In an NBA postseason filled with routs, the Clippers are keeping pace. Their 102-81 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night at Staples Center in Game 2 of their first-round playoff series gave them a second consecutive victory by at least 20 points. Here are five takeaways from a game that gave the Clippers a 2-0 in the best-of-seven series:
1. The Clippers’ bench stole the show. Two numbers said it all: The Clippers reserves outscored their Trail Blazers counterparts, 43-10, and finished the game a combined plus-89. Someone better check with the Elias Sports Bureau to see if it’s a record for a playoff game. Jamal Crawford scored 11 points on the night he hoisted his record third NBA sixth man of the year trophy and all six players who logged playing time contributed. Jeff Green added 10 points, Cole Aldrich had eight rebounds and two blocks in only 12 minutes, Austin Rivers hit a three-pointer in the fourth quarter to beat the shot clock and Wesley Johnson made two shots.
“They came in and opened the floor and just played and got ball movement,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said. “But then on the other end I thought they got a ton of stops and scores. So that was huge for us.” Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith were supposed to be the Clippers' big bench additions this season but both are long gone, Smith having been traded in January and Stephenson flipped in February as part of a deal that brought the Clippers Green. Doc Rivers was criticized for Smith and Stephenson not working out but has fashioned a bench that nevertheless has emerged as one of the best in the league.
2. It’s the first 2-0 lead in a playoff series for the Clippers during the Doc Rivers era. Big leads in playoff series haven’t gone well for the Clippers in recent seasons. They lost four consecutive games against the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round in 2013 after winning the first two games on their home court and also squandered a 3-1 lead to the Houston Rockets last season in the Western Conference semifinals. Overconfidence shouldn’t be an issue heading into the next two games at Portland. “I think that’s in our minds, and I think the way we practiced [Tuesday], the way we practice these next two days will be big for setting the tone for Game 3 and 4.” Griffin also noted the importance of closing out a series before Game 7, something the Clippers have not done since his arrival. Each of their three series victories—over Memphis in 2012, Golden State in 2014 and San Antonio in 2015—went a full seven games. “That’s kind of the next step is closing out a series without enduring too much energy and without taking it to seven games. Taking care of business when you do have a lead like this.”
3. Portland’s guards struggled again. The Trail Blazers made the adjustments they needed to get Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum better shots, they just didn’t go in. The duo combined for 33 points but missed 27 of 39 shots. Lillard missed layups and never recovered from a first half in which he missed eight of 10 shots. “I just got to make the shots,” Lillard said. “I think that’s what it comes down to.” Said McCollum: “I had a wide-open three in the corner in transition. We’re going to make those shots. Nine times out of 10, those are the shots that we have to make and I think going forward we will.”
4. The Trail Blazers don’t seem fazed. Maybe they’re too young to realize the gravity of the deficit they’re facing, but Lillard and McCollum had the nonchalance of having lost a game in mid-November. “They handled their business here,” Lillard said, “and now we’ve got to try to go get one for Game 3.” Asked how he maintained his confidence, Lillard said, “I don’t see why we should not have confidence.” Said McCollum: “I think going home everybody will be a little more comfortable. … With our home crowd behind us, we’ll be ready to go.”
5. J.J. Redick acknowledged his bruised left heel remains sore. This was the one black cloud hovering over an otherwise sunny postgame scene. “To be honest,” Redick said after scoring 17 points on seven-for-15 shooting, including three of eight on three-pointers, “it’s very sore, and after Sunday’s game it was pretty sore the last few days. So it’s just something that hopefully will heal, but it’s going to take time.” The Clippers are grateful that they will have two days before Game 3 on Saturday. Redick’s accuracy has been good in games but watching him during shoot-arounds, it’s clear he’s a little off with his rhythm and his frustration has been palpable. The Clippers need him to heal to make any sort of lengthy playoff push.