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Portland Trail Blazers vs Los Angeles Clippers Game 2 Preview

The Los Angeles Clippers took Game 1 of their first-round playoffs series with the Trail Blazers in dominant fashion. Portland looks to bounce back tonight and steal some momentum.

Game 1 was a fight, expect more of the same on Wednesday
Game 1 was a fight, expect more of the same on Wednesday
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Wednesday, April 20
Staples Center | 7:30 p.m. PDT | Local TV/Radio: KGWHD, TNT; 620 AM
Portland injury report: Meyers Leonard (Out - Shoulder) | L.A. injury report: N/A
SBN Affiliate: Clips Nation

On Sunday, the Blazers and Clippers squared off in Los Angeles for Game 1 of their first-round playoff matchup. After winning nine more games in the regular season than the Blazers and winning the regular season series 3-1, the Clippers entered Game 1 as the favorites and with home court advantage, more experience, more momentum, and more big name talent than the Blazers. What started out as a back-and-forth game became a rout early in the second half and ended up as a 115-95 loss for Portland who fell to 0-1 in the series with Game 2 set for tonight.

Although underdogs, Portland did have some advantages entering the series. The Blazers had been a much better rebounding team during the regular season, had a better bench, had a better scoring backcourt, made more 3-point shots per game at a better percentage. On top of that, two of the Clippers' top players, Blake Griffin and J.J. Redick, had been dealing with injuries and weren't expected to be 100 percent.

Unfortunately for Portland, none of that actually applied to what happened in Game 1. The Blazers were out-rebounded, the Clippers' backcourt of Chris Paul and Redick dominated the Blazers backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, both Griffin and Redick both looked up to speed, and L.A. shot a better 3-point percentage for the game. Aside from some Blazer bench points at the end of the night that gave them the final bench advantage, the Blazers' strengths did not look the part in the first game of the series.

The Clippers' game plan from the very beginning was simple: They saw a mismatch with Blazers power forward Al-Farouq Aminu guarding the bigger, stronger, five-time All-Star Blake Griffin and they fed him in the post from the first play of the game.

Griffin played just 35 games this season due to injury and suspension, and had only played in five games after his absence before the playoffs, averaging an underwhelming 10.4 points and 6.8 rebounds. Against the Blazers, however, he was in full form from the tipoff.

Griffin finished the night with 19 points, 12 rebounds and 6 assists. The Blazers seem to have underestimated his health and rhythm. Even with his size and strength advantage, Portland elected not to double team Griffin on the inside. Here, even after a switch gets Blake matched up on the much smaller Lillard, Portland elects to stick to their plan and let Lillard guard Blake one-on-one:

Lillard tried to draw the charge, which was essentially his only way out. Plumlee had no intention of helping on the post-up and got there just fast enough to foul Blake and smile for camera as he got put on one of many of Griffin's posters. Allen Crabbe may have been in the best position to double team, guarding Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, who was not much of an offensive threat, and he had two other defenders on his side with him, but even so, he hardly even took a step. The Blazer game plan was to play Griffin straight up on a post-up no matter who was on him. Portland clearly wanted to see if Griffin was capable of beating them on the inside. Griffin had the same thoughts. He tried to get to the rim as much as possible all night as shown here by his shot chart (created by

Blake shot chart

Griffin only took two shots outside of the key, and one of them came at the end of the shot clock. Everything else was under the basket. Blake also made 9 of 12 free throws, mostly coming from fouls drawn around the key, as well. The Clippers ran back-screens for Griffin, isolated him in post-ups, and found him as a roller off of high screens.

Doubling Griffin seems like the easy answer, but Griffin is arguably one of the best passing big men in the NBA. The Blazers picked their poison and chose to make Blake a scorer more than a passer. Unfortunately he was both. The Blazers have no one strong and athletic enough to guard Griffin so they are going to need to keep the ball out of his hands near the basket as much as possible. The Blazers overall did a poor job denying interior passes Sunday as the Clipper bigs caught the ball close to the basket too easily and often.

Blazers coach Terry Stotts may not want to double Blake, but the team needs to at least deny him and force him to catch the ball away from the basket. As Griffin finds his rhythm, he may only be getting better throughout the series. (For more on the Blake matchup, check out this Blake Griffin piece by Eric Griffith of Blazer's Edge)

Defensively, the Clippers' plan was no surprise to anyone. Like most teams have been doing against the Blazers near the end of the season, the Clippers doubled Lillard and McCollum hard on every ball screen. Clipper big men DeAndre Jordan and Griffin both did a great job corralling the Blazer guards and forcing them into pressure. L.A.'s guards, especially six-time NBA steals leader Chris Paul (and his quick hands), gave the Blazers guards lots of trouble. The Clippers were able to force some bad decisions from Portland's guards, including some tipped passes that turned into steals and fast breaks. Here is an example of one occasion:

The Clippers trap the Blazer guards to possibly provoke a turnover but at the least just get the ball out of Lillard or McCollum's hands and force other players on the court besides those two to beat them. In doing so, they risk the ball being passed out of the trap and being at a disadvantage with only three defensive players back to guard the four remaining offensive players.

