What kind of game do you get when you pit a team bounced from the first round of the playoffs, having lost 4 of its 5 starters, against the defending NBA champions who lost only a single bench player worth mentioning? You get a rout, of course. It's preseason, yes, but everyone saw the blowout coming. It's not like it was hard to predict...
...wait, what? The BLAZERS beat the WARRIORS?
Well, alright, then.
For the 2nd game in a row, albeit in preseason action, the Portland Trail Blazers came dressed to impress and did just that. They found ways to generate bucketloads of offense, despite utilizing players that few people beyond full-time analysts and DraftExpress-addicted fans recognized, eventually crushing the Golden State Warriors 118-101.
Neither team pulled their preseason punches: Stephen Curry played 25 minutes, Damian Lillard 27. Klay Thompson played 24 minutes, CJ McCollum 28. The Blazers went 12 players deep, even rolling out the life-size paper mache statue of Chris Kaman for a handful of minutes.
And while you can't take much from the outcome, given that it was meaningless in wins and losses, it's still nice to know that the Blazers have enough talent to pull off a convincing win against a great team.
If you're looking for a quarter-by-quarter recap, it looked a little something like this:
First Quarter: The Warriors are really good, and they'll pull away at any second.
Second Quarter: YAY the Blazers are winning!
Third Quarter: ...the Warriors are coming back, and they'll win, but that's okay.
Fourth Quarter: YAY the Blazers are... wait... no, Portland, stop. They're down... wait! No! They're already dead! Portland! No! Stop!
While a double-digit win is the ultimate NBA sugar high, there's not a lot you can glean from a preseason game. However, a few things provided hope::
The Blazers' defense will be scrappy. Cue the Nate McMillan jokes about "scrap," but Blazer bodies were absolutely flying around the court, contesting shots they had no business contesting, and possibly pushing enough doubt in the minds of the Warriors' shooters to cause a miss or two. Even Damian Lillard looked a little more comfortable keeping himself either in front of his assignment, or at least in the right position.
Youth is good. There's no question that Neil Olshey focused on young, unproven players with upside after LaMarcus Aldridge bailed, but there were no guarantees that any of them would develop. While a two-game sample size typically doesn't make for accurate prognostications, it's safe to say that, yes, the Blazers are gonna hit on a few of them, be it Vonleh, Plumlee, or Aminu, or even some of the home-grown guys like Crabbe, Leonard, or McCollum. This tweet from CSNNW's Chris Burkhardt sums it up perfectly:
Overheard as I walked into the Warriors locker room, "man, I've never seen young guys take over a game like that" #RipCity #CSNBlazers— Chris Burkhardt (@CBurkhardtCSN) October 9, 2015
...and take over they did.
Allen Crabbe got better. A lot better. I'm not sure I remember Crabbe going off the dribble into a contested midrange jumper with a hand in his face, but he now seems as comfortable as a puppy in a pile of warm laundry. Crabbe went 5-6 from deep, missing just 3 of his 12 shots overall en route to a team-high 25 points, and a flabbergasting plus/minus of +42.
These Blazers won't be intimidated. Gone are the days of Meyers Leonard hesitating after missing a few shots. In a telling moment, he hit a three-pointer after clanging the first few, and shot 2-5 (40%) from range. Damian Lillard will always be Damian Lillard, driving into the defense's teeth at will, hitting the floor a half-dozen times. Al-Farouq Aminu (see video below) didn't hesitate on his shot either, shooting 5-9 and 1-2 from deep despite being a historically mediocre shooter. Whether this is because everyone has something to prove, or Coach Stotts is giving his players the freedom to make a few mistakes, one thing is clear: the Blazers' identity will center around effort on both ends, and lots of opportunities on offense.
Tank? What tank? The Blazers may not make the playoffs, but after a very small, 2-game preseason sample size, it doesn't seem that they'll roll over either. A 38-win team that plays hard and gets the occasional big win seems more likely than the sorrowful 26-win effort odds-makers Bovada predicts the Blazers will deliver. Whether this is a good thing (building a culture of winning) or a hindrance to future development (lessening their chance at a high draft pick) is subjective, but expect the Blazers to take the road traveled by teams like Indiana before they follow tank-happy teams like Philadelphia.
All in all, this was a wonderful game, full of free and easy offense from the Blazers that, at halftime, was tracking for a 150-point performance. Combine that with a high-effort (if not polished) defense, and you have a recipe for season-long entertainment.