The Portland Trail Blazers will want to forget their 103-88 defeat at the hands of the Golden State Warriors on Sunday night as quickly as possible. Carrying a 33-12 record with plenty of fancy, if not improbable, wins to their credit they have more than earned that right. So we'll do them the courtesy of keeping the recap as efficient as possible. Trust me, you don't want to dwell on this one either.
The Warriors opened this game with a two-pronged attack. Whenever possible they pushed the ball ahead of Portland's defense, grabbing a layup or a jumper off the secondary break. When Portland got back the Warriors set screens for their shooters. If you cannot deal with screens you cannot deal with the Warriors and the Blazers couldn't do either. Steph Curry didn't just torch Portland in the first half, he immolated them to the tune of 23 points in two periods.
Meanwhile the Blazers began a night-long habit of missing shots. Fatigue may have been a factor. LaMarcus Aldridge's inability to beat the usual steady rhythm with his own offense was certainly another. (Aldridge would finish 2-14 for the game.) The Warriors did a decent job of keeping Portland's starters off of the offensive glass as well. As shots kept missing the Blazers started tightening up. The three-point shot got fragile, leaving the Warriors plenty of incentive to defend in the lane which in turn led to more missed jumpers from the Blazers, creating a cycle of insecurity. The more uncertain the Blazers got the less they moved the ball, trying to break the drought by dominating individual matchups. That's usually a part of Portland's offense but when it becomes the whole shebang the Blazers get into trouble. Aldridge left side and right, Damian Lillard from distance, Wesley Matthews trying to post up or firing threes...none of it worked.
The only bright spot for the Blazers came in the second period when their bench once again ripped the fabric of space and probability, dominating their opponents for the second straight game. Portland's best surge of the night came behind Joel Freeland, Thomas Robinson, C.J. McCollum, and Mo Williams. That group plus Matthews and Lillard turned an 8-point first quarter deficit into a 6-point lead by the 5:00 mark of the second period. Then both teams re-inserted their starters. Golden State's starters included Curry and that was that. The Warriors buried a bunch of shots and closed Portland's hard-earned lead to a single point. The Blazers led 55-54 at the break.
Saying the bench was Portland's lone bright spot of the evening was a slight exaggeration. The Blazers prospered in one other area during the first half...the single factor keeping them afloat when their defense wasn't working, shots weren't falling, and their rebounding margin wasn't telling. The Blazers ripped the Warriors at the foul line in the first two periods, attempting 15 free throws to just 5 for Golden State. The refs may have been leaning in Portland's direction slightly on 50-50 decisions but we've seen worse. The calls, though frequent, were mostly justified.
But then the worst possible confluence of events hit the Blazers in the third quarter. The officials made three quick calls against Golden State, all of which were semi-questionable and the last of which got the home crowd riled into a mob-like cascade of "we got screwed" booing. The officials responded by rectifying the perceived (and maybe somewhat actual) injustice by swinging calls back towards Golden State. A couple minutes later Aldridge and Andrew Bogut got whistled for double technicals after some arm flailing, downward hacking, and ball throwing. No doubt remembering the Bogut-Freeland fracas when these two teams last met in Oakland the refs began to call the game tightly both ways. This egalitarian approach effectively eliminated the only life ring keeping Portland's starters afloat. The guys in red and black began to slip beneath the water.
The Warriors didn't fare all that well in the third period. Curry hit field goals but his teammates couldn't buy a bucket and had to make a living from the line. The Blazers couldn't even manage to get up a shot on many possessions, committing 7 turnovers in the quarter. The shots the Blazers did sent towards the rim seldom found net. The Warriors took care of business on the boards, preventing second chances. Golden State scored 22 in the period but the Blazers managed only a nightmarish 12. The Warriors led 76-67 at the break...67 being a customary halftime score but nearly unheard of as a third-quarter total for the Blazers this year.
The turnover situation didn't get much better in the fourth period for Portland. Being behind, they pulled Robin Lopez and went with scorers instead. No Lopez equated to no dependable defense. The Warriors took it easy on the Blazers early in the quarter, depending far too much on outside shooting. But they learned their lesson late and started mixing it up with drives and foul shots complementing their three-pointers. The Blazers did have chances. They missed layups which could have been and-ones. They missed triples too. But for the most part they were still trying to win the game with individual shots instead of their usual offense and it just didn't work. Curry draining 2 jumpers in the final 2 minutes sealed the game and the Warriors walked away with the victory.
Give Golden State credit. They may be the first team this season to succeed in keeping the Blazers from hitting threes (6-21, 29%), offensive rebounding (12 but to little effect), and scoring in the paint (26 points total) all at the same time. The Blazers ended up with 33 foul shots to Golden State's 21, but that was it. Portland shot 34% from the field, dished only 16 assists (they average 25), committed 14 turnovers (most in the second half), and of course scored only 88 for the game. Again, fatigue no doubt played a factor but we've seen the Blazers prosper in back-to-backs before. You also have to ask who the Blazers will be when they lose their cool...when things just aren't going right. They've shown that you have to push them pretty far to get them to the breaking point, that a mere dozen-point deficit won't do it. But from time to time this year they've also shown that when they do get to that breaking point they can't seem to remember how they earned their success in the first place. Chances are they'll get to address that shortcoming again as the seeding race tightens in the West.
I don't usually do full sets of individual notes in a blowout loss (which this ended up being despite the gap being only 15) because individual play seldom matters when the team falls apart. We'll keep this short.
LaMarcus Aldridge had his worst offensive night of the season with that 2-14 clip for 10 points. He did have 11 rebounds.
Nicolas Batum got outplayed to the nth degree by Andre Iguodala. Chris Haynes reports that Batum will have an MRI on Monday for a foot injury sustained against Boston on January 11th but it's precautionary, as Batum has been playing with the condition for weeks
Portland's bigs actually had good games. Robin Lopez had the typical "I'm the only big man on the floor and you're going to pay" moments. We had a Joel Freeland sighting too! Freeland was draining the jumper, rebounding like a fiend, and defended pretty well. 8 points on a perfect 4-4 plus 7 rebounds and 0 fouls in 11 minutes is plenty impressive. Thomas Robinson one-upped Freeland in the rebounding department with 11 boards in 15 minutes but his offensive play wasn't as tight tonight as it has been in the last couple games.
Memphis comes into town on Tuesday night and THAT will be an interesting game. They've won 7 of their last 8 and just disposed of the Rockets back-to-back, plus they'll be rested. They've also held their opponents to 90 points or fewer in 5 of their last 6 and haven't let a team break 100 in the last 2 weeks. Something's gotta give there. Let's see if the Blazers can recoup enough to make sure that the giving comes from Memphis.
Timmay's Instant Recap and GameDay Thread Review. (The latter may be a bit less readable than usual.)
Your Jersey Contest scores and the form for Memphis are HERE.
Tonight's contest answers were Curry hitting the most threes and the Warriors dominating all the three-point categories. Tbone took this game easily by betting big against the Blazers, scoring 91 of 100 possible. We have a new leader in the overall standings with Ledhed889 displacing MavetheGreat but there's still one game to go this month and the lead is narrow...