The Extra Pass: Clippers offensive fireworks cover up struggling defense, plus Monday recaps

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LOS ANGELES — The Clippers know how to put on a show — they dropped a highflying 137 points on the Rockets and blew the up-and-coming team out of the water. Through four games the Clippers are averaging 116.7 points per 100s possessions, that is almost 7 points better than the second place team (Houston). They are 3-1.

But the offensive fireworks are masking a more serious issue — the Clippers defense is not good.

The Clippers also have the worst defense in the NBA to pair with that offense, allowing 110.1 per 100 possessions. They have given up 100 points in each game this season, and are allowing opponents to shoot 48.2 percent overall and 42 percent from three.

Doc Rivers and all the Clippers know the truth — you can win a lot of regular season games just flat out outscoring your opponents, but you won’t last long in the playoffs.

“Our (problem) is simple right now: Second shots and turnovers,” Rivers said before the game. “As crazy as it sounds… I think it’s 46 points is what we’re giving up if you combine those two, second chance and turnovers. And if you’re giving up 46 points a game on second shots and turnovers, you can be the ’85 Bears and you’re still going to struggle defensively…

“It’s absolutely killing us. It’s creating awful matchups. Transition is about matchups and if you get back matched up to your guy you have a chance of guarding people. If you’re turning the ball over and creating mismatches at some point something bad is going to happen. And it’s happening. So we have to do a better job of taking care of the ball.”

The Clippers gave up 118 points to the Rockets in an up-tempo game (107 possessions, according to NBA.com), and again it was transition defense the team pointed to as the weakness.

“We have a ways to go defensively,” J.J. Redick said. “I think we’re feeling more and more comfortable with out half-court defense. When team are going against our set defense, I think we’re doing a pretty good job and starting to really understand some stuff. We have to do a better job in transition, getting matched up.”

I’m not sure their half court defense is all that great right now, but transition is the bigger issue.

There are 78 more games to figure he team defense out, that’s plenty of time. But that is the mission — this team is going to score at an incredible rate and win a lot of games this season just blowing opponents out of the water. But if they don’t get better defensive habits they will be golfing much earlier than expected come the spring.
—Kurt Helin

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Cavaliers 93, Timberwolves 92: Cleveland isn’t really a better team than Minnesota, especially the way the T’Wolves had gotten off to a 3-0 start to the season behind a monster of a first week from Kevin Love that earned him Conference award-winning honors. But falling behind by 23 points midway through the third on the road will put any team in a tough situation, and despite Minnesota’s furious fourth quarter rally (led largely by Corey Brewer’s activity on both ends of the floor), the Cavs were able to hang on for the win.

Warriors 110, Sixers 90: Golden State is one of the few teams that seem to be ahead of the competition in the early part of the season, both due to the returning core of talent on the roster and because of the style of play that tends to put their opponents on the defensive. The Sixers were a nice little story, but the Warriors obviously had no interest in it after leading by as many as 39 points on the road before the final buzzer sounded. Rookie sensation Michael Carter-Williams was held to just 4-of-17 shooting in 35 minutes of action, and Andre Iguodala torched his former team for 32 points in 33 minutes to lead the way for the Warriors.

Grizzlies 95, Celtics 88: The Celtics organization is likely perfectly pleased with their team’s start to the season. Boston has been in all four games it has played, and battled enough to keep them close into the fourth quarter. But all ultimately ended in losses, which fits perfectly into the plans of a rebuilding franchise looking to secure as many draft lottery ping pong balls as possible. In this one, Memphis held Boston to just 33.3 percent shooting in the final period, and Jerryd Bayless poured in 15 points in the final 12 minutes to lead the Grizzlies to a come from behind victory.

