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Paul Bests Lillard as Clippers Humble Blazers in Game 1

L.A. strikes a mighty blow as the Blazers struggle and ultimately fall.

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Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers had high hopes heading into Game 1 of their first-round playoffs series against the Los Angeles Clippers. It was time for Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum to come alive, showing why they're considered one of the best guard duos in the league. It was time for Portland to intimidate with rebounding and speed, exacting revenge in a feud that bred resentment all season long. The nation was eager to watch an underdog prevail on a playoff weekend that featured favorites winning by huge margins. If the Blazers could just keep L.A. in their sights long enough to splash home a couple threes and steal the victory, the world would go crazy.

The Clippers were having none of that. They frustrated Lillard and McCollum, outrebounded the Blazers, and waltzed their way to a 115-95 victory that was decided by the end of the third period.

If Portland couldn't triumph, at least they hoped to cause the opponent concern. Instead they'll have to lick their wounds, watch game film until their eyes bleed, and hope they can find an answer before their next meeting on Wednesday night.

Game Flow

Both teams came out of the gates with energy but took time to settle in. Scrappy, back-and-forth play gave the Blazers a fighting chance for a while, but L.A. had the surer attack throughout. They rode Blake Griffin to an early lead, scoring in the lane with abandon. They didn't exactly control the glass but they stayed even...a moral loss for Portland as they were supposed to dominate in that category. With the Clippers controlling inside play on both ends, the Blazers had to strike back from the perimeter. They couldn't. L.A. hounded Portland ball-handlers all night, forcing Lillard and McCollum to combat traps 30 feet away from the bucket. If they tried to dribble out, Chris Paul's busy hands forced turnovers. When they managed to get the ball to unguarded shooters, the shots went astray. Mo Harkless did damage early--becoming Portland's only effective outlet of the first half--but he picked up a pair of fouls in the first and another quick one in the second and had to sit. The only serious run the Blazers made came in the mid-second period with Paul on the bench. After he returned the Clippers got it all back and more for a 50-42 lead at the break.

The third period proved pivotal. The Blazers failed to encroach upon L.A.'s position, then lost their own. The teams played evenly for the first few minutes until Paul came alive. A three and another jumper from the veteran All-Star pushed the lead to double-digits where it would remain for the duration. The Blazers finally began to stroke their own threes as the quarter waned but their defense was too porous to give them significance. The short rush of points didn't end up sparking a comeback, just delaying the inevitable for a couple more minutes. As the fourth quarter commenced the Blazers stopped playing defense entirely, allowing the Clippers to score right at the cup. Portland's offense consisted of a couple decent plays followed by a string of desperation isolation attempts to build on the momentum. That only got them farther behind.

As L.A.'s lead ballooned the Blazers angered the entire nation--especially TNT broadcasters--by hacking DeAndre Jordan for possession when they were already down 20. The resulting parade to the foul line extended the fourth period without changing the outcome a bit. Portland lost Game 1 convincingly, the final horn a merciful relief.

Analysis

The most disturbing part about this defeat is that the Clippers played straight from the Beating Portland 101 Manual. Their approach was neither new nor subtle. They trapped Lillard and McCollum above the three-point arc, forcing the ball out of their hands. Occasionally one or the other would get past for a layup but most of the time they and the ball would get stuck. If the guards didn't commit a turnover trying to force a play they'd end up bailing out to perimeter shooters. With shooting guards and forwards shooting a combined 4-14 from the arc tonight, that plan didn't work either. The lack of three-pointers allowed the Clippers to crowd the lane with their remaining defenders, taking away Portland's drives and offensive rebounding opportunities. No threes, no drives, and no offensive boards left nothing for the Blazers to feed on. Portland ended up shooting 40% for the game, 33% from distance, and scoring only 95.

Al-Farouq Aminu hit only 2 of 8 three-pointers. Moe Harkless was successful in the lane, scoring 5 of Portland's first 7 points. But he collected 5 fouls in 21 minutes of play and finished the evening with only 9. Without any help from their forwards, Portland's backcourt had no chance to escape the vise the Clippers threw on them. That Portland's offensive fortunes can turn on the play of Harkless and Aminu shows something about how thin the team is. The Clippers exposed that tonight.

Adding to the worry: the Blazers had to know this was coming. Several teams employed this exact scheme against them as the season came to a close. Trapping guards to force the ball out of their hands is the first thing you'd expect an opponent to do. Portland had no answer: no picks, no quick-hitting passes and cuts, no rebounds...nothing. The only thing they managed besides Aminu's wide-open threes were a series of isolation plays from shooting guards. McCollum's opportunities did not go well. Gerald Henderson's did because isolation is his game, but Henderson couldn't dig the team out of a 20-point deficit on his own.

When you know exactly what the opposing team will do and you still can't counter it, you may be outclassed.

Portland's defense also failed them, at first incrementally and then utterly. Aminu did a good job in the first half but he couldn't be everywhere at once. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan ran roughshod on Mason Plumlee and anybody who tried to sub in for the foul-plagued Harkless. Aminu went downstairs to help out. Then Paul and J.J. Redick went crazy from mid-range. Aminu went upstairs to put out the fire, only to watch the Clippers go crazy inside again.

