The LA Clippers dominated the Portland Trail Blazers (their current Western Conference first-round playoff matchup) on Tuesday night by a final score of 133-116.
LA came out from the jump with what was quite literally their best punch—scoring a franchise-high 47 points in the first quarter. The Clippers were absolutely scorching, going 18-25 from the field (72%) and 7-11 from three (63.6%). The Blazers’ defense was giving up everything: Drives to the basket from Kawhi Leonard (29 points in the game), pull-up threes from Paul George (who started 5-5 from the field, scoring 36 points in the game), spot-up threes from Patrick Beverley (welcome back) and rim-runs from Ivica Zubac (ZU!).
The Blazers were offensively competent themselves, scoring 32 points in the first quarter, but it wasn’t enough. They tried to claw their way back in the second quarter, but couldn’t make enough of a dent in the lead, and LA was able to keep them at bay in the second half. Head Coach Terry Stotts waved the white flag with about four minutes to go in the game, emptying his bench, and the Clippers walked away with their 34th win of the season.
Taking Away Dame
What stood out more than anything as the single biggest reason LA was able to dispatch this formidable Portland team was their defense on one Damian Lillard, whom the Clippers held to just 11 points on 2-14 shooting. Lillard is having yet another MVP-caliber season, but the Clippers stuck to the same game plan that slowed him down in their previous matchup back in December (Lillard shot 3-14 in that game), and it worked yet again. LA would blitz any pick-and-roll with Lillard as the ball-handler, no matter how high up the screen was set. This took away his deadly pull-up three (he was 1-6 from beyond the arc) and forced him to pass out. The Clippers would then deny Lillard’s side of the court, and make another Blazer beat them. When matched up one-on-one, Patrick Beverley (who made his first appearance in nearly a month after dealing with right knee soreness) did an excellent job at funneling Lillard into the paint, where he was met by LA’s long help defenders like Leonard and George (Lillard was just 1-4 in the restricted area).
A combined 5-28 through two games for Lillard is an excellent sign for the Clippers. If the standings hold steady and the LA does face the Blazers in the first round of the playoffs, they can enter the series with the confidence of knowing that they have a proven strategy to slow down one of the best point guards in the league. Perhaps, as we get closer to the end of the season, we might see the Clippers do some standings-maneuvering (let’s try to avoid the word ‘tank’) in order to ensure that they get Portland in the first round.
Beverley returns, Jackson remains, Mann and Kennard are squeezed
As previously stated, Beverley returned to the starting lineup after not playing since March 11 due to the right knee issue that has plagued him for a large part of the season. Beverley survived the trade deadline, and did what he did best in his return game: play pestering defense and hit 40% of his threes. Beverley looked active and spry, taking on the challenge of Lillard to much success. Here’s hoping his knee issues will stay at bay for this last stretch of the season and the playoff run.
With the return of Beverley and the addition of Rajon Rondo, the point guard position is suddenly overcrowded for LA. But Reggie Jackson has been so good for the Clippers this season that Head Coach Tyronn Lue found a way to keep him in the rotation: slide him to the backup shooting guard position. While Jackson is a bit undersized defensively, it doesn’t make too much of a difference against bench units, and his offensive creation makes him well worth it. Jackson had 23 points off the bench, going 4-6 from downtown. He’s been on fire from three all season, and this makes him an excellent fit next to a non-shooter like Rondo. Jackson has played the combo-guard role before back in OKC next to Russell Westbrook, and his spot-up game makes him a great fit next to ball-dominant wings like Leonard and George.
While the Clippers’ newfound depth squeezes Luke Kennard and Terance Mann out of the rotation, Lue says he’s open to adjustments as the season progresses.
Cousins makes his Clipper debut
DeMarcus Cousins played the first game of his 10-day Clipper contract, going for seven points, four rebounds and two assists in eight minutes of playing time. Cousins looked energetic, running back on defense and rim-running on offense. It’s still unclear if he’s an ideal fit with the Clippers, as he did not attempt a three (something they’re missing with Serge Ibaka out) but he sounded confident in his postgame interview.
Coming up next, The Clippers will welcome old friend Chris Paul and the 2-seeded Phoenix Suns to Staples Center on Thursday at 7 p.m.