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Warriors’ Torrid Third Quarter Burns Blazers

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The Golden State Warriors, sparked by a 21 point advantage in the third quarter, ran over the Portland Trail Blazers tonight

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Portland Trail Blazers Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

The Golden State Warriors rode hot shooting from reigning MVP Stephen Curry to a 41-20 advantage in the third quarter, and ran away from the Portland Trail Blazers 127-104 tonight at the Moda Center.

Curry led the Warriors with 28 points - 15 of those came on five three-pointers in the third. Ian Clark came off the bench to burn the Blazers for 22 points on perfect 8-8 shooting, including 16 in the first half. Damian Lillard tried valiantly to keep the Blazers in contention, but his 31 points were no match for the Warriors’ onslaught.

Game Flow

The game began at a furious pace, with both teams aggressively attacking offensively, and neither team making an effort to slow the other down. Lillard and the Blazers took advantage of the chaos and jumped out to a 16-9 lead after five minutes, with 10 of those points coming from the ever-aggressive Lillard.

After the opening flurry calmed, and the reserves began to filter into the game, the Warriors got a major offensive boost from an unlikely source: Ian Clark. Clark literally couldn’t miss from the field tonight, and immediately began draining jump shots as the Portland defenders failed to man-up to him. On the other side of the ball the Blazers struggled to score as Lillard took his customary end-of-quarter rest and the Warriors cranked up their defense. The result was a 34-25 Warrior lead after one.

As the second quarter began, the Blazers offense went feast or famine with Evan Turner as the primary ballhandler. Turner’s offense consisted alternately of made field goals, or ugly turnovers, with no middle ground. On the back of Turner’s erratic decision making, the Blazers would finish the half with 10 turnovers - an unforgivable sin against the Warriors, who turned the missed opportunities into easy points.

Fortunately for Portland, Klay Thompson and Steph Curry were uninterested in punishing the Blazers for their mistakes, and combined to shoot only 6-21 in the half, helping the Blazers to stay close at 59-52 entering intermission. Lillard stayed hot and finished with 22, while Clark had 16.

In the third quarter the Blazers continued to play like they had in the first half - weak defense and little offensive creativity outside of Lillard. The Warriors, on the other hand, buckled down on defense and started disrupting Portland’s passing lanes, while Curry went from ice cold to “NBA Jam” levels of on fire, as he hit five triples in the period. When the dust settled the Warriors led 100-73 after three.

Kevin Durant, who finished with 20 points, put a perfunctory bow on the game with two run-out dunks early in the fourth as several Blazers played classic hands-on-your-hips defense. The lead ballooned to more than 30 and boos rained down from the Moda Center crowd (unclear if they were directed at Durant for multiple dunks in a blow out, or the Blazers for a lack of effort) as Terry Stotts and Steve Kerr emptied their benches.

Ordinarily the emergence of the deep bench would have ended tonight’s game, but fans who stuck around were in for a pleasant surprise when this happened in the waning moments:

Analysis

Coming into tonight’s game the Blazers, theoretically, had two advantages over the Warriors: Continuity and depth.

Despite their 2-1 record, the Warriors looked lost for most of the first three games of the season, emerging slightly from their funk only in the second half of their win over Phoenix on Sunday. A no. 25 defensive rating, plus an effective but slowly developing offense, made it seem clear they were struggling to integrate Kevin Durant and several other new players into the system. Additionally, the Warriors’ roster is seven players deep with only Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston serving as proven backups.

Conversely, the Blazers have been exalted repeatedly for the benefits that roster continuity will bring, and the value of their 10-man deep rotation. The Warriors may have a higher top speed than the Blazers, but going into tonight’s game depth and continuity seemingly gave the Blazers a chance.

Instead, the Warriors flipped the script and significantly out-executed the Blazers on both ends of the court, while also terrorizing the Portland reserves. The execution problems began on offense - after a subpar start, the Warriors turned the screws on the Blazers by swarming passing lanes to cut off the flow offense, and forcing players to create off the dribble. Lillard was able to find some success, but Golden State began aggressively doubling him to force the ball into the hands of secondary scorers. The result was a combined 6-22 shooting from Al-Farouq Aminu and Moe Harkless.

