Facing a 2-0 deficit, the Portland Trail Blazers were able to hold off the Clippers in Game 3 for a 96-88 victory, behind stellar backcourt play and frontcourt toughness.
Damian Lillard and newly-minted Most Improved Player, C.J. McCollum, saw their shots fall, as they combined to score an efficient 59 of the Blazers 96 points. In games 1 and 2, the backcourt duo took and missed their fair share of attempts, and only produced a combined output of 30 and 33 points, respectively. For a team that relies so heavily on backcourt scoring, it was imperative that Lillard and McCollum provided a scoring punch in Game 3–and that they did.
The backcourt, however, wasn’t without help, as the team gobbled up 56 rebounds–12 of which were offensive boards. In a game like this when neither team shot it well, generating extra possessions for your team while preventing them for the opponent is key, and proved to be one of the major differences in this game (the Blazers team out-rebounded the Clippers by 12).
For the Clippers, Chris Paul had a standard game (which means a very good night), putting up 26 points, 9 assists, and 3 steals. The problem, however, was that none of the other starters helped out on the offensive end. Blake Griffin looked out of sorts all night, shooting a putrid 5-16 from the floor and turning it over 3 times. DeAndre Jordan missed 7 free throws, including some crucial ones down the stretch. J.J. Redick couldn’t buy a bucket, as he shot 2-10 from the field and just 1-4 from beyond the arch. The Clippers as a team shot 3-18 from three point range, sinking any hope they had of making a late comeback.
In the previous two games of the series, the Clippers were able to score with relative ease, putting up over 100 points. Tonight, the Blazers were able to offer more resistance. During the regular season and thus far this series, the Clippers usually win against Portland when they score over a 100 points, but it remains to be seen if they can consistently win ugly games against them, especially on the road.
Heading into Game 4 on Tuesday, the Blazers must continue to offer much more defensive resistance and control the boards because the Clippers aren’t likely to shoot so poorly again. Simply put, the Clippers need to shoot the ball better, and also contribute in other areas that require effort and attention to detail. They had trouble with their rotation defense when doubling high on the ball screens, something which Coach Rivers will certainly address. Miles Plumlee was able to make the correct reads when he received the ball off the roll, leading to his team-high 9 assists on the night.
As the better team, the Clippers need to lock in mentally and close out the series as soon as possible. Giving scorers like Lillard and McCollum momentum is not a recipe for success.