Clippers 137, Rockets 118: Defense? Who wants to watch defense? It was the King Midas game for the Clippers — everything they touched on offense turned to gold. They scored 42 points in the first quarter and a team record 78 in the half as they ran J.J. Redick off screens that James Harden wouldn’t fight through, and quickly Redick was racking up points on his way to 26. Chris Paul had 23 points and 17 assists. Jamal Crawford had 21. The Clippers shot 52 percent on the night. Houston’s offense wasn’t bad — Omri Casspi was able to get space from Blake Griffin and had 19 points, Harden had 15 but needed 16 shots to get there.  Dwight Howard got booed every time he touched the ball and was in early foul trouble keeping him on the bench, then said after the game the crowd reaction didn’t bother him. Something clearly bothered the entire Rocket team. — KH

Damian Lillard reportedly playing through separated ribs suffered in Game 2

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Midway through the third quarter of Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals, Portland’s Damian Lillard and Golden State’s Kevon Looney both dove for a loose ball near midcourt. Looney got it, threw the ball ahead to Stephen Curry, and in the process rolled over Lillard.

Lillard suffered separated ribs on that play, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Here is the play.

Lillard has shot 8-of-27 (29.6 percent) since the injury, including 5-of-18 in the Trail Blazers’ Game 3 loss.

Lillard shot 7-of-19 (36.8 percent) before the injury — the Warriors trapping him and forcing the ball out of his hands has been an issue for Lillard in this series, long before his collision with Looney.

Lillard himself did not bring the injury up, it was leaked. When asked in his postgame press conference Saturday night, Lillard admitted to being tired but would not use it as an excuse.

“Everybody’s tired,” Lillard said. “It’s the third round of the playoffs after a long season. Our last series, I got a lot of attention. The team was giving me a lot of attention and same thing in this series. It takes a lot to deal with that and then go out and chase guys around on the defensive end.

“But everybody’s putting that effort out. I mean, I feel fine enough to go out there and play 40 minutes like I have been, but you know, it’s definitely tiring.”

And he’s playing through pain on top of it.

Portland is already down 0-3 in this series and faces a win-or-it’s-over Game 4 on Monday night at the Moda Center.

Game 3 Déjà vu: Warriors slow down Lillard, come from behind to win, take 3-0 series lead

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It was Déjà vu all over again for the Warriors and Trail Blazers. And it all started with Damian Lillard.

The Warriors didn’t re-invent the wheel in this playoff series, they just have aggressively executed the game plan that has troubled Portland in the playoffs for years:

Take the ball out of Damian Lillard’s hands, dare anyone else to beat you.

Oklahoma City and Denver could not do it, but Golden State has. Every chance the Warriors get they trap Lillard off the pick-and-roll, and even when they don’t do that the Warriors show the second defender early. Lillard has struggled with his shot against that, he was 5-of-18 shooting in Game 3, and in the series he is now 15-of-46 (32.6 percent).

What Lillard is doing right is making the smart pass to the big on the short roll at the free throw line, creating a 4-on-3 (or sometimes 3-on-2) for the Trail Blazers to attack, but they have not consistently taken advantage of that.

“I think what they want me to do is make the correct play, and for me, I try to do that for as long as possible,” Lillard said. “You know, as long as I can do it and we can stay in the game or have a lead like we have the last two games when I’m just making the right plays, and guys are doing what they’re supposed to do on the weak side.

“But I think in Golden State’s minds, they know at some point, if we’re going to beat them, I’m going to have to be rolling. They are just kind of banking on the fact that we’ll just live with what’s happening right now. Keep getting the ball out of his hands and you know, at some point, we’ll probably be able to take over the game.”

Golden State did take over the game, in part bucause they have a playmaker as good as Draymond Green.

Green is the master of the short roll, and on Saturday night he was doing that, plus driving end-to-end, owning the glass, and generally being the best player on the floor on his way to 20 points on 12 shots, 13 rebounds, and 12 assists.

“I don’t even know what to say about Draymond, he was like a wrecking ball out there,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said postgame. “He was just destroying every in his path. The pace he was generating was incredible and it seemed like he never got tired.”

