So much of Portland’s success hinges on how point guard Damian Lillard performs in the Trail Blazers’ first-round playoff series against the Clippers.
Lillard has the heavy burden of directing the offense, keeping his young teammates engaged, having to score at a high volume, handing out assists and defending Chris Paul.
That load can take a toll even on Lillard, who averaged 25.1 points per game this season, sixth in the NBA. But he didn’t shy away from it in Game 1 and won’t in Game 2 Wednesday night at Staples Center.
His team is down 1-0 in the best-of-seven series and the Clippers’ defenders were particularly effective in the opener at trapping him when he was handling the ball.
“It’s tough,” Lillard said. “Just because it’s enough having to guard so many pick and rolls, help off screens and then guard [Paul] on the block. You’ve got to keep him on one side. That’s one thing.
“And then you’re getting trapped on the other end. It’s different. We’re defending him a different way than they’re defending me. It wears on you. . . . So I’m sure we’ll make some adjustments to where some possessions I’m not guarding [Paul] every time to where I’m in all the pick and rolls. Just mix it up that way.”
On the bus after Sunday’s loss, Lillard said he began to type in his cellphone “as many plays as I could think of” that would allow him “to get the ball without handling it” because he was trapped so frequently by the Clippers.
He said the Trail Blazers will run their typical pick-and-roll sets, but there will be times when Lillard will come off screens away from the ball.
Even so, it will be a big task for Lillard against the Clippers.
“People who watch basketball, they see that I’m getting trapped way [out] at half-court. Everywhere I go, there are two people there. It’s tough to play against. I’m going to make the right play. I’m going to do the right thing that’s best for my team and I can live with that,” Lillard said.
Lillard will need support from more than just shooting guard C.J. McCollum to help Portland’s cause.
Center Mason Plumlee (one for six from the field in Game 1) needs to convert the easy layups and dunks he missed Sunday. Forwards Al-Farouq Aminu (two for eight on three-point attempts) and Maurice Harkless (0 for 3 from three-point range) must shoot better for Portland to have a chance in Game 2.
“Other guys have just got to be ready,” said Trail Blazers reserve guard Gerald Henderson, who had 16 points. “We have guys that are capable of stepping up and knocking down shots. They have during the season. One game is not enough sample to really say that guys can’t do certain things. I think we’ll be fine.
“If we’re just now realizing that the Clippers are the first team to try to [trap Lillard and McCollum], I think we’re a little behind the ball. Our two best scorers, C.J. and Damian, they have to still be aggressive and I still feel they’ll find ways to score.”