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NBA Playoffs 2016 First Round: Clippers vs Blazers Game 6: Now or Next Year

Who could have thought the season could end before May?

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
2015-16 NBA Playoffs
Portland Trail Blazers (3-2)

Los Angeles Clippers (2-3)
April 29, 2016 — 7:30 PM PT
Moda Center (Rose Quarter), Portland, Oregon
ESPN, Prime Ticket
Projected Starters
Damian Lillard PG Austin Rivers
C.J. McCollum SG J.J. Redick
Al-Farouq Aminu SF Jamal Crawford
Maurice Harkless PF Jeff Green
Mason Plumlee C DeAndre Jordan
Injury Report

Meyers Leonard (shoulder) Out

Blake Griffin (Left Quad) Out

Chris Paul (Right Hand) Out

J.J. Redick (left heel) Probable

The Situation

Win or the season is over. No one is oblivious to that.

However, I would propose this: if the Clippers somehow sneak out a win, the momentum and home court advantage of a Game 7 would favor the Clippers. As much as Portland has home court advantage right now, there should be no question that the Blazers have some pressure themselves to close out the series now.

Whoever wins the series, the Golden State Warriors are waiting and resting after they finished over the Houston Rockets with a 4-1 series conclusion. The Warriors will be rooting for the Clippers to win if only because it will mean a less contested second round and an opportunity to not sorely miss Stephen Curry.

The Solution

Needless to say, the Clippers cannot replace Chris Paul and Blake Griffin's consistent production. However, the focus should be game by game. There have been an assortment of players that have shown their ability to have games where they play above their average production and can carry the Clippers to victory. Austin Rivers last year played his best during the playoffs. Jamal Crawford can catch fire and showed a few times in second half of this regular season his ability to be an unstoppable scorer. Jeff Green is overdue for a explosion of points that leaves people wondering why he doesn't do it more often.

If there was ever a time for one (or all) of these three players to step up, now would be it. Granted, this did not happen in Game 5, but the feel of Game 6 is clearly different. With the game on the road, there is pretty much no expectations now for this team. Most spectators have resigned themselves to a sense of defeat and surrender for this game. With nothing to lose and no "pressure" of expectations, perhaps this game will reflect the grit and surprise that the Clippers' role players displayed against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Utah Jazz during the end of the regular season.

The History:

The Clippers are just 1-5 in their last six game 6 appearances, however the solo win was last season in San Antonio, with the team facing a similar road elimination game, down 3-2.  However, the Clippers had Chris Paul and Blake Griffin available for that game, and both All-Stars are out with injury tonight.  Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford combined for just 5-15 shooting in that game.  In the Clippers' most recent game 6, they had a 3-2 series lead over the Houston Rockets and lead by 19 points in the second half before blowing their lead and losing the fourth quarter 40-15.  Rivers and Crawford combined for just 6-21 shooting in that game.

For the Clippers to be successful in this game 6, they'll need a lot more production from Rivers and Crawford than they got in either of last year's game sixes.

The Rotation:

Doc Rivers hinted at some rotation changes for tonight, indicating that he would like to increase Wesley Johnson and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute's minutes.  I like hearing both of those things, but what I don't like is the notion of playing Mbah a Moute at small-ball center.  DeAndre Jordan is sure to play heavy minutes tonight with the Clippers facing elimination, but whenever he does sit, Cole Aldrich has clearly earned that time.  I even suggested prior to game 5 that with Blake Griffin out, the Clippers could turn to Aldrich and Jordan together to help on the boards when Portland plays two big men at once.  That lineup was successful in limited minutes against the Spurs this season due to Cole's energy and hustle.  If Cole Aldrich gets a DNP in what could be his last game as a Clipper, it would be a massive shame.

The Defense:

In victories in games 1 and 2, the Clippers held Portland to 95 and 81 points.  In tight victories in games 3 and 4, Portland scored 96 and 98 points.  Without Chris Paul in game 5, the Clippers let up 108 points.  There's a lot more to defense than total points allowed--scheme, efficiency, pace--but sometimes it's that simple: Chris Paul is out, and the Clippers are letting up more points without him leading the perimeter defensive effort against Portland's guards.  We already know that Austin Rivers is a good defender, but with J.J. Redick hobbled and Crawford and Pablo Prigioni unable to contribute much on the defensive end, they'll continue to struggle.

Getting Hot:

The Clippers can win this game, just like they could have won Wednesday night.  Unfortunately, it will again come down to something largely out of the team's control: getting hot.  Execution and scheme won't be enough to lead this team to victory.  At a certain point, they'll need to be carried by hot shooting from some combination of Rivers, Redick, Crawford, Green, and Johnson.  Solid play won't be enough--they need to get hot.