Clippers-Trail Blazers Game 4: Predictions for a L.A. win

Apr 23, 2016; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) and Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul (3) stand next to each other during a Trail Blazers
Apr 23, 2016; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) and Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul (3) stand next to each other during a Trail Blazers /

Increased effort and more success when trapping the Portland Trail Blazers’ backcourt should lead to a Game 4 win for the Los Angeles Clippers.

If the Los Angeles Clippers play as they should do, operating offensively behind a Chris Paul clinic while living up to their ranking as the 4th best team in defensive efficiency, they can win Game 4 to go up 3-1 against the Portland Trail Blazers. It’s what the Clippers need after a lacklustre Game 3 performance, one in which they were out-rebounded 56-44 (allowing 21 boards to Mason Plumlee alone) and surrendered some easy baskets due to low effort rather than better offense.

Now, a 2-2 scenario needs to be avoided as if Monday night’s game is an elimination scenario.

It may sound dramatic, but the Clippers can’t struggle through a first round series if they want to be well rested for the Golden State Warriors who will be waiting for them in the Western Conference Semi Finals. And more to the point, if they want to defeat such an imposing team, a stressful win over the Blazers wouldn’t exactly give the Clippers the best kind of momentum they want to carry forward.

So, here are some predictions of what may be in store and what you need to look out for in Game 4, from certain matchups to defensive strategy.

  • How much success the Clippers find with trapping Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum could be the decisive factor to an L.A. win on Monday night. It worked wonders in the first two games of the series, with the Clippers showing almost no interest in stopping anyone else. Instead, with frequent traps far above the three-point line to prevent set plays as much as possible, forcing rushed passes inside and tough looks for shooters, Lillard and McCollum were lost. Add on DeAndre Jordan‘s presence inside, and their usual scoring ways were gone. If L.A. return to that kind of smothering coverage and avoid the 59 points the duo combined for in Game 3, they should enter Tuesday just one “W” shy of a series win. Even if Lillard and McCollum aren’t ice-cold again, that should be the aim.

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  • To follow on from the matter of trapping, how well the Blazers are able to play through Plumlee is something to look out for. If Lillard and McCollum can escape from traps and still lack the space to find clear shots from range, they may look to go inside to an open Plumlee (16 assists over the last two games is an indication of that), allowing him to find another big man inside or an open Al-Farouq Aminu at the arc. The Clippers have thrown all their energy at stopping the opposing backcourt, so if they slow them down again, the pressure immediately goes onto a weak offensive frontcourt and a fairly shallow bench. If that’s the case, we’ll see a repeat of Game’s 1 and 2.
  • As will be the case throughout the playoffs until Blake Griffin looks like his usual self for a lengthy stretch of time, how he operates in the post is always something to focus on. A key fourth quarter turnover and some tentativeness when rolling to the basket was problematic in Game 3, and the sooner he can create from the post, the sooner the Clippers can leave behind their latest 88-point performance.
  • So far, the Blazers haven’t been able to stop Paul whatsoever. He’s put on a clinic from mid-range, creating space off the dribble that no one can contest while patrolling through the defense, dropping dimes to anyone who gets an inch of space. Providing the Clippers put forth a more resilient effort when it comes to defense and rebounding, it should once again be Paul leading the way offensively.

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  • Finally, that same-old issue of effort. It’s largely been increased to a great extent since Griffin’s injury, with the team showing far more solidarity on defense to rank 4th in efficiency and 2nd in opponent field goal percentage. Nevertheless, their rebounding and boxing out has still been terrible most of the time, with the Blazers abusing such a weakness for pivotal second chance points late in the fourth quarter in Game 3.

“It’s so easy when you lose, it’s focus; that’s the easy way,” Doc Rivers said after the loss, per Robert Morales of the Los Angeles Daily News. “They played hard. They were tougher, they destroyed us on the glass, they ran harder, they got to their spots quicker, they got to the loose balls faster. They played hard, so they deserved to win the game.”

When that’s the case, which it most certainly was in Game 3, the Clippers shouldn’t need more than the brief turnaround period before the next contest to shake off the struggles and attack with more urgency going forward.

Well, at least that’s what you’d expect from a team filled with as much talent as the Clippers. In the past, though, they’ve proven us wrong on many occasions.

Next: Clippers' shot at West Finals increases with Steph Curry's injury

If they want to close out this series with ease and capitalize from a potentially Stephen Curry-free second round matchup, some healthy play from Griffin and simple urgency to unlock their defensive potential should be all that’s needed.