How Long Will Clippers Thrive Before Faltering in Postseason?

Source: (Hashtag Basketball - Brian Han)

 

What an incredibly bleak title, I know, but as a Los Angeles Clippers' fan, you have to be prepared for the worst. Otherwise you'll end up with another Chris Paul jersey ruined by tears and nacho cheese stains.

The team lures you in with early playoff success, but this time it will be different. Or is that the definition of insanity?

That's exactly how they kicked off the opening game of the 2016 postseason. Everything the Clippers need to do well this postseason, they did during Game 1 of the opening round.

What resulted was a 115-95 victory on Sunday at Staples Center over the Portland Trailblazers. 

That included signature lobs from guard Chris Paul to center DeAndre Jordan (following a deftly intercepted pass in the example below).



Devastating dunks courtesy of Blake Griffin (who seems to have shaken off most of his rust just in time for the playoffs). This particular drive starts from the 3-point line. 



Seemingly impossible jump shots made with 15 seconds left on the shot clock by none other than three-time NBA Sixth Man of the Year award winner Jamal Crawford.



Redick got off to a hot start despite a bruised heel as he went 3-for-5 in the first quarter. In addition to his shooting prowess, he forced C.J. McCollum to chase him around the court all night long, which ultimately reduced the Portland guard's ability to contribute on the offensive end.

The cherry on top?

Even as Portland employed the controversial hacking strategy, Jordan, the league's second worst free throw shooter this year at 43 percent from the line, exceeded his regular season performance (although by just a single percent, but we'll take what we can get).

On the other end of the court, the Portland Trailblazers two biggest offensive threats in guards Damian Lillard and McCollum couldn't find a rhythm. 

Jordan stayed aggressive on defense so even when Lillard drove to the rim with an open lane, he was punished for it on multiple occasions thanks to chase-down blocks by the Clippers' big man. That approach led to only 2-of-6 field goals made from close range according to NBA.com's shot charts.



He had better luck from beyond the arc, shooting 43 percent, which Portland may employ more of in Game 2.

Even then, Lillard had multiple defenders trapping him after screens all night and the Clippers figure they'll take their losses as long as they shut down their opponent's lead scorer.

McCollum, who averaged just over 20 points per game during the regular season, got held to just nine points on 27 percent shooting during Game 1.

In fact, he only got off 11 shots while being defended by Clippers foward Luc Mbah a Moute who took on his usual role as a defensive specialist -- so much so that he didn't take a single shot attempt while he was on the court.

Portland holds a 1-9 record in the last five seasons against the Clippers at Staples Center. On top of that, their postseason playoff series record when they have lost the first game of a series stands at a paltry 3-29.

What the Clippers lacked in last year's postseason run, primarily a lack of depth off the bench, they have now in newly acquired players such as forward Jeff Green and center Cole Aldrich. Even the oft-mocked guard Austin Rivers shot 50 percent from the field in Game 1 on 10 attempts and has developed surprisingly well since last year.

Against a team like Portland, the Clippers can and will sustain this level of play. Round 2 of the playoffs is familiar territory. Moving beyond that seems to be where the problem lies.

It's pretty much inevitable that Los Angeles will face the insurmountable obstacle that is the Golden State Warriors in the next series.

There's not much use in delving too deeply into a pre-series analysis just yet, but consider two things.

One, the Clippers won their series against the defending 2014 champion San Antonio Spurs in 2015.

Two, the last time the Clippers faced the Warriors in the playoffs just two years ago, they won the series in seven games.

A lot of the Clippers' success revolves around Chris Paul, who had an exceptional Game 1, and Blake Griffin, who's condition is still questionable due to a small sample size since his return.

Despite the uncertainty, Paul seems ecstatic that his crew is reunited and looking sharper than ever.

"We feed off Blake's energy," he told reporters after the Game 1 victory. "He's damn near unstoppable."




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