Defensively, the Blazers also suffered as the Warriors created mismatches for easy scores. The Blazers found themselves repeatedly switching on screens, which turned unfortunate phrases like, “and that leaves McCollum on Durant” into common refrains from Kevin Calabro. Some of the switching was by design - Stotts likes to have Lillard take Draymond Green in the post rather than fight through a pick and roll, for instance - but too often the Blazers left themselves with unwinnable matchup disadvantages.

To make matters worse, Portland players regularly failed to even locate their man in delayed transition situation. This lead to easy scores for the Warriors, and was a primary reason Clark had 16 points at the half. Common knowledge around the NBA is that continuity and experience lead to good team defense. The Blazers seem to be on a mission to single-handedly disprove that this season.

To make matters even WORSE for the Blazers, the Warriors out-adjusted them in every facet of the game. Turner scores on a post-up? Double team him as soon as he dribbles. Plumlee’s making a living rolling to the basket? Help off the perimeter and force an awkward pass out of the lane. Lillard’s driving to the hoop too easily? Swarm him as soon as he starts his drive and force a pass to Aminu on the perimeter. Every time the Blazers found an advantage, the Warriors seemed to snatch it away.

Despite all the flaws in execution, the Blazers were hanging with the Warriors in the first half thanks, in large part, to the poor shooting from Curry and Thompson and solid shooting from Lillard. But the Portland reserves refused to take advantage and let the Warriors off the hook. Turner, as already mentioned, struggled intermittently on both ends. Allen Crabbe was anonymous. Ed Davis failed to get involved on the boards, finishing with three rebounds and 0 points. Noah Vonleh looked overwhelmed whenever he touched the ball. The result? A combined +/- of -95 for the Blazers top four reserves.

Looking Ahead

While it’s important to acknowledge that [Insert your favorite “season is long” cliche here] before panicking after a November loss to the second best team in the NBA, it’s equally important to acknowledge that the flaws the Blazers displayed tonight have been indicative of their season as a whole, so far.

Namely, outside of Lillard, the team looks lost on offense. Turner, especially, is failing to make reads quickly, which leads to stagnation of the flow offense. McCollum looks out of sync when Lillard leaves the game and Turner takes over as de facto point guard - thus far, it has seemed a mistake to take away C.J.’s role as “the man” with the second unit. And Aminu and Harkless have struggled as “release valves” when defenses key in on Lillard. Of course, the Blazers are still putting up a ton of points every night, so these have not been fatal flaws. But they are significant enough to keep the team from being a serious playoff threat, and must be addressed in the coming weeks.

Individual Notes

Damian Lillard was the only Blazer who looked effective on offense tonight. His defense was suspect, but given the scoring load he has been forced to carry, that is unavoidable. The 31 points look nice, but the 2 assists reflect how frustratingly effective the Warriors were at forcing secondary players into isolation offense the second Lillard passed the ball.

CJ McCollum finished with 16 points and had a nice six-point flurry in the third to try to spark a Portland run, but overall he has looked uncharacteristically uncomfortable in the Blazer offense outside of the occasional isolation play.

Al-Farouq Aminu and Moe Harkless both helped and hurt the team tonight. Harkless was the most (only?) engaged Blazer on defense while Aminu did a great job helping out on the boards, and finished with 10 rebounds. Their poor shooting, however, continues to haunt.

Mason Plumlee and Ed Davis COMBINED for eight rebounds. The Blazers were out-rebounded 45-32. That’s less than ideal.

Evan Turner’s fest-and-famine offense has already been discussed but, frustratingly, he was also a primary culprit behind Clark’s offensive explosion. It feels like his offense bleeds over into his defense sometimes, which leads to compounding mental errors.

The box score tells me that Allen Crabbe and Noah Vonleh played. Which is interesting, because I can’t remember them in this game.

But, that’s okay, because Jake Layman seems to be the savior the franchise didn’t know it needed.


Might want to avoid tonight’s box score.

Check out the Blazer’s Edge instant recap here.

Golden State of Mind is probably the only place where you’ll find people who think Ian Clark > Jake Layman right now.

Eric Griffith | @DeeringTornado | GoBlazers87@gmail.com