LOS ANGELES — Terry Stotts’ adjustments worked.
Portland’s Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum were playing off the ball more, using cuts, pin-down screens, and other ways to get the ball in better positions, with that they were getting up shots they could not find space to take in Game 1. The Blazers shared the ball (Mason Plumlee threw a couple beautiful passes to backdoor cutters), guys got open looks (46 percent of Portland’s shots were uncontested), and Portland’s spacing was improved.
The Trail Blazers still lost by 21.
The reason was they couldn’t knock down those shots — Portland shot 34.1 percent overall and 19.2 percent from three. Lillard and McCollum were a combined 12-of-39 from the floor.
The Los Angeles Clippers pulled away in the fourth thanks to their bench for a 102-81 victory at Staples Center Wednesday. The Clippers are now up 2-0 in the first round series, which heads to Portland Saturday. Los Angeles has won the two games by a combined 41 points. The odds are stacked in the Clippers’ favor— teams that win the first two games at home in a seven-game playoff series win it 94 percent of the time.
“Actually, I was pretty pleased with (our execution),” Stotts said. “I thought we got some good looks, especially early. We struggled to shoot the ball all night, we were under 40 percent most of the night [they finished at 34 percent]. I thought we did a good job of changing things up, as far as changing things up as far as getting different looks and moving people around.”
According to NBA.com, 46 percent of the Blazers shots were uncontested (42-of-91), they hit just 31 percent of those.
The shooting woes started with the big guns of Lillard and McCollum. In Game 1 the pair wasn’t getting enough shots, in Game 2 the pair seemed rushed on the perimeter and bothered by DeAndre Jordan when they drove the lane.
“Especially at the start of the game, I got a lot of good looks,” Lillard said. “I missed a wide-open, point-blank layup. When you get those looks early in the game, you’ve got to knock them down….
“So I got a lot more clean looks tonight. The ball didn’t go in as much as I would have liked it to, especially with us being in the game. I think if I would have had it going, it would have come down to the last couple minutes. But they didn’t.”
It wasn’t just the stars. Stotts has said that players such as Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless have to step up because the Clippers are willing to give them clean looks to trap and challenge Lillard and McCollum. Aminu and Harkless were a combined 9-of-26.
The Clippers starters were not sharp — 42.6 percent shooting on the night for the group, although Chris Paul did end up with 25 points — however in both the second and fourth quarter it was the Clipper bench that stretched out the lead to double digits.
“They just changed the game for us,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said of his bench players. “They were spectacular tonight. I thought on both ends they saved the game for us. Our starters were up-and-down a little bit today. I thought we were sloppy in a lot of ways, but I thought our bench saved us.”
Despite having the newly minted Sixth Man of the Year in Jamal Crawford, the Clipper bench was maligned for much of the season. However, over the past few weeks that unit has come together with Cole Aldrich (8 points Wednesday), Jeff Green (10), and Crawford (11). More importantly, that unit has been strong defensively. The group was playing so well that Griffin and Paul were set to check back in during the fourth and decided to withdraw for a minute and went back to the bench to let second unit keep doing it’s thing.
“The biggest place we have had an impact is defensively,” Aldrich said. “That’s where we can leave our stamp on the game. Offensively, we just came out together and played with a lot of energy while we were on the floor.”
Lillard and Mason Plumlee each had 17 points to lead the Blazers.
Stotts will make a few more adjustments, and his role players will thrive better at the Moda Center in Portland. But there’s nothing he can adjust for if Lillard and McCollum are missing.