- PG: Damian Lillard
- SG: C.J. McCollum
- SF: Al-Farouq Aminu
- PF: Maurice Harkless
- C: Mason Plumlee
Blazers vs. Clippers Game 5 Preview and Pick
My, how the landscape of the 2016 NBA playoffs has changed. Just a week ago the Los Angeles Clippers were preparing to steamroll the Portland Trail Blazers to set up an intense second round matchup with the defending champion Golden State Warriors.
Now, they might not get out of the first round. L.A. had taken a commanding 2-0 series lead and had stifled Damian Lillard, only to watch Portland rise up in games three and four at home and tie the series up, two games a piece.
There was more damage to be done, however. Los Angeles suffered severe losses in game four, with superstars Blake Griffin (quad) and Chris Paul (hand) both going down with injury. With both stars now officially ruled out for the remainder of post-season play, any potential round two matchup will be met with major skepticism that the Clippers will be able to win even one game.
More importantly, their current series with Portland just got a serious facelift. Without their best two players, the Clippers will suddenly have to lean hard on sharpshooter J.J. Redick and big man DeAndre Jordan, hoping their inside/outside punch will be enough to get past the Blazers. Portland, with new found life after two straight wins and devastating injuries to their opponent, however, could smell blood in the water.
Portland made the mistake of trying to run faster than the Clippers in game one and it backfired in a rough 20-point loss. Game two was similar with another 21-point defeat, and Portland scored even less. However, the Blazers were able to adjust on the fly and properly use their home court edge in game three and four by slowing the pace, playing better defense and grinding the Clippers’ normally potent offense to a halt.
We saw the beginnings of that in game two when the Blazers did a great job on Blake Griffin, and that continued on in game three and four. In each of those games, Griffin shot 40% or lower and just wasn’t his normal, efficient self. He was still a versatile and explosive threat, but Portland was countering him perfectly and limiting his ceiling within the offense.
Griffin being relatively rusty and not necessarily 100% naturally played into Portland’s success on defense, as did two of those three games coming on the road for Griffin. Griffin wasn’t right in this series, however, and with further damage being done to hi quad, the Clippers wisely opted to shut him down. It didn’t really pay to run him into the ground with Paul done for the playoffs, anyways.
The point, however, is Portland had an answer for Griffin – at least this far into the series – and there is no guarantee he would have automatically come alive. The story was much the same on the other side of the court, as Al-Farouq Aminu erupted for a career high 30 points in a big game four home win for the Blazers.
Getting offense from other players than Lillard was huge in Portland’s last two wins, and is further evidence that the Blazers may be prepared to take down the Clippers. That was an argument before The Lillard Stopper (aka CP3) was shut down for the year. With no direct answer for Lillard any longer, Portland as a whole could be free to roam as an offense. Needless to say, this is an explosive offense that is used to putting up over 105 points per game, yet they haven’t even topped 100 points in any of the four games against the Clippers in this first round playoff series.
That’s a scary thought, as Portland’s best ball hasn’t even arrived yet and it could be coming with the Clippers down two studs.
|4/25/16||VS Clippers||Win 98-84|
|4/23/16||VS Clippers||Win 96-88|
|4/20/16||at Clippers||Lost 102-81|
|4/17/16||At Clippers||Lost 115-95|
|4/13/16||VS Nuggets||Win 107-99|
This series was a tale of two halves even before Paul and Griffin went down, as the Clippers were fantastic at home, but disastrous on the road in Portland. The one good constant was CP3 locked in on Damian Lillard and for three of four games, really took him out of the game.
The other glaring aspect was Blake Griffin’s ineffectiveness. The star forward did not handle Portland’s quicker, athletic forwards that kept getting thrown at him and overall the offense suffered from his inefficient play on that end. The Clippers rode strong play from CP3 early, but two straight road defeats already had this series suddenly looking a lot tighter.
The return home in game five was supposed to provide a breather, but instead L.A. has to snap back to reality now extremely undermanned. Can Austin Rivers, Jeff Green and Jamal Crawford step up enough to at least force this series into seven games? Can they do enough to still get the Clippers into the second round?
