SAN FRANCISCO – Realizing that it was just a bit impertinent, I pondered asking a question Wednesday afternoon before the Trail Blazers began their practice.
And I went ahead and asked it.
“CJ, how would you like to have a game where the defense defended you in the pick and roll the same way your team defended Steph Curry last night?” I said.
He smiled one of his bigger smiles, thought about it a little while and shook his head.
And refused to answer. Couldn’t blame him.
Then I asked the same question of Damian Lillard.
“Hey man, we could have done a much better job,” Lillard said, speaking of the pick-and-roll coverage. “I think people need to look at how I’m being defended. I can’t even get a shot up sometimes. Maybe just look at that. I can’t get a shot up.”
Yes, there is that. If the likes of Damian Lillard, a first-team all-NBA player last season and obviously an elite player, has trouble getting up shots against blitzes and double-teams, why not attempt the same strategy against Curry and his Golden State Warriors?
And Golden State also has some players on the floor at times – Draymond Green, Andre Igoudala, Shaun Livingston, Andrew Bogut, Kevin Looney – who aren’t rushing to take three-point shots. Why not put the same pressure on them to score from distance that Portland’s Al-Farouq Aminu is feeling throughout the playoffs?
Certainly you might want to try anything except dropping the big man down in the lane and allowing Curry to come off the pick wide open for three-point-shots that he can seemingly make in his sleep. That was the ill-fated strategy Tuesday night and Curry had 33 points over the first three quarters.
Coach Terry Stotts said he would be making changes in his team’s pick-and-roll coverages and that almost goes without saying. He also acknowledged that lineup changes are always considered.
But seldom made, it seems.
Stotts has infrequently strayed from his long-time starters, even to open the second half. But in the most important two quarters of this season so far – the second half of Sunday’s Game 7 at Denver, he inserted Rodney Hood and Zach Collins at the forward positions to provide more offensive punch and spread the floor.
The rest, of course, is history. Portland rallied from a nine-point deficit to win the game. Stotts was asked about going with those players in Game 2 Thursday and called it a “loaded question.”
Probably was, I guess. But a fair one, just the same.
In the playoffs for the last few years, when teams have time to prepare for the Blazers much more than they do in the regular season, Lillard and McCollum have struggled to find court-spacers to make their lives easier. This video has been screened before.
And make no mistake, the Trail Blazers would profit from somehow getting Lillard more room to operate. Since the first game of the Denver series, the Portland captain is shooting just 37 percent from the field and 30 percent from long distance. He’s better than that, but he’s playing in a crowd and the Blazers haven’t done their best job of using personnel to help him get more comfortable.
Instead of Enes Kanter on those ball screens, for example, what about Meyers Leonard? Opponents would have to honor Leonard’s outside shooting ability and get back to him quickly after Lillard clears the screen.
And with Hood, Collins, Leonard or Seth Curry in the corners, the Portland guards would have more room to operate.
Or not, depending on how the Warriors would play it.
But the fact is, somebody would be shooting open threes and the hope is, it would be players who could make them on a consistent basis.
It’s a thought. Perhaps an impertinent one. But a thought.