LOS ANGELES-Life without Blake Griffin and Chris Paul wasn’t too kind to the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday night. Nearly 40 points went out the window when both Griffin and Paul crashed and burned with season-ending injuries in Game 4 of the Clippers’ first round series against the Portland Trailblazers.
Portland’s dynamic backcourt duo Damian Lillard (22 points) and CJ McCollum (27 points) made sure the Clippers felt the pain of the absence of their two stars by totaling 49 points in leading the Trailblazers to a 108-98 road win at Staples Center.
Portland now lead the series 3-2, and can close the series out with a win back at home in Game 6. For the Clippers, elimination is staring them right in the face. Just a week ago, everything was all good for the Clippers as they took a comfortable 2-0 lead and looked to be halfway to a date destiny with the Golden State Warriors.
Now they’re sweating and hoping they can bring the series back to Los Angeles for a Game 7. But in order to do that, the Clippers are going to have to shoot and move the ball a lot better than they did in Game 5. That’s a tall order considering the Clippers have now lost three games in a row.
Instead of worrying about their inability to make it past the second round in the playoffs in the last few years, the Clippers are looking at the very real possibility of not making it past the first round this year. They’re going have to stop or slow Lillard and McCollum to do that.
Lillard went off in the fourth quarter to score 16 of his 22 points. McCollum kind of had his way in producing his 27 points.
“Well, he [Damian Lillard] is a great player and he hits tough shots,” said the Clippers J.J. Redick. “He hit some tough shots at the end of the shot clock…same thing with [C.J.] McCollum. A couple of times he got to his left. I know one time in the third [quarter], he got to his left on me and we try to take that away. For most of the game, especially in the first half, we were great. We did exactly what we wanted on those two guys, but they are great offensive players.”
As great as they are on offense, Lillard and McCollum and the rest of the Trailblazers were in shutout mode during the first two games of the playoffs. The Clippers forced the Trailblazers to miss 50 out of 83 field goal attempts in the first game of the series. They missed the same percentage in the second game. Paul’s tenacious defense had a big hand in that, said McCollum.
“I think that without Chris [Paul] and Blake [Griffin], obviously the pick-and-roll coverage is a little different. CP is a smart defender, he understands our offense and knows when to gamble and when not to, so from that aspect, I think that changed their ball screen coverage a little bit, and looking at how to guard it with Blake; Blake is a good, hard edger,” McCollum said. “He’s able to get out and be more active and mobile. I think with him not playing, they just opted to switch a lot of those pick-and-rolls instead of trap.”
The loss of Griffin and Paul was definitely felt, Redick said.
“It is a bad thing in the sense you are not used to playing with each other maybe it doesn’t flow the way it normally does,” Redick said. “But it is also a good thing because it is a little unpredictable and when we run it right, we really space the floor and we were able to get good shots. I felt like, especially early on, I took some shots that I would love to take again. Jamal [Crawford], same thing. We missed some shots tonight. But for me, I think defensively in the second half and really the second part of the of the second quarter, all the way through the rest of the game, was where we lost it.”
With Griffin and Paul out of the lineup for the rest of the postseason, Clippers coach Doc Rivers gave a reality check warning to what is to come from his team heading into Game 5.
Rivers didn’t mince words about what his team is up against without his two All-Stars for the remainder of this series and rest of the playoffs- should the Clippers get by the Trailblazers.
“[The game] becomes more scripted in the fact that you run like twenty percent of your offense,” Rivers said. “It is less scripted that just run that twenty percent every time, and they get the play out of it. The urge is one day trying to put in new stuff. That is just not going to work.
“What you try to do is pick out the group that is going to be playing, what they run well. And then go tell them to go run it and have fun at it. So, it is probably a little bit of both. The other difficult part is, because you have two different groups, you have to keep picking out that group, what they run well. That is what we did yesterday as a staff.”
Obviously, having Paul and Griffin presented matchup problems for the Trailblazers through the first two games in which the Clippers ran away to two easy victories.
On the road for Game 3 and Game 4, the Clippers fell into a disadvantage. Game 4 became the worst case scenario for the Clippers as both Paul (fractured right hand) and Griffin (quad muscle) went down with their tough-to-swallow injuries.
Surviving this series would have been doable for the Clippers as they raced out to the fourth-best record in the Western Conference without their star power forward. Losing Paul is a totally different equation altogether.
Paul is the heartbeat of this club, so taking the floor in Game without their floor general, the Clippers had to man up and take care of business without their leader. That was before fatigue set in. But Portland knows they can’t get too confident in this upcoming elimination game.
“They’re still very good,” McCollum said. “They’re very talented. Jamal Crawford, Austin, big fella, Jeff Green, they all can go.”