The Portland Trail Blazers fell to the Golden State Warriors 132-125 in Game 4 of their best-of-seven playoff series tonight. Defeat left them behind 3-1 with their hopes of victory dimming. The good news for Portland: despite the loss, they took the champs to overtime. The bad news: they led by 14 in the first period and held the advantage most of the game before succumbing to a tie score at the end of regulation. The game was in their grasp and they couldn't hold it.
The worse news: Stephen Curry. He's back.
Like 40 points, new-NBA-overtime-record back.
Curry changed everything in this game. Portland came into the extra period armed with their copy of Robert's Rules of Order, ready for a strident debate. The Warriors brought a bazooka. When the smoke cleared Curry had scored a record 17 points in OT, bringing his team an incredible victory. Portland walked off the floor knowing every footstep was carrying them towards the end of this series.
Some games cannot be explained in conventional terms. This was such an evening. The contest didn't unfold in quarters as much as epochs, each different from the others, most lasting a long age. Given the Biblical nature of the finish--and the hurting Curry put on the Blazers--we'll borrow inspiration where we can find it.
The First Era: Genesis
In the beginning the Blazers created an air of excitement across the Moda Center, darting out to a 16-2 lead behind three-pointers from Damian Lillard and Maurice Harkless, plus a few offensive rebounds. The Warriors didn't look very Warrior-esque, a trend which would continue through most of the evening. Their screens were limp, they watched rebounds and loose balls instead of claiming them, and they ran more iso sets than is their norm. It was as if the Blazers and Warriors had switched positions for the evening. It suited Portland well.
But no creation story is complete without The Fall. Tonight the part of the serpent was played by Steph Curry. After a playoff hiatus of two weeks, he slithered into the game at the 5:58 mark of the first period with his team down 14. Upon entering Curry proceeded to...well...miss shots. His first three-point attempt followed the arc of a DeAndre Jordan free throw and was just as successful. But his mere presence tempted the Blazers to look over their shoulders while defending. As Portland's formerly-stifling defense turned lukewarm, Golden State made a comeback. The Blazers still led 26-18 after one.
The Second Era: Leviticus
Thanks to the officiating crew of Scott Foster, Ed Malloy, and Tom Washington, the middle quarters of this game resembled the book of Leviticus almost exactly. They were full of legalism and head-scratching moments, they took forever to get through, and having been through them once the audience vowed to never...do that...again.
A huge portion of the teams' combined 66 free throws tonight were jammed into the second period. The constant barrage of missed called and bad calls disguised some good play. CJ McCollum scored big while Marresse Speights hit a couple of three-pointers. The Blazers continued to rebound and defend adequately, particularly Ed Davis. The free throw parade also disguised plenty of bad play. Both sides turned over the ball. The Blazers let the Warriors out on the break.
Good play or bad, the process took a loooooong time. Eyes rolled as the two-hour mark approached and the second half was barely beginning.
The Third Era: Chronicles
As the third quarter progressed the kingdom the Blazers had built early began to fall under the weight of their long-standing sins. Portland's guards couldn't get open for shots and their big men hesitated on inside attempts. Gerald Henderson proved a lone prophet, but his isolation offense wasn't enough to keep the world from crumbling around him as the long walk to exile began. Their former strength abandoned like Sampson's hair, Portland's defense failed to stop the invading army. Klay Thompson, heretofore silent, began to splash three-pointers. Draymond Green, unfocused most of the evening, blocked 4 shots from perpetually pump-faking Portland bigs. Just when they should have been mounting an offensive charge, the Blazers started turning over the ball like it was made of porcupines. As Golden State feasted on easy layups. Portland's 67-57 halftime lead morphed into an 86-85 deficit after three.
The Fourth Era: Acts of the Apostles
To their credit, the Blazers weren't done. They returned from exile early in the fourth quarter, ready for a fresh start full of unexpected miracles. CJ McCollum and Al-Farouq Aminu rose up for three-point swishes. Portland sniffed out Golden State's pattern of using Draymond Green up high to initiate every set, then started forcing turnovers of their own. Damian Lillard came on like the Apostle Paul spreading the gospel of BlazerMania to lands that had only heard rumors of it. He darted around the court, scoring from every country and nation. After posting an 18-point third period the Blazers put up a respectable 26 in the fourth. Golden State looked frazzled once more.