Logic suggests it will be very difficult and probably unlikely. At the very best, Clippers fans can hope for a hard fought, competitive game. The painful part is Chris Paul was what made this offense go in the first place, yet he was also a suffocating defender on the other end. Not only does his absence crush the flow of L.A.’s offense, but Damian Lillard is now free to do as he pleases. Add in the loss of Griffin, and the Clippers lose another fast break guy and someone who can create and initiate offense on his own. That duty will be left largely to just Jamal Crawford and Austin Rivers from here on out, and that isn’t the most efficient recipe for success.
Without their two best players, Los Angeles certainly won’t be blowing Portland out of the water. In fact, if they don’t come to play in game five and give it their all, they could very easily be the ones getting blown out.
- PG: Austin Rivers
- SG: J.J. Redick
- SF: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
- PF: Jeff Green
- C: DeAndre Jordan
|4/25/16||at Blazers||Lost 98-84|
|4/23/16||at Blazers||Lost 98-88|
|4/20/16||VS Blazers||Win 102-81|
|4/17/16||VS Blazers||Win 115-95|
|4/13/16||at Suns||Lost 114-105|
Matchup: Clippers vs. Blazers
|Win/Loss||44 / 38 (16-25 Away)||53 / 29 (29-12 Home)|
Preview & Predictions
The Clippers return home for a game that looked a lot different just a day ago. Game five was supposed to be the Clipper’s chance to take control of the series and set up a dramatic game six in Portland, but instead L.A. has dropped two straight and now has lost the heart and soul of their offense.
Had Blake Griffin remained active, the Clippers could have still had a mild chance of gutting this series out. They would have been toast in round two against the Warriors, but they would have at least gotten past Portland. The Blazers, however, have been a tougher opponent than first advertised and were already gaining serious steam with two straight wins on their home floor.
There were going to be serious doubts as to whether or not they could win in L.A., but the way they played Blake Griffin the past three games, it was starting to look like they had the Clippers’ number. It’s anyone’s guess how that would have played out, but we are now dealing with a brand new situation.
The reality is Chris Paul isn’t directing one of the league’s more efficient offenses anymore and Griffin’s explosiveness and versatility are also sidelined until next season. Just like that, the Clippers lose a defensive hold on Damian Lillard and lose serious toughness down low.
L.A. does have a glimmer of hope thanks to some oddly solid depth, as Austin Rivers can defend and also can randomly explode on offense, J.J. Redick is still a problem when he can get open jumpers, DeAndre Jordan is still a force in the paint on both ends and Jamal Crawford has never backed down when asked to carry his team offensively.
For this series and for game five, we can’t completely write off the Clippers. However, if we’re looking at this logically, this is a team that just saw it’s spirit dry up before its eyes. If Portland is smart, they’re going in for the kill and Damian Lillard is going to take advantage of CP3’s absence. He should have his biggest game of the series and the same should be said for Portland’s entire offense with L.A.’s defense likely being sapped by their best remaining players trying to combine their efforts to get the job done defensively.
It’s true that the Clippers are at home and still have some solid pieces to roll with, but it is going to be awfully tough for them to keep it together in this one. The shock of losing their best two players will hit hard and with Portland carrying all the momentum and confidence, I expect the Blazers to storm into their third straight win.
The harsh reality is Portland had pieced together a strong strategy to take down the Clippers at their best, and it was already working in their last two wins. The other arguably scarier aspect is they boast one of the more explosive offenses in the league, yet it still hasn’t shown up through four games. There is a pretty good chance it arrives in a game five win.
Series Bet: Blazers in 7
While the Blazers will seize total control of the series with a game five win, it’s still possible the shock of losing CP3 and Griffin will wear off enough by game six for the Clippers to offer one last gasp to force a game seven. Doc Rivers is too good of a coach and Portland’s defense is shaky enough that L.A. could rebound to make this interesting until the end. The power has completely shifted overall, however, and no matter how you bet it, this has become Portland’s series to lose.
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