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Clippers-Blazers Game 3: Coming Up Roses

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The series heads to Portland, where the Clippers look to take a commanding 3-0 lead.

Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Picture:

Look who's taking care of business. Through two games at home, the Clippers look every bit the part of the experienced playoff-tested veterans. The series many hoped might be the most closely-contested of the Western Conference matchups has instead seen two 20-point victories. Chris Paul is getting (and making) every shot he wants. It's too soon to say that Blake Griffin is all the way back, but he looks worlds better than he did in the waning games of the regular season. JJ Redick is making the Portland defense spin, like he do. And DeAndre Jordan might be the best player on the floor. (Sorry, Mark Cuban!)* Even the bench is producing. But given the Clippers' past playoff history -- cough, Game 6, cough  -- it's not unfair to question whether this team has fully honed it's killer instinct. Will the Clippers step on Portland's collective throat? Or will there be a momentary lapse of focus from a team flying above the safety net of a home game 5? It's really the only question to ask of a team that is working in a comfortable rhythm. So, with a tinge of optimism, perhaps I'll leave it at, "Keep up the good work."

*Bonus points to me for taking a swipe at the Mavericks during a Clippers-Blazers series.

The Antagonist:

Well, at least they hung in there longer. If patterns hold, the Blazers should keep this one close to the end. In fact, if there was ever a game for them to steal, it might be this one. Damian Lillard has had the benefit of seeing Doc Rivers' aggressive defense twice now. Al-Farouq Aminu has had plenty of practice threes. The Portland crowd, always raucous, should be juiced for a home playoff game behind a team few people expected to be here. Lose on Saturday and the series is effectively over. We've been expecting a playoff breakout from this dynamic backcourt with a chance to show a larger portion of the country their explosive abilities. It hasn't happened yet, and if it doesn't happen soon, they'll find themselves waiting for their next chance next year.

The Subplots:

  • JJ in recovery. This Clippers.com update says that JJ Redick is sore but is set on playing game 3. He has not been practicing between games to allow his injured heel to recover more quickly.
  • Dame down. Lillard is leading the Blazers with 38 points through games 1 and 2, but for Portland to drum up a win, he may have to find that total in game 3 alone. The ersatz Stephen Curry has converted just a third of his field goal attempts, and just 3 of his 14 three-point attempts. His struggles with the hyperactive Clipper defense are now under the media microscope. It's up to him and his coach to solve them. If he leaves this series in the hands of sour-shooting wings Aminu and Harkless, the Blazers' playoff run may come to an end without leaving Portland again.
  • Plumlee at large. Portland's big man enters game 3 at both the literal and figurative center of the Blazers' hopes for a win. As the best passing big man in Terry Stotts' arsenal, it's his responsibility to relieve the pressure on Lillard and make plays behind the blitzing Clipper defense. His workload won't be as heavy as his point guard's, but it may be just as crucial. He played a strong Game 2, and he needs to make it happen again. For Portland's sake, it'll have to come paired with a strong Lillard too.
  • McCollum's day. The NBA announced today that C.J. McCollum was named the 2015-2016 Most Improved Player. The third-year guard out of Lehigh took on a larger role and thrived in it, averaging better than 20 points per regular season game and combining with Lillard to form perhaps the NBA's best (non-Warriors) backcourt.
  • Battle of the backcourts. Speaking of the NBA's best backcourts, there should be many readers around these parts who feel that the second-best backcourt resides in LA, not Portland. (Haha, no, it's not D'Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson.) Chris Paul and JJ Redick have been aces, and their full-court supremacy has been a deciding factor in this series so far. Facing a distinct disadvantage up front, Portland's best chance for victory lay with their young guards' ability to not only match, but exceed the play of their veteran Clipper counterparts. It hasn't happened yet, and if it doesn't happen in Game 3, the Blazers will find themselves in a 3-0 series hole no team has yet to climb out of.
  • Fun with small samples. Chris Paul leads this series in plus minus. He's +37 in 63 minutes... Al-Farouq Aminu leads the playoffs with 15 wide-open shot attempts, categorized as attempts with no defender within six feet. 12 of those were three-point attempts. He's made just 4 total, 3 of those three-pointers... The Blazers averaged 14.1 second-chance points per game in the regular season, fourth-best in the league. They have just 13 total in two playoff games so far, worst in the league. However, their offensive rebounding rate has only been marginally worse. It would figure that they'll start converting some more of those rebounds.
  • Links. The Long Beach Press-Telegram has a piece on the Clippers learning from past playoff failures... Here's SB Nation's Jesus Gomez on how the Clippers are shutting down Lillard and McCollum... Ben Bolch at the LA Times discusses the strong play of the Clipper bench... Clippers.com's Rowan Kavners profiles Luc Mbah a Moute's defensive versality... As always, check out Blazer's Edge for excellent Blazers coverage.
vs
44-38

53-29
April 23, 2016, 7:30 PM
Moda Center, Portland, OR
Prime Ticket, ESPN, KEIB 1150 AM
Series Schedule
Clippers lead 2-0
Game 1 - Clippers 115, Trail Blazers 95
Game 2 - Clippers 102, Trail Blazers 81
Win-Loss Breakdown (2015-2016)
15-15 East 22-8
29-23 West 31-21
11-5 Division 9-7
28-13 Home 29-12
16-25 Road 24-17
18-28 .500 + 24-22
26-10 - .500 29-7
2-3 OT 5-1
7-3 L10 8-2
Probable Starters
Damian Lillard PG Chris Paul
C.J. McCollum SG J.J. Redick
Al-Farouq Aminu SF Luc Mbah a Moute
Maurice Harkless PF Blake Griffin
Mason Plumlee C DeAndre Jordan
Advanced Stats
98.3 (12th of 30) Pace 98.0 (T-16th of 30)
106.1 (7th of 30) ORtg 106.5 (6th of 30)
105.6 (T-20th of 30) DRtg 100.9 (T-4th of 30)
Injuries/Other
Meyers Leonard (shoulder) out