Led by 25 points from Chris Paul and 18 rebounds from DeAndre Jordan, the Clippers jumped out to a 2-0 series lead with a dominant 102-81 win over the Trail Blazers Wednesday night. The Clips' wonderful defensive gameplan and a great effort from the second unit (!) had Portland playing catch-up all night long. Even with Blake Griffin struggling to find his offensive form, the Clippers were able to overwhelm the Blazers for the second straight game.
Things got off to a pretty rocky start for the Blazers, as they picked up four team fouls in the span of 90 seconds as the Clippers surged to an early 11-4 advantage. J.J. Redick got off to a sizzling start, scoring 8 of LAC's first 11 points including a pair of threes, while Al-Farouq Aminu continued to misfire from deep. AFA missed each of his first two three-pointers, and the Clippers were more than happy to let him shoot. . C.J. McCollum, who was hardly a factor in Game One, seemed to find a bit of rhythm early as he knocked down 3 of his first 5 attempts from the floor.
Old friend Chris Kaman made an early appearance about halfway through the first as Portland went big off the bench. This was clearly an adjustment from the first game with Terry Stotts trying to reestablish the Blazers' presence on the boards. Offense stagnated for both sides as the quarter progressed, though. After drilling each of their first four shots the Clippers made just 3 of their next 15 as Portland crept to within three at 20-17. The Blazers were able to close the gap without Damian Lillard finding a rhythm, as he started 1-for-7 from the floor.
After one, L.A. held a 22-17 advantage.
Much to the chagrin of Clippers Twitter, Doc Rivers rolled out the all-bench lineup to begin the second. However, the group got off to a hot start, with Austin Rivers leading a quick 8-0 run to suddenly put LAC up by 13 at 32-19. The Blazers continued to play big with Kaman and Ed Davis, while the Clippers had Jeff Green at the four. That edge in overall quickness was giving Portland problems, and Terry Stotts responded by bringing back a smaller lineup centered around Mason Plumlee.
Cole Aldrich was everywhere on both ends, racking up 6 points, 5 boards and a block over a 6-minute span. After the bench's successful stint during which they actually extended the lead by outscoring Portland 15-10, Rivers came back with Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin and Redick just under the 7-minute mark.
Plumlee enjoyed a nice little individual spurt himself as he picked up a pair of steals and scored 6 straight points for the Blazers as they snuck back to within 6 at 39-31. In a bizarre twist, the Clips' offense stalled once again once the starters returned. On the bright side, the Blazers were still having a hard time solving LAC's defense on the other end. Then, in a clear show of nepotism, Doc reinserted Austin in place of CP3 to end the half.
(Chris actually had 3 fouls. We've got jokes!)
Aminu finally hit a longball, Kaman drilled a jumper and then Portland decided to hack D.J. in an attempt to earn the final possession of the quarter. This is certainly the only situation in which hacking is acceptable. Jordan missed both, and McCollum was fouled (FLOP) on the other end to bring the Trail Blazers to within 4 heading into the break. The starters effectively undid all the good work done by the bench, which isn't something we've said a whole lot this year.
A bucket from Redick and a fastbreak slam from Luc Mbah a Moute (!!!???) forced a Stotts timeout after a minute-and-a-half as LAC went back up 51-43. After that, though, the Blazers finally started to assert themselves offensively. Harkless (twice) and McCollum each nailed three-balls to close the Clips' lead to just three at 57-54 preceding a Doc timeout. At this point the Clippers could use a healthy dosage of Chris Paul.
CP3 answered the bell by hitting a corner triple - his first of the game - but then conceded an and-one to Lillard a few possessions later. The energy on offense for the Clips just wasn't there, which was keeping the Blazers in the game. Fortunately for the Clippers, the Blazers continued to miss open looks. A phantom foul on Green against Lillard made it a 67-61 Clipper lead after three.
The newly-vaunted bench-only group started the fourth for LAC and promptly reestablished a double-digit advantage for the home team at 73-63. The Clips' reserves were flying around defensively and their weak-side rotations were on point, which helped spoil the Blazers' collective shot quality. More often than not, Portland was shooting contested jumpers. LAC was a step ahead of the Trail Blazers' offense, which completely neutered what they were trying to do.
Staring an 0-2 deficit directly in the face, Stotts opted to bring Lillard back into the game with shortly under 9 to play. He subsequently conceded a shot clock buzzer-beating three by Austin, got his shot rejected by Aldrich (again) and Crawford converted a goaltended layup on the other end. A driving and-one from Green gave the Clippers their biggest lead to date at 16 at 81-65, and the Blazers found themselves up against it.
Rivers brought his own starters back in, and then Griffin did this...
...Paul hit a longball from the top of the arc and the writing was on the wall for Portland on this night. Lillard converted a floater to make him 4-for-20 in this game in clear homage to the stonerrific date. Congrats!
Crawford drew a phantom foul of his own on a three-point attempt, and LAC led by 19 at 92-73 after a pair of Jamal freebies. A subsequent triple from the Sixth Man of the Year made it 97-77, and shortly thereafter the Clips found themselves up 2-0 in the series.
The Clippers' defense was great once again tonight, but they were also aided by Portland's inability to hit several wide open looks. Aminu's ineffectiveness was once again a major problem for the Blazers as he shot just 1-for-7 from deep. LAC continued hounding the Blazer backcourt by hedging hard on high screens, and it paid obvious dividends and threw both Lillard and McCollum out of wack. Portland's starting guards combined to make just 12 of their 39 attempts from the floor, including 2-for-13 from deep.
The Blazers other than Plumlee - who put up a line of 17 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists and randomly flirted with a triple-double - were never able to establish themselves and looked uncomfortable throughout. In spite of Griffin looking much more rusty than he did in the last game (12 points and 9 rebounds but just 4-for-12 shooting), the Clips coasted to their second straight win in the series.
He's taken his fair share of heat for the way he's gone about coaching the club this season, but Rivers and his staff deserve a ton of credit for the team's exceptional showing thus far. The much-maligned Paul Pierce did not play in this game, which is easily the most unexpected development of the NBA playoffs to this point. Given the sometimes irrational loyalty Rivers has shown to his players at times through the years, most figured the ineffective Pierce would still log big minutes once the playoffs rolled around. But the veteran was nothing more than a spectator tonight, which bodes well for Doc's rotations moving forward.
The Clippers' adjusted defensive scheme has also thrown Portland's offense completely out of sorts, as the visitors shot just 34% tonight after shooting 39% in Game One. The Blazers' young sharpshooting backcourt was clearly the Clips' primary concern heading into this series, and they've ordered a gameplan that has almost taken Lillard and McCollum out of the equation completely. Portland tried to counter that by seemingly ordering their guards to attack the basket, but the Clips responded by blocking 9 shots in this one. Even guys like Jeff Green and Wesley Johnson were helping protect the bucket. The Blazers are forced to rely on the likes of Aminu, Moe Harkless, Allen Crabbe and Gerald Henderson to beat the Clippers offensively. To this point, it's worked brilliantly in LAC's favor.
The series shifts to Portland for Game Three on Saturday night where the Clippers will look to take a commanding 3-0 lead.