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Clippers-Blazers Game 4: With a Vengeance

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After two dominating performances in games 1 and 2, the Clippers learned the hard way in game 3 that this young Portland team has every intention of taking this series the distance. Will the Clippers take a commanding 3-1 lead in game 4, or will they succumb once again to the Blazers, finding themselves tied 2-2 heading back to Los Angeles?

Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

vs
44-38

53-29
April 25, 2016, 7:30 PM
Moda Center, Portland, OR
Prime Ticket, TNT, KEIB 1150 AM
Series Schedule
Clippers lead 2-1
Game 1 - Clippers 115, Trail Blazers 95
Game 2 - Clippers 102, Trail Blazers 81
Game 3 - Clippers 88, Trail Blazers 96
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

    The Clippers

    Heading into game 3, the Warriors had just been defeated by the Rockets, and the Clippers seemed like the only team other than the San Antonio Spurs that would sweep their series in the Western Conference.  Los Angeles had handily won games 1 and 2, and Portland seemed destined to pray hopelessly that wide-open shots by Aminu would finally start to fall.  After Damian Lillard made 32.4% of his shots in 4 match-ups against the Clippers during the regular season, in games 1 and 2 Lillard shot a paltry 33.3% from the field.  All was going as planned.

    But in game 3, something changed.  No, it wasn't that Aminu started knocking down shots.  And while Lillard did begin to heat up (hit 50% of his shots in game 3), it wasn't the way the Clippers defended him (or CJ McCollum for that matter) that changed—if those two are hot, they'll score points and there isn’t much the Clippers will be able to do about it.  No, as Thomas Wood pointed out in his recap of game 3, the Clippers seemingly forgot how to score and how to control the glass.  Fortunately, both of these factors are firmly in the Clippers' hands going into game 4, and you can bet that Doc Rivers and the rest of the Clippers are acutely aware of this fact.  The playoffs are a game of chess, and it’s the Clippers’ move.

    The Blazers

    Although games 1 and 2 were ultimately double-digit victories in the Clippers’ favor, both were fairly tight throughout for most, if not all of the first half.  And game 3 went… how it went.  The Portland Trail Blazers came to compete, and they showed it in the first 3 games. We can expect game 4 to be a similar affair.

    Portland will try to keep the Clippers on their heels with a combination of offensive rebounding, Mo Harkless posting up on the smaller Clipper guards, Mason Plumlee playmaking from the elbow, and Lillard and McCollum doing what they do best by putting points on the board. On the defensive end, however, it’s this writer’s humble opinion that the Clippers were their own problem on offense, not a newfound defensive focus from a Blazers team that was in the bottom half of the league defensively. So should the Clippers find their rhythm on offense again, I’d expect offensive numbers similar to games 1 and 2.  That being said, Moda Center will continue to be a blizzard of noise and distractions from a Portland crowd doing everything possible to keep the Clippers out of rhythm, hoping to cause more of the miscues and fumbles that plagued Los Angeles in game 3.

    Everything Else

  • JJ’s Health: JJ continued to play through his bruised heel injury, and missed practice before game 3.  So far, there’s been no indication that he’ll miss a game, and after game 3, JJ said his heel was feeling fine. Coach Doc Rivers attributed JJ’s off-night on Saturday (where he shot 2-10 for 5 points) to missed practice due to the heel, but not to the heel itself. Whatever the case may be, the Clippers will need JJ to find his stroke again.
  • Playmaking Plumlee: If you asked who the best playmaking big would be in this series, the vast majority of responses would start and end with the names "Blake" and "Griffin."  And yet here we are, and Mason Plumlee leads the Blazers in dishes and is second only to Chris Paul in this series. In fact, the only frontcourt players with more assists than Plumlee this postseason are Draymond Green and LeBron James. The Clippers’ defensive traps have forced Plumlee to become a playmaker, and he’s answered the call. They’re probably better off packing the paint and forcing Plumlee to shoot jump shots, considering he shot just under 32.3% on shots more than 3 feet from the rim.
  • Hard-Hedging Defense: Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum have generally been held in check in this series. The Clippers’ have been hedging hard on the perimeter and double teaming the guards, which you may recall was a familiar defensive look last year. This year during the regular season, the Clipper bigs didn’t hedge as aggressively and packed the paint. But it’s great to see that when needed against strong backcourts like Portland (and, should the Clippers advance, Golden State), the Clipper bigs are able to turn on the perimeter aggression when needed. This defense has forced the Portland guards to either split the double team or find another playmaker. Plumlee has been that playmaker, and until recently, Lillard and McCollum were having trouble splitting the double teams.  In spite of the Portland backcourt’s success in game 3, the gameplan has been working for the Clippers. If Los Angeles can hold Portland to under 100 points again, they’ll have a very great shot of winning game 4.
  • Aminu, a Familiar Face: We all remember Al-Farouq Aminu, and when he came into the league, how he was somehow shooting 40% from deep for a pretty significant portion of his rookie season. The scouting reports said he couldn’t shoot, but swish after swish gave us hope he was the small forward the Clippers needed. Well, eventually the other foot dropped and Aminu rightfully landed a reputation as a poor shooter, never again breaching 30% from deep on a season. This year, though, word was that Aminu worked hard on re-tooling his mechanics, and it appeared to pay off.  He shot over 36% from three on the season, on 4.3 attempts per game! This was no longer a small sample size: Aminu had become a shooter. That was what we were told, anyway. So far in the series, we’ve yet to see this improved shooting. And it’s now likely become a mental battle for him, as he’s now 4-20 from the arc, the large majority of them completely wide open. One would think that the law of averages would mean Aminu’s due for a bounce-back game, but given a career of poor shooting, I wouldn’t bet on it anytime soon.
  • DeAndre Jordan, Defensive Anchor: DeAndre has had a reputation as a strong defensive anchor for a while in this league, and there have been some statistical arguments that argue he might be overrated as a defender. Well, none of those statistical arguments work in this series, where he's been nothing short of phenomenal defensively. He's hedging on the perimeter, protecting the rim like a monster, and generally making everyone think twice about attempting a layup. If the Clippers hope to win game 4 on the road, DeAndre will need to continue controlling the paint.
  • Rusty Blake Griffin: Simply put, Blake has been inconsistent since returning from his quad (and hand) injury. He was phenomenal in game 1, but was considerably less effective in games 2 and 3. Griffin figures to be a huge advantage at the power forward position, but only if he’s the perennial all-star version of himself, not this rusty version that’s still trying to figure out his timing. The good news is that Blake is still getting a ton of defensive attention. Nothing’s coming easily for him, but he’s right behind Plumlee in total assists and has been a key playmaker for the Clippers.

Last, but not least, make sure to stop over at Blazer's Edge for the Portland point of view.