Last year I felt like Stotts got outcoached and didn't adapt fast enough. It seemed like he wanted to "trust the system" that wasn't working, and when he finally made adjustments, it was too late.
This year I saw changes the moment Stotts knew he had been out maneuvered. Threw Kamen in at the end of game one to test his effectiveness. Got open shots for Dame and Cj game 2 (not his fault that good looks didn't fall). Despite the flow of game 2 going decently for the Blazers, he didn't wait to see IF shots would fall. Maybe the clippers would have an answer by then. So he ramped up the speed to alleviate trap pressure in game 3. At this point, I would be surprised if there wasn't an additional development (or at least a new plan ready mid game if things aren't going well) in game 4.
I'm really excited about player improvement, but I feel like Stotts is the most improved blazer this series. Agree? Disagree?
Last year's team was different. The Blazers played solid veterans from a fairly-well-established core. LaMarcus Aldridge was the most central player of all. The Blazers won 51 games with their lineup playing a defined style. Changes come more slowly in that environment.
You also have to consider that even though last year's rotation was experienced and deep compared to this year's, they weren't necessarily more versatile in style. They had more scorers, more good outlets on any given play, but switching their style of play would have betrayed their strengths. Robin Lopez wasn't able to defend or score outside of the lane. Neither Aldridge nor Wesley Matthews nor Nicolas Batum looked comfortable putting the ball on the floor (Aldridge and Matthews by nature, Batum by whatever was going on with Batum at the moment). Shading down into the lane on defense, using Aldridge as the hub on offense...no other approach would have been superior. Those Blazers played a style and played it well. That was their gig.
Finally, remember that the Blazers faced the Memphis Grizzlies last season...a team that squashed them like a gnat in the regular season and (as it turned out) through most of the playoffs. You can hit a cement wall with your left hand, right hand, either foot, or buttocks; no matter what adjustments you make, you're still not knocking it down.
The differences this year are obvious. The Blazers are a 5th seed in name but they're really more of a traditional 8th-seed in quality. 44-win teams probably made adjustments during the regular season and they're likely to continue during the playoffs. Portland's extreme youth compared to most playoff teams underscores the point.
This year's Blazers lineup isn't more versatile than last year's in the strictest sense. They try different things less because they're refining their chess moves and more because they're scrambling for ways to succeed. But CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard are certainly more versatile on offense than any of last year's veterans. Since the majority of the offense passes through their hands, it works out to more versatility on a given play, and thus more room for adjustment. The coach can ask his current guards to penetrate or shoot threes. He couldn't ask Aldridge the same.
The Clippers also allow for more versatility than the soul-crushing Grizzlies did. L.A. succeeded in Game 1 because of a trap. There are ways to counteract that. Portland's adjusted quickly because those adjustments were not only necessary, but obvious.
If anything, I think Portland's coaching staff got outmaneuvered in Game 2 of this series. The Game 3 adjustments were both appropriate and successful. It's worth noting that half of those "adjustments" can be summarized as "the Blazers finally played harder on defense and took care of the boards". I'm not sure that evidences a different plan as much as doing what they were always supposed to do. Either way, it amounted to a win...to the credit of coaching staff and players alike.
Do you think last year's team would have beat this year's Clippers?
"Beaten" is hard to determine. Technically this year's Blazers could still beat this year's Clippers. I do think the veteran squad could have given the Clippers a harder time than they're having now. Last year's shooting guards would have defended J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford tougher...a source of agony in the first couple games. Lopez rebounded well against the Clips. Aldridge probably wouldn't have been shut down as easily by Blake Griffin as Lillard and McCollum have been by Chris Paul and company. People will want to point out McCollum coming off the bench as an advantage for the former team. There's no guarantee he would have blossomed behind Matthews, but if we want to imagine that happening, it's certainly a plus for the old lineup.
Given late-season injuries and easy wins around the Western Conference, the 2014-15 Blazers might have earned homecourt advantage in the first round, in which case I'd anticipate the Blazers holding a 2-1 lead instead of L.A. But winning it outright is too much to forecast. Either way, expecting this year's neophyte roster to compete with last year's near-apex bunch is a little much to ask.
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