After defeating the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night, the Portland Trail Blazers had just 36 hours to clear their heads for a second-round matchup with the Golden State Warriors this afternoon at Oracle Arena. The Warriors brought a host of advantages into Game 1: experience, championship pedigree, 73 wins during the regular season, and playing on their home court. Their single disadvantage was huge. Leading scorer and presumptive League MVP Stephen Curry could not take the floor due to an MCL sprain.
As it turned out, neither Curry's absence nor Portland's ragged pluckiness played a role in the outcome of the game. Golden State wrapped up the Blazers from the opening tip and, despite occasional squirming, never let them anywhere near the victory. A fourth-quarter barrage from Damian Lillard made the final score look respectable but the Warriors still won by a dozen, 118-106, to take the early lead in the series.
With so many questions unanswered, anticipation filled the air as tipoff approached for Game 1. Then the ball went in the air and the Blazers set a new land-speed record for hole-burrowing. By the 6:00 mark of the first Portland trailed the Warriors 18-4. It was a the beginning of a series of matchup nightmares which would flow in waves across the next three quarters. Klay Thompson scored inside and out. Draymond Green passed around and over Portland defenders with ease. Worst of all, the Blazers couldn't secure rebounds, giving the Warriors second chances when their first were devastating enough. Golden State looked completely relaxed on offense; they could have balanced plates on their heads without breaking a one. When the Blazers managed to get a clear look at the bucket, which was rare, they rushed and missed.
The end of the first quarter brought a measure of redemption for Portland. Lillard scored in the lane and the second unit started getting control over the boards. A small comeback left the Blazers down 37-17 when the horn sounded.
Portland feasted on perimeter shots and rebounds as the second quarter commenced. Allen Crabbe made inroads from mid-range while Ed Davis set up camp at the rim. Behind their bench players Portland got the lead down to 10 with 4:00 remaining in the half. They would later cut it to 9 for a single possession. As the Warriors starters filtered back in the Blazers tried to counter with a small lineup. Problems persisted. Portland lost control of the glass, of the lane, of the arc, and then of the game once more. Golden State extended the lead back to 14, 65-51, as the first half came to a merciful end.
The second half echoed the first, just not quite as disastrously. Thompson had been Portland's major problem in the first two quarters; Green took over that role in the final two. Big lineup or small, the Blazers couldn't solve him. Meanwhile Portland's guards expended plenty of energy on offense but reaped little reward.
Gerald Henderson and Anderson Varejao got into a tete-a-tete late in the third quarter. They didn't stop jawing and both were ejected before the period ended. Davis ended up fouling out in the fourth quarter while Lillard racked up 3 triples and 2 layups to redeem his scoring average. It wasn't enough. A double-digit loss had been Portland's fate since the opening moments and nothing they did could avoid it. All of the second-half effort ended up frosting on a cake that just wouldn't rise.
The Warriors might be pretty good.
It's not just that they were good, but how that should concern the Blazers as they prepare for Game 2. 37 points from Klay Thompson isn't outside the realm of possibility. Letting him shoot 50% from the floor and the arc when he is clearly the main target for the defense--taking roughly 1/3 of Golden State's shots--is a problem. Draymond Green scoring 23 is expected. 11 assists alongside make those points sting more, 13 rebounds completing the triple-double more yet. But none of those stats compare to...
Green--4 offensive rebounds
Harrison Barnes--3 offensive rebounds
Andrew Bogut--3 offensive rebounds
Thompson--2 offensive rebounds
Plus the Warriors beat the Blazers 16-10 in overall offensive rebounding. That...cannot...happen. Portland's inability to finish their defense with rebounds turned a possibly-recoverable deficit into an irredeemable blowout.
The Blazers ended up doing several things right in this game. They hit only one less three-pointer than the Warriors and shot a similar percentage. They turned over the ball only 9 times. They ended up just -3 on free throw points despite getting dominated offensively. They generated 97 shots against 91 for Golden State and finished all but tied in assists. Despite intermittent frustration Portland even managed 46 points in the paint against 42 for the Warriors. In many ways this game was closer than it appeared.
Golden State's 47% clip from the field against 40% for the Blazers created an imbalance. 19 fast break points for the Warriors helped cement it. Those offensive rebounds created extra attempts for a Warriors offense already making more of their opportunities than Portland. That sealed the deal.
Obviously the Blazers will need to defend better in ensuing games. A little more poise on offense wouldn't hurt. Odds are they'll find opportunities to do so as the series ebbs and flows. But they need to take control of the boards immediately, claiming an advantage and using it as the platform from which to make their offensive and defensive improvements matter. Otherwise they'll be grasping at sand. Sure, they'll hold on to a portion, but Golden State's attack is a beach and they'll never contain it by clutching and hoping. They have to move the Warriors, not dance around them.
Damian Lillard finished the game with 30 points. His 10-10 rate from the line and 4-8 from the arc were impressive. 8-26 overall was less so. Other than 4 steals, he was mostly a non-factor for three quarters. His shots fell short and his drives varied wildly. He bore down in the final period but the surge was too much, too late.
If you want to circle Golden State's crowning achievement on defense, look no further than CJ McCollum with 12 points on 5-17 shooting, 0-4 from the arc. The Warriors put pressure on him, sometimes switching and sometimes trapping. CJ never looked comfortable and couldn't produce. That they also kept a lid on Lillard for most of the game was impressive, but it looks very much like the Warriors figure that cutting off one of Portland's two scoring guards will be enough to win them the series. McCollum proved the easier to shut down today.
Mason Plumlee made a mark on the boards with 12 total rebounds, 2 offensive. He also continued his center-court passing to the tune of 6 assists. 0-7 shooting took away some of his effectiveness. Also he wasn't able to keep his opponents off the glass. Golden State's starting frontcourt finished with 12, 12, and 13 rebounds...all equaling Plumlee's total.
Al-Farouq Aminu's three-pointer was falling today. He hit 3-8 from distance, a respectable 6-13 overall. The Blazers sent him chasing all manner of opponents on defense: big, little, and everything in between. It didn't work. Aminu wasn't the problem, per se, he just couldn't help stem the tide as everyone around him crumbled. If Aminu's defense isn't helping, his offense isn't going to make up for it no matter how many shots he attempts.
Moe Harkless was a similar story, except he shot 4-12 from the field, 1-5 from distance.
Most telling: Aminu 4 rebounds, Harkless 3. They spent plenty of time chasing on the perimeter, sure, but Golden State's starting forwards had as many offensive rebounds as Portland's forwards had total rebounds.
Allen Crabbe played well off the bench on offense. He missed all three of his three-point attempts but otherwise looked unfazed, hitting 6-9 shots overall and scoring 15 points with 3 assists in 34 minutes. He even managed 6 boards. That said, defense remains the most overrated aspect of his repertoire. The spirit is willing and the body follows sometimes, but his decision-making needs work.
Ed Davis had a monster game compared to everybody else. He hit 5-6 shots at the rim, and scored 11 points with 7 rebounds (3 offensive) plus 3 assists, all packed into 19 minutes of play. Also packed into 19 minutes of play: 6 personal fouls. Coach Stotts rode Davis as long as possible, even unto disqualification, because he and Crabbe were the only two players producing through their entire shifts.
Gerald Henderson had 3 assists and 5 points in 17 minutes of play. His isolation game isn't quite as valuable against smart and large Warriors defenders as it was against the permissive Clippers.
Links and Such
Instant Recap with more Game Flow details.
Excellent analysis of Golden State's use of screens by Dan Marang.
Golden State Of Mind will be OK with how this game went.
Game 2 is scheduled for Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. Pacific.