The Portland Trail Blazers lost a well-fought but heartbreaking game to the Golden State Warriors tonight, 113-112. Without LaMarcus Aldridge the Blazers put six players into double-figures in a valiant effort to put off Golden State's vicious backcourt attack. Portland built an 18-point lead but couldn't hold it, watching the game slip away as their fourth-period execution lapsed and the Warriors made them pay.
Interestingly enough, the big men opened the show tonight for both teams. Although in this case "big" was a charitable term for Portland's frontcourt of Robin Lopez and Dorell Wright going against Andrew Bogut and David Lee. Lee posted and muscled Wright. Wright returned the favor with a triple and a drive. Robin Lopez swung his weight in the lane, both offensively and on the boards. Bogut dribbled around him on the other end. Portland did well enough but any advantage they gained got squandered by turnovers. Still, the Warriors never caught fire. Indeed, it looked like they were shooting with one contact in. Normally-stead three-pointers sprayed left, right, long. I'd like to say that Portland's defense was the main cause but truthfully the Warriors were uncharacteristically cold. The jumpers were open. They took the first ones available. They missed nearly all of them.
As the first period progressed it looked like the game might turn out moderately-paced and low-scoring, a surprise given the matchup. The stanza came to a close with Portland leading 24-23. But the minutes surrounding the turn of the quarter favored the Warriors. They fielded a bigger lineup and a better bench. But Portland's starters returned midway through the period with a renewed commitment to protecting the ball and upping the tempo. Between them Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum, and Robin Lopez made Warrior Hash. Lopez tenderized them, pounding unmercifully while Lillard and Batum sliced and diced them into itty bitty pieces. Batum would hit a trio of three-pointers in the final six minutes of the period while Lillard canned one of his own. Layups and rebounds got sprinkled throughout. Meanwhile the Warriors still missed...and missed...and missed. Their lone bright spot came when Steph Curry finally hit a three with 9 seconds remaining in the half. It wasn't much. The Blazers playing fast, playing hard, playing smart. Meanwhile it was slow "D" and no 3 for Golden State...pretty much a disaster. Portland led 55-44 at intermission.
The third period opened much as the second had ended, with the Blazers running circles around Golden State, hitting 4 threes in 3.5 minutes, while the Warriors stuck their hands in their pockets and said, "That's unfortunate." Portland built a 70-52 lead before the tide turned, oddly enough at the hands of reserve forward Draymond Green. He drove the lane on offense and turned up the defensive intensity to 11. You wouldn't think one guy could make such a difference but whatever he did worked. The light turned on for the entire Golden State team. Up to this point they had played without focus, precision, or any kind of continuity, almost as if they expected to take the floor and beat the Blazers via superior talent. Green reminded them that they had to work for it, and that working for it could be fun. And man, did the Warriors start having fun. Curry, a non-factor prior to the 6:00 mark of the third period, started stroking home the open shots his team had been missing all game. After a couple went down it didn't matter whether he was covered or not anymore. He splashed the net again and again...and again...and again. And again. And again.
With Curry starting to draw attention, pretty soon Klay Thompson found himself wide open and inspired. And he started going off again...and again...and again. Those guards were like a mudslide burying the twee little 18-point house the Blazers had constructed not knowing they were in a flood plain. Portland's bench couldn't stop them late in the third. Portland's starters and hybrid lineups couldn't stop them in the fourth.
Lillard did his best to answer back, driving and shooting, trying to match Curry blow for blow. But Golden State's defense was tighter than Portland's was. Lillard always found himself in crowds. Sometimes he used it to good effect, drawing fouls, but with Curry finding separation into space on more possessions the difference soon began to show.
The Warriors used a nifty offensive plan to great effect, a plan Portland is sure to see more of in the post-season. It's called the "They Gotta Guard Someone" set. Whomever Mo Williams or Lillard was watching, that's where the ball went. Curry, Thompson, some of the bigs on switches...they took turns pasting points on Portland guards. Williams and Lillard scored too, but not as often. Batum tried to ride to the rescue, hitting a three, getting an and-one, making sure the ball went away from his man on defense, but it wasn't enough.
Golden State drew near by the 6:00 mark in the fourth then went past on 2 foul shots and a technical. Batum put the Blazers back on top and the final four minutes of the game were a gnashing, snarling mash-up of three-pointers and foul shots punctuated by the occasional drive and dunk. The Warriors sank 2 long balls and 3 foul shots down the stretch. The Blazers would hit 2 triples and 5 free throws of their own. Unfortunately the Blazers needed 6. Batum, after playing one of his best games of the season and keeping Portland afloat thereby, developed a lean and a tick on his second of two free throws with 5 seconds remaining, missing and leaving the Blazers down 1. He got his own miss but Golden State was all over him. With the clock winding down he retreated directly backwards, beyond the three-point arc, and was forced to throw up a backwards leaner. That fell well short, the ball got tipped twice in the lane, and the clock expired with Golden State celebrating.