Portland allowed L.A. 54% shooting from the field. The Clippers hit 42 field goals to Portland's 33. Even a 10-6 advantage in made three-pointers wasn't going to make up for that. (L.A. barely bothered to shoot from deep; they were getting easy shots inside.) With Hack-a-Jordan in effect, the Blazers weren't going to make up the gap from the foul line either. Throw in a 11-10 advantage in offensive rebounds and 12-9 advantage in turnovers for the Clippers and you can hear the door slamming shut.

There's hope for the Blazers yet, but it rests on two things:

1. Aminu and company probably won't continue to miss threes quite so badly. The Blazers have managed to break defensive presses before, mostly because Aminu goes on a hot streak and makes the opponent come out to guard him. Once that happens McCollum gets free. When he hits Lillard faces single coverage as well. In this way a few more three-pointers falling for the Blazers would make a difference beyond the direct points they'd put on the scoreboard. (By the way, if you haven't missed Meyers Leonard yet, you should start missing him now.)

2. Portland tends to adjust well between games. They've seen the Clippers' opening move firsthand now. They need to come to the ball when they get trapped. Failing that they might reverse the floor and design quick-hitting, 4-on-3 plays to take advantage of L.A. committing to the dribbler. Doc Rivers will make another adjustment if the Blazers break this scheme, but whatever he designs has to be better for Portland. We just saw the worst possible defense for the Blazers to fight.

Unfortunately the Blazers also lose in specific ways. Tonight they got dominated by guards and a center. That story has remained the same throughout the season. It's unlikely to change until the roster does. That won't happen this side of July, which bodes ill for the rest of this series no matter what adjustments the Blazers make.

Individual Notes

Let's start with the Clippers. Chris Paul scored 28 on 10-19 shooting with 11 assists and 3 offensive rebounds. Blake Griffin scored 19 with 12 rebounds and 6 assists. DeAndre Jordan scored 18 on 5-7 shooting with 12 rebounds and 4 blocks. It doesn't get much uglier than that for Portland. (Unless you consider that combined the Clippers guards shot 29-53 and scored 69 points. Jamal Crawford and Austin Rivers went off for 13 and 11 on 50% shooting.)

Mason Plumlee shot 1-6 with 5 rebounds and 4 personal fouls in 19 minutes of play. We start with him because Jordan was the key to the Clippers' success. Paul and Griffith scored more and the guard trap had a bigger impact on defense than DeAndre did individually, but Jordan was the key to making it all work. He was the reason the Clippers could double-team aggressively on the perimeter. They left him alone defending the lane with confidence. Plumlee could not pull him out, nor move him an inch. Jordan was also the reason the Blazers had trouble going small against the Clips. They had nobody to defend him. But Plumlee didn't defend him well either. Portland's young center got abandoned by his fellow defenders, then overwhelmed as he tried to stop the house of cards from collapsing. Plumlee is not the reason the Blazers lost, but the Plumlee-Jordan matchup is a big part of the reason they could not compensate for the Clippers' designs.

Al-Farouq Aminu had 12 rebounds, 2 offensive, and worked his heart out on defense. His 2-8 three-point shooting and 10 total points on a night when the opponent left him wide open ended up killing his team's chances. Those chances weren't strong to begin with, but still.

Maurice Harkless looked like the answer until foul trouble sent him to the pines. As crafty and quick as he is, he's not equipped to guard Griffin or the L.A. bigs.

Damian Lillard's 21 points and 8 assists look great on paper, but they ended up making zero difference. He shot 7-17 as Paul locked him up. He committed 4 turnovers. The greatest sin was never finding a way to advance the ball beyond the first line of Clippers defense. Granted, his teammates stood and stared as he tried to do so, but they take their cues from Damian and #0 was flailing tonight.

CJ McCollum never got off the launching pad tonight. His toughest moments came when he became the primary ballhandler in Lillard's stead. He wasn't a great secondary outlet either. The Clippers saw him coming and took away everything he wanted to do, including switching Luc Mbah a Moute on him while hiding JJ Redick on Harkless. He shot 3-11, 1-5 from distance, and scored 9 points. Paul, Crawford, Rivers, and Redick all scored more than that. Add in 3 assists against 2 turnovers and this will be a night CJ wants to forget.

Ed Davis did the best he could, grabbing 8 rebounds and scoring 6 points in 20 minutes as Doc Rivers played Hack-an-Ed in mockery of Portland's Jordan-fouling technique. But Davis couldn't contribute enough to make a difference, especially with the Clips camping happily in the lane all night.

Gerald Henderson shrugged off Clippers defenders for a 7-12, 16 point night. His prowess earned him 30 minutes of playing time and the designation of "Only Blazers Who Looked Like Himself".

Allen Crabbe played 25 minutes and was chronically tardy getting around Clippers screens. It was a rough night for him.

Chris Kaman hit 3-4 shots in 8 minutes of play and smiled his way through several Jordan hacks.

Noah Vonleh got forced into 7 minutes of mostly-prime-time duty by Harkless' foul trouble. It went about as you'd expect.

Links and Such

Boxscore

Instant Recap

Video: This game had a little bad blood in it.

Clips Nation will share the L.A. side of the story.

The Blazers and Clippers face off in Game 2 on Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m.

--Dave blazersub@gmail.com / @DaveDeckard@Blazersedge /

Read about my now-available first book here and order it here.

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