As the Grizzlies’ inevitable, injury-fuelled slide has come to fruition, the Clippers have emerged as our most likely first round opponent. With only five games left on the slate, attention inevitably turns to whether the Blazers can pull a first round upset for the second time in three years.
So, how do we match up? What hope does recent history hold for the Blazers? Is the path to victory as unlikely as it was last season? Or are we looking at another talented but flawed squad akin to the ’14 Rockets?
Based Guard vs. Point God
This one is ugly. Dame has been flat out dominated by CP3 over the course of his career. Dame hasn’t won much, hasn’t scored efficiently, hasn’t been able to get to the line or hold on to the ball. I’ll never doubt Dame’s ability to rise to the big moment, but effectively that’s the only reason for hope here.
CJ vs. JJ
This is a matchup CJ should be looking forward to. Redick is the only potential playoff opponent that CJ won’t give up height or weight to. Isolation defense is not on the (long) list of Redick’s strengths, while CJ is one of the best isolation players in the league. Nevertheless, JJ is a good bet to match CJ’s production step for step. Redick scores at a similar rate (21 per 36 apiece), shoots threes at a 47% clip and gets to the line a little better than McCollum. CJ winning this matchup would go a long way towards the Blazers scoring a series victory, I’m just not convinced that’ll be an easy task.
Chief vs. Blake
Blake comes into the playoffs rusty and hurt while Aminu is playing probably the best ball of his career as a newly minted starting PF. This head to head is still scary to think about though – Blake is 250 pounds of athletic specimen who can take all 215 pounds of Al-Farouq to the post over and over again. Remember Dwight in ’14? Much like RoLo, Aminu can match Blake’s length but his strength deficit means constant bully ball is a very real threat. Unfortunately, Aminu pulling Blake out of the paint defensively doesn’t change the game in quite the way it would were it Draymond, Ibaka or LA stepping out, for obvious reasons. I don’t like this matchup one bit, please prove me wrong Chief.
Plums vs. DJ
This is the worst matchup of all. Plumlee’s usual athletic advantage is null and void here and while no one is keeping Jordan off the glass, it would be nice to feel like we have a chance of competing. Mason’s passing game could be a nice way of avoiding DeAndre’s rim protecting talents straight up – but with his lack of post game and jump shot, I don’t like Plumlee’s chances of giving the Blazers much offensively outside of that. I hope for a miracle but would expect a thoroughly defeated Plumlee to emerge at the end of this series.
Our depth vs. their lack of it
Ed, Harkless, Henderson and Crabbe vs. Rivers, Johnson, Jamal, Green, Lance and Pierce. I wouldn’t exchange Ed, Harkless, Henderson or Crabbe for any of their bench pieces. Pierce has faded into obscurity and shouldn’t be a sustainable option for more than spot minutes. Johnson, Rivers and Green are well established as below average role players. Jamal will hit stupid fourth quarter shots in one game but as always, he’ll hurt his team more than he helps in the end. This should be a major advantage for the Blazers, especially if we have a tight, cohesive eight man rotation up against their ten man confused mess.
Stotts vs. Doc
I’ll take our guy. Doc has the championship pedigree but nothing since then has really given me an indication he’s a top flight coach. Stotts is among the most shrewd and inventive out there – I trust him to make the right adjustments and give us the best shot possible to make this upset a reality.
Game 1: Blazers 102 Clippers 91
Some trademark Lillard Time got the job done in this one. Three triples took a close game away from the Clippers at Moda, with CJ and Mason pouring in 18 each in support of Dame’s heroics.
Game 2: Clippers 102 Blazers 87
An 18 point, 24 rebound night from DeAndre backed up by 23 from Blake meant the Clippers eased to victory despite a poor showing from CP3. Lillard left the game with stomach cramps not long after half-time and the Clips cruised from there. From the Blazers, only Ed and Mo had performances to be proud of.
Game 3: Clippers 109 Blazers 98
CJ McCollum’s omission from the active list garnered all the attention in this one but even with him in uniform, overcoming a near 20-20 night from CP3. He spread the wealth right through the Clippers squad, leading a balanced attack that had the Blazers down 23 at half-time. Davis and Plumlee were the stand-out performers for the Blazers.
Game 4: Clippers 96 Blazers 94
This one is more fresh in the memory – the Clippers exacting revenge for Dame’s clutch display in their first matchup. Crawford and finally Redick stole a victory that looked sure to belong to the Blazers after a Lillard three with 24 seconds left. A balanced score-sheet for the Blazers was no match for Paul and Crawford’s combined 50 points and so the season series belonged to the Clippers.
So, the Clippers have our starters beat almost across the board, won the season series and have the type of veteran leadership on the bench that should spell post-season success. Why then do I get the nagging feeling we’d have a decent shot in this series?
In the end I think it’s because this Clippers team has perpetually underachieved. Top three players at three different positions and one of the greatest shooters currently in the NBA, yet their only notable post-season success was beating the Spurs last season – a feat immediately followed by one of the all-time ugliest chokes in playoff history. This Clips team has lapses and is rarely greater than the sum of it’s parts. At their best, this Blazers squad is exactly that and pounces on any opportunity to punish a careless opponent.
If I had to guess, I’d pick this hypothetical series to end in a seven game loss. Having said that, Blazers in six has a nice ring to it. Brings back some fond memories too.