This is absolutely the last chance for the latest edition of the Los Angeles Clippers. If they fail to (at least) reach the Western Conference Finals, there will be wholesale roster changes next summer. Beating the upstart Portland Trail Blazers 114-106 in Portland was therefore a promising beginning to LAC’s critical season.
No surprise that Chris Paul was the motor of LAC’s offense — 9-19, five assists for 27 points — scoring on isos, hand-offs and high screens.
Blake Griffin was extremely active without the ball — 9-22, 13 rebounds, 27 points. He ran himself into two layups and a putback on the break. Griffin was also quick to roll after setting screens, and even played active defense — drawing a charge and chasing down a Portland breakaway to dramatically block an attempted layup from behind.
The Clippers’ bench completely outplayed Portland’s subs — outscoring them 45 to 20. And it was Marreese Speights who did most of the damage — shooting 4-8 overall and 2-3 from downtown for 15 points in 16 minutes, and bagging an easy hoop on his only post-up opportunity.
Jamal Crawford didn’t shoot well — 3-12 — but his tricky drives repeatedly put him on the foul line and resulted in his scoring 15 points.
They took very good care of the ball, committing only seven turnovers — half as many as Portland’s total.
Big shots late in the game were hit by J.J. Redick and CP3.
In the first half, the Clippers’ second unit played excellent defense, with Austin Rivers stifling Damian Lillard.
Wesley Johnson’s defense was likewise top notch.
The game plan on defense was to clog the middle and allow the Blazers to shoot freely from behind the arc. This strategy worked to perfection as Portland was only 4-18 from out there.
Despite the win and the many pluses, the Clippers also showed themselves to be vulnerable in several areas.
Although DeAndre Jordan successfully intimidated two shots, blocked one and had 15 rebounds (seven off the offensive glass), he had a poor game:
- He was caught flat-footed when required to help on several high screens.
- Was a no-show on a couple of hand-offs.
- Overcommitted on numerous ball penetrations, thereby allowing Mason Plumlee too much freedom in the shadow of the rim.
- Gifted Plumlee a fastbreak dunk when he failed to hustle in transition defense.
- Offered no help twice when Moe Harkless abused Redick in the low post.
- Was beaten twice when Plumlee turned-faced-and-drove. Fortunately, Plumlee missed a relatively easy layup, and also split a pair of free throws.
- And, of course, Jordan was only 2-10 from the stripe and had to be yanked in the endgame.
Griffin did hit a trey, but he also reverted to his habitual brick-laying by shooting only 1-7 from mid-range and beyond. He was just as ineffective in the pivot — shooting 1-8 from there.
Both Griffin and Rivers gave up easy scores (eight points in all) when they turned their heads on defense. Moreover, Griffin was lifted by a shot-fake 25 feet from the hoop.
As good as Speights was on offense, his defense was awful. He did draw a charge (even though he clearly moved into the driver’s path), but he bought every fake and was routinely late in offering interior help.
For the most part, LAC’s transition defense was sluggish. More importantly, the offense was stagnant throughout most of the second half — showing minimal weak-side movement and almost totally relying on isos as the shot clock threatened to buzz.
With 81 games to go, there’s more than enough time to right all the wrongs they committed in the game at hand. BUT will Jordan be more active on defense? Will Griffin regain the shooting touch he demonstrated last season? Will Speights’ offensive production continue to compensate for his sub-par defense? How can Doc Rivers keep Jordan on the floor in the waning moments of a close game?
For the time being, however, a win is a win is a win…especially on the road.