The Blazers failed to make the Clippers pay as they very rarely had any success in their 4-on-3 opportunities in Game 1. After the pass out of the trap, the ensuing advantage turned into indecisiveness and poor decisions on the Blazers' part. Portland was unable to create spacing and passing lanes, and an open player is irrelevant if the passer has no angle to get the open player the ball. The four Blazers off the ball need to create passing solutions for the ballhandler and then look to attack. Here is an example of Ed Davis creating a passing lane, being decisive with the ball and making a great play to punish a trap:

Notice when Davis first rolls to the basket, he is wide open at the free throw line but does not just stand there waiting for a pass. He sees that McCullum is under pressure and does not have the right angle to get him the ball, so he smartly comes back up to the top of the key. From there, McCollum has an easy pass right to Davis. In the ensuing 4-on-3 situation, the outnumbered Clippers do not pick up the ball and Davis sees the advantage and finishes with the dunk.

Plays like this are great ways to dissuade double teaming the ball but the Blazers just did not make enough of them. Al-Farouq Aminu was one of the culprits. He started the game 1-9 from the field and 0-5 on threes, with some of those misses being open shots after an on-ball trap. He was clearly uncomfortable and indecisive on his drives and shots and although they were good looks, as soon as he hesitates, they become bad shots.

Aminu has never been a great shooter or anything close to it before this season, but he has had a good year shooting the three at 36 percent. The Clippers obviously are not buying into it and left him open all game, daring him to shoot. He is the only Blazer interior player capable of spreading the floor with his shooting, so it is imperative that he is able to find his stroke in this series.

Defensively for Portland, the Blazers really struggled with screens of all types. This has been a constant theme lately for them. Watching Redick get wide open jumpers on a simple weakside down screen and watching pick-and-rolls with Chris Paul become an automatic 2-on-1 advantage against the helpless Portland bigs are best case scenarios for Los Angeles.

Griffin drew a foul under the basket after his defender, Aminu, was back-picked on the opposite block and Griffin was able to flash ball-side for an easy entry into the key. All of these situations are strategically dealt with in different ways, but the best strategy to defeat any screen is to be aware, have good communication between players, and quickly avoid contact on the screen, making the screen irrelevant. To be good NBA defender, you have to be able to avoid getting screened. Screens are vital to the high-power Clipper offense and the Clippers do deserve credit for their effectiveness. But if the Blazers keep getting blown up on screens, the rest may not matter.

The negatives are easy to point out when analyzing Game 1. Portland was not ready for the physicality of L.A. They did not handle the pressure well, looked to draw fouls that were not called, and got bullied for post position. They were overwhelmed and overall just played inferior. It was a good learning experience for the young Blazer team and there are always silver linings.

Although the contest ended in a 20-point blowout, Portland had a 40-39 lead with four minutes left in the first half. A devastating 11-2 Clipper run to end the half changed the game. Another 9-0 run in the early third and a 11-2 run later in the third made the lead seem insurmountable. What was a close first half turned out to be too daunting for even the most blatant of "Hack-a-Jordans." (For the record, I vote we get rid the term "Hack-a." It was clever when it was Hack-a-Shaq, but it never worked for other players. Can we just call it "intentionally fouling" until either someone comes up with something more clever, or Shelvin Mack or Jarrett Jack become horrendous free throw shooters?)

The intentional fouling of Jordan did little to help Portland recover from the Los Angeles runs. However, aside from those runs, Portland played the Clippers very well. Portland just needs to keep focused and eliminate those letdowns.

Game 1 was imperative to the Clippers and a win would've been a luxury for the Blazers. Portland did not look up for the challenge Sunday, but the Blazers now have a game of experience under their belts and have had an opportunity to re-examine their gameplan, which is how the playoffs work.

McCollum will not average 8 points per game this series, he is much too good for that (although his defense on Redick is a valid concern) and even with the newly appointed NBA Sixth-Man-of-the-Year award winner, Jamal Crawford, Portland still can claim the superior bench. If the Blazers can steal game 2 of this series, all of the momentum switches to Portland and the pressure falls on LA. (See Dallas Mavericks vs OKC Thunder). This series has only just begun.