LOS ANGELES — First rule of playoff defense: Take away your opponent’s option No. 1. Followed by take away option No. 2. Make someone they don’t trust as much beat you.
The Los Angeles Clippers did that in Game 1 against Portland. During the regular season, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum combined to take 41.3 percent of the Trail Blazers shots, on Sunday night that fell to 33 percent. The Clippers aggressively trapped the pick-and-roll and forced Portland’s backcourt to get the ball to other players — Al-Farouq Aminu and Gerald Henderson both had more shots than McCollum. The Clippers will take that every game this series.
Meanwhile the Trail Blazers’ defense — just 22nd in the NBA after the All-Star break — could not get the ball out of the hands of Chris Paul (28 points and 11 assists), Blake Griffin (19 points) or DeAndre Jordan (18 points, 12 rebounds). The guys the Clippers wanted to shoot were getting shots, and exactly where they wanted them.
The result was Los Angeles pulling away in the second half for a comfortable 115-95 Clippers win to take a 1-0 lead in their playoff series.
There was good news for the Clippers besides the win — this was the best Blake Griffin game since his return from injury and suspension late in the season.
“I felt good. I felt really good,” Griffin said postgame. “Our offense was really clicking. I thought we were doing the things we wanted to do and that helps when you’re getting easy shots. I got some right at the basket early, so that helps. But pretty close, pretty close to how I want to feel.”
Portland’s defense allowed the Clippers to shoot 53.8 percent on the night as a team and have an offensive rating of 122 (points per 100 possessions, via NBA.com) — and that may be the most difficult thing for coach Terry Stotts to adjust, just because there are no good matchups.
“We got to get back in transition, we’ve got to rebound and prevent offensive rebounds, especially on free throws,” McCollum said. “I’ve got to get back and watch the film, but they got middle a couple times on the pick-and-roll and that always creates a lot of problems because you’ve got a shooter like J.J. (Redick) on the weak side or you’ve got Jamal (Crawford) on the weak side so it’s hard to help.”
The Trail Blazers switched a lot of pick-and-rolls in this game, but the Clippers responded by posting up Blake Griffin (with Aminu or someone else smaller on him) and taking advantage of their size. The Trail Blazers may move Aminu or Maurice Harkless to guard Paul (they needs to do something, Lillard was torched much of the night), but either McCollum or Lillard would still need to guard Redick and his constant motion. Stotts is a fantastic coach, but his is limited with how he can match up defensively and keep his playmakers on the floor.
Portland’s other adjustment will be how to deal with the aggressive pick-and-roll traps Los Angeles used on Lillard and McCollum.
“It’s obvious they were really pressuring Damian and C.J., on pick-and-rolls, doubling them and forcing them to pass out,” said Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts. “We had some threes on the weak side, we had some rolls to the basket and weren’t able to finish them. But if they’re going to double-team Damian and C.J., then other players are going to have to make plays for us.”
“They trap a lot of ball screens and switch a lot of ball screens, similar to Golden State….” McCollum said after the game. “It was a tough game but we’ve got to move forward, figure out different ways to score in pick-and-rolls, figure out different ways to get guys shots when they’re trapping and when they are switching out off ball screens.”
“They were physical, they were ready every time, they communicated,” Lillard said. “It was tough to deal with. We had to make the play and get the ball in the middle to a big, and find a weak side guy. Just as a team we didn’t have a great offensive night.”
The big adjustments for Game 2 Wednesday fall on Stotts, who needs to both improve his team’s defense and also find a way to make the Clippers pay for their aggressive traps (just getting Aminu and Harkless to hit their shots would help). He didn’t have any answers during Game 1. He’s got until Wednesday when Game 2 tips off in Los Angeles to figure it out.