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Portland Trail Blazers Game Four Recap - Everything Has Changed

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

 

The Portland Trail Blazers tied their series with the Los Angeles Clippers last night, defeating them 98-84 for a 2-2 series tie. The big story after Game 4, however, is the Clippers’ injured list.

Blake Griffin, as rumors suggested, has had trouble with his left quad again; the TNT cameras caught him grabbing at a spot just above his left knee, and Los Angeles coach Doc Rivers says Griffin is 50-50 to play in Wednesday’s Game 5 at Staples Center. To add to those issues, Chris Paul broke the third metatarsal in his right hand in the third quarter.

Being right-handed, that means Paul can’t shoot, dribble, or swat at passes and dribbles; he actually busted his hand while swiping away the ball from Gerald Henderson on a fast break. It’s very likely Paul is out for the rest of the series.

I have to say first that this is extremely unfortunate, and you never want to see a player injured, even on the opposing team. Those people that do cheer for that are horrible examples of sports fans and human beings. That said, you won’t find a single Blazer fan that will show much sympathy for the Clippers’ injury woes.

The table is set for Portland to win the series. Will they sit down and devour the Clippers, or will the M.A.S.H. unit suiting up for LA gut out the kind of win a healthy Clips squad couldn’t get last year against the Houston Rockets, famously choking away a 3-1 series lead?

Five things to point out:


1. CHIIIIEEEEEEFFFFFF!!!!!: Al-Farouq Aminu was a tentative mess in Game 3, bricking open jumpers, hesitating visibly, and being a general minus for the Blazers.

It’s very safe to say that Chief made up for that in Game 4.

Aminu had 30 points and 10 rebounds, shooting 11-20 from the field and 6-10 from three-point range. Though a couple of those shots were rainbows, once he saw the first two long-range bombs fall, you could just see the mojo returning. He finally made the Clippers pay for blatantly ignoring him on offense, and it was awesome to see.

Chief also had three blocks, including swallowing up a Paul jumper from behind. Paul had to that point been carving up the Blazer defense, and Aminu’s play was critical in slowing down the only man who was making a shot for Los Angeles.

This was a much-needed Podium Game for Aminu. If he can continue to make outside shots, as well as serving as a Mason Plumlee outlet when the Clippers trap Damian Lillard, he will go a long way towards helping the Blazers win the series.


2. Chris Paul May Be The Point God, But Portland Has a Plum God: I really thought Game 3 was an outlier for Plumlee. I mean, he had great success playing point center and rebounding, but I didn’t think the Clippers would be fool enough to let him carve up their defense again.

Whoops.

Plumlee had another awkward-yet-good stat line last night, including an extremely rare rebound-assist double-double. He had 14 rebounds (five on the offensive end) and 10 assists, and he looked very comfortable handling the ball. On defense, he had his best rim-protecting game of the season, with three blocks, including stuffing a couple Griffin lay-up attempts.

Plum did have four turnovers, and his lack of scoring might compel Doc Rivers to tell his guys to focus on taking away Plumlee’s passing lanes, but all in all you couldn’t ask for a better two games from him then the ones he gave the Blazers.

#PlumGod.


3. That Was a Butt-Ugly Game: Los Angeles shot 36% as a team, went 7-25 from three, and only scored 84 points against a piddling defensive team. They settled for tough jumpers that the Blazers’ army of young, long-armed wing players contested well, shots they had to take without Griffin or Paul on the court.

Portland’s play wasn’t any prettier, despite getting the double-digit victory. They shot 41% as a team, had 15 turnovers, and had plenty of awful sequences that resulted in desperation heaves and unforced turnovers. They’re very fortunate that the Clippers couldn’t take advantage of their miscues.

As a Blazer fan, I thought the game was awesome. As purely a basketball fan, this game was an assault on my senses. I feel the need for an hour-long bath just to wash away the foul stench of Game 4.

Despite the poor quality of play in this series (and throughout the NBA playoffs in general), I can’t help but be excited about the Blazers’ chances going forward. This win may be a VERY ugly baby, but dammit, it’s OUR baby.

We’ll take it home.


4. File This Under “Things You Thought You’d Never See,” At Least in The Playoffs: If I told you that Damian Lillard scored only 12 points in a playoff game, you’d naturally assume that the Blazers got destroyed. After all, with Lillard struggling in Games 1 and 2, LA obliterated Portland. Lillard couldn’t even shoot much in the first half, as Doc Rivers’ paranoia about Lillard scoring was approaching pathology; Rivers burned one of his final two timeouts with eight minutes left after his team blew a coverage and let Lillard shoot his first open three in like a month.

Lillard did find ways to contribute without scoring (six rebounds and assists each), but in this game, his teammates picked up the scoring slack. We mentioned Aminu, but CJ McCollum had a decent shooting night (6-13, 19 points), and Mo Harkless continued his wanton feasting at the rim, taking advantage of a hobbled Griffin and smaller LA wings (12 points and seven rebounds).

And we had an Allen Crabbe sighting too! Crabbe shot a perfect 5-5 from the floor, for 12 much-needed points off the bench.

Portland’s ancillary players are finally getting comfortable making plays for themselves instead of letting Lillard and McCollum dominate the action, and it’s all a result of Rivers pretty much betting the farm that the Blazer role players couldn’t make plays. Not only is Rivers losing the bet, but he doesn’t have his best guys available or healthy now.

It’s true that the likes of Aminu and Crabbe might not play that well on the road, but I’m not so sure Rivers can continue denying/trapping Lillard and putting his defense in 4-on-3 situations. The Blazers finally figured out the trap, and they are trusting Plumlee to make good decisions, and they’re winning games. Los Angeles didn’t even have a lead for the entirety of Game 4.

If Rivers continues this strategy in Games 5 and 6, the Clippers could lose those games as well, and be out of the playoffs. But hey, at least Doc’s schemes stopped Damian Lillard!


5. Hustle, Loyalty, Respect: NBA.com has a thing called hustle stats on their page now, and delving into this revealed something most interesting.

Aminu and Plumlee, the two guys that have so energized the Blazers on offense, are also providing an effective barrier on defense. I mentioned that each of them had three blocks, but a hustle stat called “contested shots” more effectively reveals their defensive impact. Aminu contested 15 shots in Game 4, and Plumlee challenged 14 Clipper field-goal attempts. That’s 29 combined contested shots.

For reference, the entire Clippers starting lineup--which includes DeAndre Jordan, mind you--contested 24 Blazer shots between them.

Keep up the good work, gentlemen.

Game 5 is Wednesday, 7:00 on NBATV. (Why in the blue blarney would Turner Sports televise a likely Warriors squashing of Houston on TNT instead of a compelling, if ugly, Blazer-Clipper series? Steph Curry won’t even be playing. I’m officially sour about this.)

 

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