Prior to this season, DeAndre Jordan was an afterthought in the playoffs. In 17 career playoff games, he had notched just one double-digit scoring game and nary a double-digit rebounding game.
That changed in a big way in the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs, with Jordan recording four double-doubles and doing a fantastic job protecting the rim. Jordan averaged 12.1 points, 15.1 assists and 4.0 blocks in the opening round against the Golden State Warriors, and his breakout was key in securing the seven-game series victory.
But in the first two games of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Jordan hasn't had nearly the same impact. The big man is averaging just 7.0 points and 6.5 rebounds in the two games. Shockingly he hasn't recorded a single block.
In the Clippers' 112-101 loss to the Thunder on Wednesday, Jordan was outplayed by Kendrick Perkins, which is something that really should never happen at this point in time. Perkins bested Jordan in both points and rebounds, while the Clippers big man also committed three turnovers and five fouls.
Jordan not being his usual self hurt Los Angeles both on the backboards and defensively. Oklahoma City won the rebounding battle 52-36, grabbing 15 offensive rebounds en route to 17 second-chance points. Jordan didn't grab a single offensive rebound himself in nearly 30 minutes of action.
Defensively, Jordan hasn't been the same dominant rim protector that he was against Golden State. The fact that he doesn't have a single block is telling, and going deeper inside the numbers also shows a lesser impact. When Jordan was on the court in that first-round series, the Warriors shot 60.8 percent in the restricted area, compared to 70.2 percent when he was on the bench, according to NBA.com's stats page. But in the second round, the Thunder are shooting 75.0 percent in the restricted area when Jordan is on the floor and 50.0 percent when he's on the bench, per NBA.com's stats page. The sample size is much smaller, but that's a stark contrast.
While Jordan has struggled thus far against Oklahoma City, his running mate, Blake Griffin, could stand to significantly improve his performance as well. Griffin has had issues with the length and strength of Serge Ibaka, failing to make much hay in the paint and relying a lot on jumpers. Griffin's mid-range game has improved this season, but he's at his best when playing aggressive and making stuff happen at the rim. The forward's rebounding also needs improvement, as he has nabbed just 11 rebounds in the series.
The Clippers have a ton of talent, so they can sometimes afford off days from Jordan and Griffin. But it's more difficult to win when those two aren't playing at a high level against a team the caliber of Oklahoma City. Griffin will likely bounce back, but Jordan is more of a question mark. If Jordan can regain the form he had in the first round, Los Angeles' chances of advancing increase dramatically.