlee, scanning the corners for shooters?
Eric: I think you're dead on that step 1 for the Blazers is going to be finding ways to get the offense initiated more effectively. The trapping (primarily from Paul and Jordan) really bothered Lillard and several times he turned the ball over trying to split their double teams or make an ill-advised pass around their quick hands. If Lillard can't even get a decent pass out of there the Blazers are dead in the water.
I'd say the first things they could do to correct for that are have Lillard recognize the trap more quickly and hit the open man before he's fully enveloped by Jordan and Paul. The Clippers were blitzing him on almost literally every possession so there's no reason Lillard can't be ready for that and find a teammate as the Clippers players are headed his way. Mason Plumlee is an excellent passer and has racked up assists all season. If Lillard can put Plumlee in a 4-on-3 situation while Jordan and Paul are still off-balance it will give the Blazers an opportunity to create with some backdoor cuts and Plumlee passes.
Beyond that, the Blazers have to decide if they're okay living/dying by Al-Farouq Aminu's three-point shot. Aminu shot 40+ percent from three over the last 10 games of the regular season, but before that he hit only around 32 percent on open and wide open threes. Several teams took advantage of that and completely ignored him, like the Clippers did on Sunday, and dared Aminu to be the difference maker. It worked in several games, until Aminu turned his shooting around. Stotts and Aminu have both said in interviews that they're confident his shot will come back so we can probably expect a lot more open 3s. The problem is that the Clippers will be happy with that unless he can consistently shoot 40ish percent from deep. If he can't, it may sink the Blazers chances in this series, or force them to go with ultra small ball lineups.
Larson: From an opposing perspective, the Trail Blazers could maybe stand from having CJ McCollum be the primary ball handler and guard bringing it up the court. Have CJ initiate the first action while Lillard runs off screens, then catching the ball as it swings to the other side of the court, moving immediately into a secondary pick and roll. A couple other options may be to not even have a high screen, preventing a trap, and utilizing Plumlee from the high post whether in HORNS or Split-Cut with Lillard and McCollum.
Or lastly, if Stotts feels like stealing a feather out of the Clippers' playbook, the double high screen HORNS that the Clippers ran repeatedly on the Spurs last year, may be a great play to get Lillard free as it gives him a head of steam to run into the picks, as well as two directions to go while smothering Paul. Put Plumlee and Harkless in that pinch screen if Redick is still crossed on him, and have Dame fly to whichever side Redick is on. Watch how Jamal uses the play to get a pull up three.
If the Blazers start running this for Dame, I'll be scared.
Larson: While many people are talking about how the Blazers are going to adjust offensively, I think the bigger concern may be how do they adjust defensively against the Clippers. All night Blake and DeAndre dominated whoever was matched up with them in the front court, J.J. Redick got wide open shots running off picks, and Chris Paul torched the Blazers whether on the pick and roll or in the post.
What adjustments do you see Stotts making on the defensive end, especially in light of the changes that need to be made on offense?
Eric: Step 1 for the Blazers is going to be setting priorities. The Blazers don't have the personnel to completely stifle Paul, Redick, Jordan, and Griffin. They're going to have to choose who they want to spend the most energy on.
That being said, there are some obvious fixes they can prioritize. They can start by forcing Griffin out of the low post. Griffin is stronger than Al-Farouq Aminu and Moe Harkless and also agile enough to move around them on the low block; if he establishes position down low he can score easily over the Portland defenders. Beating him to the spot in the post so that he has to initiate moves further from the basket will be key for the Blazers in Game 2. The Blazers will also need to track Griffin in transition. The Clippers created several scoring opportunities around the rim for him after Portland failed to get back in time to adequately cover Griffin. The Blazers may need to sacrifice some of their offensive rebounding to ensure that they're not giving up dunks on the other end.
If the Blazers can cut off these two easiest avenues of scoring for Griffin, they may force him into more midrange jump shots. Griffin has become effective from the midrange in recent seasons, it's still unclear whether or not Griffin has regained his shooting touch since his return from injury earlier this month (he was 6-27 from outside 10 feet in the last five regular season games). And he did nothing to answer that question in game 1 - despite his dominant play he failed to hit a single jump shot. Pushing the opposition into the midrange is a primary tenet of Portland's defense and if they can play to that strength against Griffin it may go a long way toward limiting his effectiveness.
Larson: The Blazers need to do a much better job at denying the initial post entry. Blake, and even Chris Paul, got to the post pretty much untouched in Game 1. Aminu should be fighting Blake like hell, fronting him and pushing him out, constantly cutting off the angles for an easy entry pass; think Golden State Warriors Death lineup and how they defend the post with their length and activity. There's a lot of difficulty in this however, as fronting especially, relies on a lot of trust from your teammates to have your back rotating, and doubling down to stop the post entry requires some helps the helper. I'm not sure the Blazers have that level of team defense. How do you think they'll guard the other Clippers?
Eric: Redick, on the other hand, was repeatedly sprung for open looks by single screens. Most notably, the Blazers had difficulty defending "pin-downs" or "down-screens." CJ McCollum was the primary offender; in game 2 he'll need to recognize when a screen is imminent and do a better job of tracking Redick so that he can move around the screen without getting hit. The Clippers do have counters to solid defense, so McCollum may still lose Redick on some plays. But denying at least the first option will go a long way toward making the Clippers work harder on offense.
Larson: Here's something I'm surprised I didn't see from the Trail Blazers in Game 1: Luc Mbah a Moute should not be guarded in this series while he's on the court. The Warriors showed against Memphis last year how damaging all defense, no offense players can be to a team, and Luc should be getting the Tony Allen treatment. To me that would mean that Harkless "guards" Luc, and allows him to double Blake on the catch in the post, helping out Aminu a lot with the mismatch. Or the Blazers could choose to put Aminu on Paul (the problem is Aminu is probably Portland's best option on Paul and Blake), put Harkless on Blake and Dame on Luc, then let Dame shade down to double Blake on the catch. I think we can all agree Blake needs to draw a double in this series, and when Luc is out there it's the obvious choice. Now if this happens, Doc will surely sub in Jamal Crawford for Luc, and then more adjustments need to be made.
Eric: As far as assignments go, I don't think you'll see a lot of changes for the Blazers (maybe try Vonleh on Griffin?). Aminu will occasionally cover PGs in switches, but Stotts rarely gives him a point guard as a defensive assignment. He's a good defender, but tracking players like Paul is a bit outside of his wheelhouse.
For Chris Paul...yeah, I have no idea. He's going to smoke the Blazers no matter what so they might be better off trying to hamper his supporting cast.
Larson: Thanks so much Eric for spending some time chatting with us, and be sure to go head over to Blazers Edge to check out their great content -make sure to play nice.