Braly:Can the Blazers Bounce Back?

Max Braly Sports Contributor

Looking back on the Trail Blazer’s 20 point game-one loss to the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round of the playoffs, I think there are some things that need to be changed in order to put Portland back in the winning column.

Even though Damian Lillard distributed the ball well, eight assists just won’t cut it against the help-happy defense of the Clippers. It isn’t purely Lillard’s fault, he gave guys some solid looks but the shots weren’t knocked down. If the Blazers want to take game two, Lillard and CJ McCollum will need to combine for at least 15 assists.

I thought the Blazers actually executed their gameplan very well, as a team Portland kept pace with the Clippers assists, stayed in range of their rebounds (50-57), unfortunately had more turnovers but capitalized better off of their mistakes (points off turnovers favored Blazers 11-10).

What kept Portland from taking game one was their shooting percentage. The team couldn’t take advantage of open looks and were outshot by the Clippers 53.8 percent to the Blazers’ 39.8 percent.

During Sunday night’s game there was a definitive moment that excited me. Lillard was going for a hand off and was tripped up by Chris Paul, that’s when DeAndre Jordan reached for the ball and ended up grabbing Lillard’s shoulder as well. On Portland’s official website, they released a video replay of the situation and titled it “Clippers get Lillard ‘Damegry’.” At this point in the game, there was 3:30 left in the first half and the score was tied. I thought for sure this would send Lillard into LT a.k.a. “Lilliard Time” and would help the Blazers secure a lead going into halftime. No such luck as the Blazers finished the half 1-for-8.

This is where the Blazers need to improve if they want to have the chance of taking down the Clippers. They need some timely LT and win the waning moments of each half. This has always been a priority of head coach Terry Stotts as he frequently saves timeouts in order to draw up a quick play and exploit each possession, sometimes in order to get the 2-for-1 shot opportunity.

Other times exploiting the possession battle isn’t very exciting. On Sunday, Stotts decided to employ the ‘Hack-a-DeAndre’ tactic and it worked, kind of. The Blazers had five more field goal attempts despite the Clippers having less turnovers and more rebounds. Jordan even helped the Blazers by shooting only 8-for-18 from the stripe. If Portland continues to utilize this strategy–which I think and hope they do–then the offense needs to step up and start making shots.

I was disappointed when I looked over the box-score after the game. Al-Farouq Aminu took more shots than CJ McCollum and that just can’t happen. While CJ didn’t have the best shooting night, the Blazers need him to be rolling if they want to win. I think Aminu’s best role on the team is more of a third option scorer and first option defender.

Aminu was tasked for most of the night to defend Clippers’ five time all-star Blake Griffin. For the most part Griffin was held at bay offensively. Making him a non-factor will be key to Portland’s success this postseason.

A silver lining in Sunday night’s loss was the play of Gerald Henderson. He and Chris Kaman were the only two Blazers who didn’t have a negative plus-minus–Kaman only played eight minutes during garbage time and had plus two. Granted Henderson netted a zero, but still he proved he could be affective when his teammates weren’t pulling their share of the load. His 16 points on Sunday was good enough to be the second best scorer behind Lillard’s 21 points.

With all things considered the rivalry between the Clippers and Blazers is growing quick. Tempers flared more than once and that shows that both teams want to win at all costs. When both teams display that mentality the most likely outcome is an ultra-competitive game. Though that mentality wasn’t blatant for the Blazers throughout game one, expect much more moving forward.

On Twitter: @Max_Braly