The final minute of this game was epic. The two teams began tied at 107 and combined for 8 scoring opportunities in 60 seconds. Nobody held the ball. Nobody drained the clock. It was the kind of closing you love to see, less chess match than donnybrook. The Blazers coming out on the short end mars it for Portland fans but it was a wild ride and a great game nevertheless. Despite the heartbreak, the Blazers acquitted themselves well without their star player. Golden State played half a game but when they finally put their foot on the accelerator they blew the doors off. It feels like SNL's Stephon should be doing the review. "This game had everything. Batum Bombs, Lillo-Dunks, KlayMation, Cuddle-Bear Aerobicize..."
Seth Meyers: "What's Cuddle-Bear Aerobicize?"
Stephon: "It's that thing where Steph Curry hits a three-pointer then turns and squat-thrusts to the crowd while roaring like a wild animal. Rawr! He's so cute!" :::fold hands to lips:::
The "L" notwithstanding, the Blazers did some nice things in this game. They matched the non-motivated Warriors in the paint and on the break. They calmed down after the early flurry of turnovers, committing only 12 for the game. They won the offensive rebounding battle, though not by much. (Still, they gave up size in the frontcourt and managed to rebound quite well.) Portland shot a wonderful 12-28, 42%, from the arc. Golden State ended the game 11-30 for 37%. That was quite an accomplishment considering they hit maybe 2 of their first dozen. Portland dominated the Warriors at the foul line as well, hitting 26-30 foul shots while Golden State managed only 18-22.
In the end, Golden State's big edge came in simple field goal percentage mathematics. Both teams attempted 88 shots. The Warriors shot 48%, the Blazers 42%, and the Blazers came a point short of making up the difference in the extra-credit three-pointer and free throw departments.
As far as losses go, this was a hard one but also a pretty well-played one. Credit to the Warriors and the Blazers both. If Portland plays like this against Milwaukee on Tuesday the score should be 160-2.
Damian Lillard scored 26 but only shot 8-22 from the field and 1-6 from distance. His biggest accomplishment: 9-10 from the foul line, the biggest part of Portland's biggest advantage in this game.
Nicolas Batum went the opposite way, hitting 7-13 from the field, 5-9 from beyond the arc, scoring 23 and adding 14 rebounds and 3 steals, and generally making a nuisance of himself. That final missed free throw shouldn't be the enduring memory from this game. Batum was great.
Where was Wesley Matthews though? It was a Bad Wes night with 3-12 shooting, 1-5 from distance, and 6-6 free throw shooting getting him to 13 points total.
Robin Lopez went 5-12 from the field, his good looks looking good and his bad looks looking bad...no surprises. He had 5 offensive rebounds, 10 total, and chipped in 4 assists as the surprise of the night. It was a good game for Lopez considering the Warriors went small for much of the evening.
Dorell Wright held his own in what could have been an ultra-tough matchup. He survived by shooting 5-6 from the field, 3-4 from distance for 13 points. That's a stretch forward. The Blazers couldn't play him long (17 minutes total) but he made the most of his time. I'd say it was a near-perfect outing for a guy playing out of position.
Mo Williams returned tonight, started out kind of slow, but then poured on the scoring to the tune of 5-10 from the field, 2-3 on the long balls, and 12 points in 31 minutes. He also had 2 steals but 4 personal fouls. Defense mentioned above.
Will Barton and Victor Claver had opposite nights. Barton tallied 6 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists in 16 minutes but shot 2-8 in order to do it and didn't look that effective when he wasn't rebounding. Claver scored 0 with only 3 rebounds in 12 minutes but kept containment and kept his team in the offense via the principle of non-interference.
Thomas Robinson had a mighty 4 rebounds in 9 minutes but also a not-so-might 3 fouls and a wishy-washy 2-5 shooting rate.
Thursday night's game against the Washington Wizards is Blazersedge Night. We'll be watching 1200 less-privileged kids and their chaperons converge on the Moda Center to watch that game live and in person thanks to all of you. That's right, the final number was 1200 when all was said and done. Wow.
I want to thank Sam Tongue for covering Friday's recap against the Pelicans and Chris Lucia for providing this Tuesday's against the Bucks, as I'll be traveling to Portland. I know you enjoyed Sam's summary and Chris will do well by you too. I'll be recapping the Washington game Thursday night and let you know how the evening with the kids went!
There was no Jersey Contest form tonight. You can enter Tuesday's game form HERE. Note that while Tuesday and Thursday will have forms, they won't be scored until the weekend. Be patient as I travel.
Enter the Blazersedge Bracket Challenge for the NCAA Tourney. DETAILS HERE