It was a fun game Thursday night in Moda Center. The LA Clippers are a unique team, capable of playing at a high level -- and aggravating at a high level, too. It's a shame that this game was their only appearance in Portland all season because Blazer-Clipper games always seem to have an edge to them.
The Clippers were too much for the Trail Blazers this time. I'm not saying Portland can't play at the Clippers' level, we know that's possible. But there isn't a big margin for error -- particularly when the Blazers lose their composure in the face of the usual flopping, whining and posturing by the Clips. But underneath all the histrionics, there are lessons to be learned from that game.
Yes, the Blazers can give LA a battle and even win sometimes. But it's going to take a lot better performance by Portland. For one thing, it's going to require much more consistent shooting, particularly from long range, to come out on top against the more talented and more physical teams in the league. The Trail Blazers open games with a small lineup and often get smaller as the game goes along. That comes with a price.
It's fine against run-of-the-mill teams but when you play against size and muscle, you better make three-point field goals because if it becomes a game of two-pointers the size and strength become much more of a factor. The Trail Blazers were 4-for-18 from three-point range in this game and that's just not going to cut it against the premier teams, which also happen to be among the most physical teams.
And I'm not necessarily talking about height, I'm talking about bulk, too. Mason Plumlee (255 pounds) and Al-Farouq Aminu (220) aren't necessarily short compared to Blake Griffin (251) and DeAndre Jordan (listed at 265 but come on, he's a grand piano heavier than Plumlee) -- but they're in a much different weight class.
Portland can play a bigger, more physical lineup but chose not to do it. Meyers Leonard -- whose outside shooting and physical defense on Jordan might have made a difference -- did not play. He's been beaten out, apparently, by Noah Vonleh for that rotation spot up front, at least temporarily. The Trail Blazer bench was annihilated by the LA reserves 45-20 and that was unexpected. But Portland's only three-point shooter off the bench, Allen Crabbe, missed his only two attempts from that distance. The Blazer reserves went 0-for-4 from long range and were outhustled.
Portland depth should be a a plus most nights but the lack of offense off the bench was a glaring weakness against LA. So was defense.
The Clippers manhandled Portland for much of the game -- which is what you'd expect, given their size advantage. You can say the officials had an off-night but the truism in basketball at every level is that the aggressive teams will get the calls. And the Trail Blazers' aggression usually comes from their ball movement and in-your-face three-point shooting, not from pushing people around. Again, when that shooting is not there, it's going to be an uphill battle.
For right now, the ball movement isn't as crisp as it's been in the past and Evan Turner, expected to be a key reserve, has not yet found his way in the Trail Blazer motion offense. In fact, at this point, he seems a bit mechanical, still a little tight with his new team and unable to relax and just play his game. But it's early and he'll probably figure it all out soon.
The Clippers can be so frustrating to play against and I'm pretty sure they get under the skin of every team they play. Coach Doc Rivers NEVER stops working the officials and I cannot understand how he gets away with the constant yapping at them, especially during timeouts when he directly approaches them. I've always thought that the opposing coach must match his level of discourse with the referees or there is the danger of Doc's team getting more calls than yours. Yes, it's nice to play Mr. Nice Guy with the refs and think that it will help, but I seldom see that approach work.
Squeaky wheels get greased.
The Trail Blazers need to keep their cool better the next time around against the Clips -- or against any other team they play. Flagrant fouls and technicals do no good. Retaliators always get caught and those who strike the first blow usually get away with it. And oh yes, better three-point shooting is a must.
Lessons learned, one would think.