The Portland Trail Blazers have their two stars to carry them. C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard are taking advantage of the opportunity. The Los Angeles Clippers? They lost Chris Paul and Blake Griffin for the rest of the playoffs. They’ve also lost control of the playoff series.
The Blazers, who were down 0-2 after the first two games, are now 3-2 up following 49 combined points from their dynamic backcourt duo, winning 108-98 in game 5, the first road win in this series. They dominated the fourth quarter and now head back home with an opportunity to make it into the conference semifinals for the second time in three years. This is a team that lost four starters to free agency (and one trade) during the offseason, and didn’t really reload with huge talent. Just the right pieces, and players who don’t mind Lillard and McCollum take up most of the offensive space.
And there’s always someone who steps up. Maurice Harkless was the one in game 5 with 19 points and 10 rebounds, while Mason Plumlee continues to do a good job on the boards with 10 points and 15 rebounds. So what if he forgot where he was once and let DeAndre dunk on him? Posters don’t matter. It matters if you’re moving on to the next round, which is what it looks like for the Blazers, winning three games in a row after losing the first two by a combined 41 points.
Steve Kerr won the NBA’s coach of the year award. Fair enough. It’s hard to argue when your team goes 73-9, even if you weren’t there for half the season. But what Terry Stotts did in 2015-2016 is just as good. The Blazers won “only” 44 games, but to do it after such a difficult offseason, and make the playoffs with room to spare and not claw for a final spot like the Rockets and Mavericks did? His work his rewarded by what looks like moving on in the playoffs.
And then there’s Crawford. You know what you get with him. And the only way the Clippers are going to be able of not letting the Paul and Griffin injuries sink them without a fight is Crawford making shots. He didn’t, finishing with 6-for-23 from the field. Even for a ball hog gunner, you have to do better than that. He finished with 17 points, just like Jeff Green off the bench. J.J. Redick scored 19 points, DeAndre Jordan finished with 16 and 17 rebounds while even going above .500 from the line. All that didn’t matter, as an empty arena (don’t let the 19,060 stats fool you, many people didn’t show up) saw the Clippers, expectedly, failed to handle a team blooming with confidence.
Portland haven’t finished the job yet, but it’s hard to see how they’re not going to. The lineups the Clippers are forced to use make it very easy for Lillard and McCollum to reach their numbers and once they do, everything else works wonderfully for the Blazers. The Clippers weren’t doing that great before Paul and Griffin went down with injuries, at least on the road portion of this series, but if there were any issues, the excuse Doc Rivers has for this year’s early exit is perfectly acceptable.