The Los Angeles Clippers were riding high heading into Wednesday night’s Game Two matchup against the Portland Trail Blazers. They had won Game One by 20 points on Saturday. Then, top Clippers reserve Jamal Crawford was named the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year. It was Crawford’s third Sixth Man Award of his career, the most for any player in NBA history. Center DeAndre Jordan hopes to add to the hardware. After finishing third in the voting for Defensive Player of the Year, Jordan finds himself a likely All Defensive first- or second-team candidate despite not being voted to the All-Star Game.
The Clippers started Game Two with great energy. J.J Redick hit three-of-four threes, scoring 11 points in the first nine minutes. Their defense focused on containing Blazers guard Damian Lillard, forcing the rest of the Portland starters out of their comfort zone. It was clear from the outset that the Blazers weren’t destined for a hot shooting night after missing several open looks early. Los Angeles held Portland to 32 percent from the field, but the Clippers’ starters (Redick aside) failed to capitalize. DeAndre Jordan missed three straight alley-oop dunks. By the end of the first quarter, the Clippers held a 22-17 advantage.
Los Angeles dominated the first half, but went into the break only leading by four. After point guard Chris Paul got called for his third foul and went to the bench with three minutes remaining in the second quarter, his team lost their focus, committing careless turnovers that sparked an 8-2 Portland run to close the half at 47-43.
Clippers Clear the Bench
Second unit guard Austin Rivers’ sharp play symbolized the Clippers’ clutch bench performance tonight. In addition to making shots, Rivers played a key role in neutralizing Lillard defensively. One sequence in particular set the tone: Rivers drove to the basket, knocked down the shot, and got fouled. He clanked the free throw, but Jeff Green corralled the miss and drove around Blazers’ reserve center Ed Davis to stretch the lead to 11. After a Cole Aldrich block on the defensive end, Jamal Crawford sank his first shot of the night to put the Clippers up 32-19.
The Blazers went 1-for-5 to open the second quarter as the Clippers reserves built a fifteen point lead. Rivers would finish with nine points and an assist shooting 4-9 in 21 minutes. His most memorable play came in the fourth quarter when he head-faked defender Damian Lillard to drain a step-back three. It was a shot that conjured memories of Kobe Bryant’s heroics in the same building exactly one week earlier.
Rivers wasn’t the only Los Angeles bench player to rise to the challenge. Blazer’s center Mason Plumlee on DeAndre Jordan is an obvious mismatch, but on this night Jordan’s backup Cole Aldrich gave Plumlee all he could handle as well. Aldrich was energetic and active on both the offensive and defensive ends, doing a little bit of everything. He’d finish with eight points, eight rebounds and two blocks.
Plumlee redeemed himself in the third quarter when the Blazers battled back, forcing turnovers with stout defense to cut the Clippers’ lead to 67-61 heading into the fourth. Were it not for Portland’s abysmal shooting, they could’ve stolen the lead. The Blazers shot 31% through three quarters and closed out the third 1-for-12. Part of that was due to Jordan who, despite a poor scoring night, played his usual stellar rim defense, grabbing 18 rebounds, blocking three shots and limiting Blazers second chance possessions all night long.
Plumlee capped his nice night with 17 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists, two blocks and a steal, but it wasn’t enough. The Clippers reserves returned in the fourth quarter to inflict more damage, stretching the lead back up to fifteen points for the second time with a 9-0 run from Jamal Crawford, who led all reserves with 11 points, Jeff Green (10) and Rivers, before Chris Paul and Blake Griffin returned around the eight-minute mark to close out the victory with a home crowd-pleasing flourish.
In the end, the Clippers’ bench accounted for 43 points, with four different players scoring eight or more. The Blazers’ bench scored 10. Los Angeles outscored Portland 35-20 in the fourth quarter.
Damian Lillard Effective, But Not In Control
The Clippers succeeded in holding Damian Lillard at bay through the first half, but he inevitably heated up in the second, sparked by his highlight reel block of a Chris Paul layup. After hitting only two field goals in the first two quarters he ground out 12 more points in the third, finishing with 17 for the game, well below his season average 25. But it wasn’t so much his lack of scoring that stood out; more troubling was how hard it seemed for him to find his proper role on the floor. He was invisible for long stretches. The Blazers offense ran through him but he didn’t seem to be in command of the flow of the game. His game looked improvised and frenzied, as though he were constantly reacting to what the Clippers were giving him, never imposing his will.
After the game, Blazers coach Terry Stotts said he’d planned for Lillard to spend less time in the game running the offense, so his teammates could get him the ball on the move. Obviously that plan didn’t work. Now the Blazers must find a winning formula at home to save their season.