Before the Portland Trail Blazers and Golden State Warriors met on Friday night, Blazers fans were asking if anybody remembered Friday, February 19th, 2016. That was the evening Portland pasted a 137-105 loss on their visitors from the bay...proof that winning against the NBA's mightiest juggernaut was possible.
The fans needn't have feared. Plenty of people remembered Portland's 32-point victory, chief among them the 12 players in Golden State uniforms tonight. The ball tipped, the Blazers blinked, and this game was over. Golden State cruised to an 81-point first half on their way to a 128-112 victory, notable for a new NBA record for three-pointers hit and not much else.
Both teams started the game in slightly shaky fashion. The Blazers missed jumpers as the Warriors missed layups. If you can guess which one of those shortcomings was going to get fixed first, you already know where the game was headed. Klay Thompson was the big difference-maker early, staking his team to a lead with deadly three-point shooting off of screens. Golden State made a concerted effort to keep the ball out of the hands of CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard, shadowing them across the floor. Portland's frontcourt attempting half their shots didn't improve the offensive situation. Meanwhile Thompson continued hot and then Stephen Curry got in the act, lighting his own torch beyond the arc. When the smoked cleared the Splash Brothers had hit 4 three-pointers each, scored 32 points combined, and led their team to a 40-27 lead.
Things got no better for Portland as Golden State put on a basketball clinic in the second quarter. The difference between the two squads was stark. The Warriors pretty much knew where Portland's offense had to come from. A few attempts by Gerald Henderson and Allen Crabbe aside, the Blazers eventually needed to go through Lillard and McCollum. Coach Steve Kerr skipped the usual quarter-break pep talk and simply put on The Police, "Every Breath You Take". Golden State defended Portland's guards accordingly. The Blazers still managed 34 points in the period. They didn't exactly embarrass themselves, but they never found a solid purchase. They hauled water up from the well, dragged it up the hill, then poured it through a sieve to watch it run back down again.
The Warriors had no such problem. As soon as a couple of those previously-missed layups fell, Portland defenders had to respect the lane. That opened up more three-point shots. The Warriors are pretty OK at making those. From that point on Golden State happily scored wherever Portland didn't defend. Getting a few offensive rebounds and hustle buckets put icing on a cake that was already buried in it. The Blazers didn't know which way to turn. Watch the arc? Dive to the rim? Collapse for the rebound? Whatever Portland chose, one pass later the Warriors found an open shot. Golden State ended up scoring 81 in the first half. Then they stretched the lead further, taking the third quarter as well. Pat Connaughton fueled a short run at the start of the fourth but it was a sneeze into a hurricane. The final horn was a mercy, Portland's 16-point deficit about half of what it could have been.
Golden State is good. End of story.
Thompson and Curry combined for 71 points tonight, shooting 15-25 from distance. (That's 45 points on three-pointers alone. For perspective, the Warriors average 13 three-pointers made as a team and 25 teams average fewer than 10.) That would have been enough to shish-kebab the Blazers. Golden State grabbing 16 offensive rebounds to Portland's 7 put them through the sausage grinder as well.
There was no area of this game where the Warriors did not outclass Portland. The Blazers managed one more three-pointer made (19 to 18) and shot 53% from the arc against 45% for the Warriors, but that was as much a defense mechanism as anything. The Blazers might as well been running away firing their pistol behind them as they dove for cover. The volume threes led to a new NBA record for three-pointers made in a game by two teams combined (37) but they never produced actual suspense about the outcome.
This kind of game puts the definition of "playoff team" in proper perspective. Portland did not play all that poorly. They shot well enough (great on three-pointers), didn't turn the ball over, stayed even in several statistical categories, and scored an impressive 112 points. That's the scary part. Golden State's good is so far above Portland's good that the clash of goodness resulted in a blowout. Debating the difference between a 6th seed or 8th seed (or even 9th) is like a bunch of sanitation engineers having an argument about who gets paid $100 more per month while Bill Gates is standing right there. And Warren Buffett is just around the corner in the form of the San Antonio Spurs.
Golden State sent a message to the Pacific Northwest tonight. "You guys are doing well considering who you are, but the difference between that and really doing well is so great that you can't envision jumping it. Go ahead and chant 'M.V.P.' and make yourselves happy, but at the end day ALL the hardware's coming here."
Here's what matters: Damian Lillard started the game 1-7 and finished it 5-19 for 17 points. His 4-9 shooting rate from range eases the pain of those numbers slightly but coming in 9 points shy of your season average when your team needs everything it can get isn't good. Similarly CJ McCollum went 6-15 for 18 points...not near enough. The two combined for 7 assists. Either one could exceed that on their own on a good night.
After that, nothing else mattered. Portland's starting lineup got slaughtered. The bench fared slightly better with Brian Roberts and Gerald Henderson having standout games. But Golden State fooled around plenty after that near-decisive first quarter so all positive numbers come with a grain of salt. Without the guards at the top of their games, it was like a bunch of guys in suits showing up to an office building that no longer existed.
Links and Such
Boxscore (Unless you have a fetish for league records, don't.)
The Blazers return home to face the Orlando Magic on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. That game could be tougher than it seems.