Blazers looking for more shots to fall in Game 3
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) Damian Lillard is taking a pragmatic approach to his shooting struggles in Portland's first two playoff games: It will pass.
Lillard has uncharacteristically hit just 13 of 39 shots from the field, or 33 percent, to open the series against the Los Angeles Clippers. Normally proficient from the perimeter, he's made just three of 13 3-point attempts.
That's a drop-off for Lilliard, who shot nearly 42 percent from the field during the regular season, and hit 37 percent of his 3s.
''I'm sure of myself, you know what I mean?'' he said ''Sometimes you just don't make shots, sometimes teams have good game plans, and when you do get good shots but you don't make them and it turns into a bad shooting game. It's been two games where I haven't shot well. The first game I didn't get any attempts up. Last game I came out I was trying to be aggressive and they didn't go in.''
As Lillard goes, so (usually) do the Blazers. Overall, Portland shot 45 percent from the field in the regular season. The team was ranked fourth in the league from 3-point range, hitting 37 percent.
But Portland's shooting has dropped to about 37 percent overall against the Clippers, who now hold a two-game advantage going into Saturday night's Game 3 in Portland.
Lillard's backcourt teammate, C.J. McCollum, was also struggling against the Clippers, averaging 12.5 points over the first two games after averaging 20.8 points per game during the regular season.
''There's not panic about us,'' Lillard said. ''We still believe in what we do. We've had two good defensive games, we just haven't shot the ball well. If we keep coming to work, hopefully we'll shoot that ball better and still bring that same defensive intensity and it will be a game we can win.''
Of course, it's not just about cold shooting. Credit the Clippers' defense. In the 102-81 victory in Game 2 on Wednesday, Los Angeles was all over Lillard, holding him to just six baskets from the floor and no 3-pointers.
The Clippers' D got stronger as the season went along, ranked in the top 10 in the league for both points allowed and defensive efficiency. They're holding Portland to an average of just 88 points in two games.
''I think the Clippers are a good defensive team, they're very smart,'' Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. ''But I do think that we had a lot of good looks in both games one and two that we haven't made. I'm always quick to realize that there are usually two sides of it.''
Portland was the unexpected surprise of the regular season, overachieving after returning just one starter - Lillard - from the previous year.
Some of the challenges they faced early on this season could help them rebound against the Clippers - like shaky starts. Portland withstood a seven-game losing streak in November, eventually shrugging off the critics who expected the team to wither in what was considered a rebuilding year.
''We were kind of up against it and we didn't panic,'' Lillard said. ''We didn't get away from being who we were. We just stuck with it and we kept playing and things kind of fell into place. I think we're in a similar situation now.''
But the fact is that since 2008, 53 of the last 55 teams to win the first two games of an NBA playoff series have ultimately prevailed. No team has advanced after trailing 0-2 since Memphis against the Clippers in 2013.
''I've been proud all year long about how we learned and got better, and now we've got a shorter amount of time to do it,'' Stotts said. ''But I think that's one of our strengths that we've been resilient, we've never underestimated ourselves and what we're capable of doing.''
Lillard said Friday that he hasn't switched up his routine too much because of his shooting, just lingering a bit longer on the practice floor - his custom whenever he has trouble. He trusts that he's going to get his looks and that they're going to fall.
''It works out funny, you shoot more shots and it doesn't always help right away. But when you see the ball go in so much in workouts, your jumper starts to feel good, then boom, there it is,'' he said. ''I feel like in Game 3 I'll shoot the ball a lot better.''