Green was critical to another dominant Golden State third quarter that sparked a comeback from 18 down in the third to win 110-99.

Golden State now has a stranglehold on the series, up 3-0. Game 4 is in Portland on Monday night.

The Warriors are now 4-0 without Kevin Durant, still out with a strained calf (he’s not expected to return this series). Stephen Curry, who had 36 in this win, has scored at least 33 in each of those wins.

In the most important ways, Game 3 felt like a replay of Game 2, just in a different arena.

Feeding off that home crowd and energy, the Trail Blazers raced out to an early lead and were the better team through the first 24 minutes. Portland shot 11-of-22 outside the paint in the first half, compared to 9-of-27 for Golden State. Portland had a 125.7 offensive rating in the first half thanks to that shooting, plus grabbing the offensive rebound on 34.8 percent of their missed shots.

More than the offense, Portland played good half-court defense in the first half, taking the Warriors out of their rhythm. They trapped Curry and Thompson with size — Moe Harkless and Myers Leonard if possible — and the Warriors struggled to adapt

Leonard played the best basketball of his career in the first half, with 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting (he finished with 16 points) and making plays like this:

All that had the Trail Blazers up 13 at the half. It was impressive, then again they were up 15 at the half in Game 2. The Warriors were not fazed.

“It all started with our second half defense, we held them to 33 points,” Steve Kerr said after the game. “We had amazing contributions off the bench, every single guy came in and made an impact.”

That bench mattered. The Golden State starters and core lineups got back in the game, taking a small lead, but when Green and Curry rested to start the fourth, Portland left their starters in and were still -3 in those critical minutes.

Curry and Green came in rested, and the Warriors leaned on them heavily the rest of the way with the Curry/Green pick-and-roll — Portland has no answers for that.

The Warriors run also seemed to shake the Portland offense. The Trail Blazers shot 8-of-27 (29.6 percent) from three after the first quarter, and for the game the Blazers missed 13 free throws (they shot just 60.6 percent as a team from the stripe).

Portland was led by CJ McCollum, who had 23 points on 20 shots.

He’s going to have to do better, Lillard is going to have to do a lot better, and the Blazers are going to have to find something special in the third quarter Monday night, or they will be swept right out of the playoffs.

Blazers passing impressive as they push first-half lead to double digits (VIDEO)

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Back home, the Portland Trail Blazers looked far more comfortable.

Feeding off the energy of a loud crowd at the Moda Center, the Trail Blazers stretched out to a first-half lead thanks to a level of impressive ball movement and energy we have not seen from them all series. Check it out.

This may go down as the Myers Leonard game, he had 13 points in the first half.

Portland stretched their lead to as much as 18 and was up by 13 at the half. I wouldn’t call that comfortable because, well, Golden State, but it’s the best the Blazers have played all series.

Rockets will not bring defensive coach Jeff Bzdelik back next season

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Before the All-Star break, the Rockets had a defensive rating of 112.2 (points allowed per 100 possessions), 25th in the NBA.

After the All-Star break, the Rockets had a defensive rating of 105.3, second best in the NBA. In the playoffs, the Rockets had a 107.3 defensive rating despite six games against the Warriors.

There are multiple reasons for that change, but a key one: The Rockets backed up the Brinks truck and brought assistant coach and defensive specialist Jeff Bzdelik out of retirement to help fix the problems.

Bzdelik will not be back with the team next season, reports Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.

Technically Bzdelik was fired, although that is not an accurate description of really what happened here. This was not because of poor job performance, it was a question of if he really wanted to be there, and the Rockets wanted someone all-in. Understandably. This is a Houston team still on the cusp of a title, just one that has run headlong into the Warriors dynasty in recent years. A dynasty that likely will look a lot different next year, opening the door in the West. The Rockets want to push through that door.

That said, replacing Bzdelik will not be easy.

It’s one of a number of challenging choices for the Rockets this summer.