Until, alas, the old enemy appeared again.
As of the 4:35 mark of the fourth quarter, Steph Curry had not hit a three-pointer all game. Not one. While standing on the right sideline he passed up a three, then got chased off of a second look at it, before heaving up a desperation try on his third opportunity in the same possession. Naturally his most precarious attempt of the night went in. That opened the floodgates. Curry would hit a trademark 30-footer in the period plus a couple regular shots. All of a sudden this was a ballgame. Curry's final three of regulation made the score 107-106, Blazers with exactly two minutes remaining.
Lillard hit a short jumper the possession following, but Green answered with a dunk. The Moda Center came alive when Mason Plumlee hit a layup to push the score to 111-108 for the home team with 58 seconds remaining. One defensive stop could have sealed the win.
Looking over the brink, the Warriors called timeout and got the ball to Curry on the ensuing inbounds. He drove the lane then dished to the guy everybody expected...Harrison Barnes. (Yup. Harrison Barnes.) With the Blazers, the fans, Portland Police, their K-9 unit, the entire Hood-to-Coast Relay field, and the staff of Voodoo Doughnuts all packed in the lane to stop Curry from scoring, Barnes had a wide-open look at a three. He hit it, tying the score at 111. Neither Lillard nor Curry could hit their shots in the final 50 seconds and we were going to overtime.
The Final Era: Revelation
Here's what the Blazers had going for them heading into overtime:
1. Andrew Bogut had fouled out.
2. Shaun Livingston had been ejected in the second period for arguing against the horrible Law Bringers from the Leviticus Era (who had the good sense to swallow their whistles late, or all we'd be talking about after this game is them).
3. Draymond Green had 5 fouls.
4. Klay Thompson was doing fine, but his total lay in the low-20's, not the low-30's. He was embroiled in his shakiest and least effective offensive game of the series.
5. Lillard, McCollum, and Aminu had been shaky as well but they all got on a roll late.
6. Steph Curry had already played 32 minutes in a game where he was slated for maybe 20 because of his post-injury conditioning. He had to be gassed, right?
Here's what the Warriors had going for them heading into overtime:
1. Steph Curry existed.
And believe it or not, that's all they needed.
Take a look at this shot chart for overtime.
You've probably figured out that Portland's shots are represented on the right and the Warriors on the left of the chart. Except that's not the Warriors versus the Blazers. The chart is filtered. That's Steph Curry versus the Blazers in overtime. Curry hit 6 field goals, 3 triples, and scored 17 points in 5 minutes of play. Portland scored only 14 as a team.
Lo, he came from the clouds shining like the sun and the earth trembled before him. The people hid themselves in caves and cried for the mountains to fall on their heads.
There was no battle, no prolonged dialogue. It was just...over.
If you're a masochist or a Warriors fan, here's a look at Curry's layups, offensive rebounds, triples, and a nice shot of Curry making Al-Farouq Aminu look like he doesn't exist. You name it, he did it all in OT. Including win.
By the way, basketball fans, you just saw Jimi Hendrix play the national anthem. Remember it.— David Deckard (@DaveDeckard) May 10, 2016
You've just seen the heart of the game analysis on video. Curry couldn't have been any bigger. He watched the Blazers play his team incredibly tough, then he grabbed a microphone and said, "What are you gonna do, brother, when Currymania and the 14-inch pythons run wild on you?" As soon as he started lighting up it felt like the Warriors had been sandbagging all night just to bring the WWE comeback finish at the end. Whatever else his team failed at for 48 minutes didn't matter anymore. It just put his glory into sharper relief.
Portland did a couple things well tonight. They shot 38.5% from the arc. They secured 18 offensive rebounds and held the Warriors to 10. That said, inability to preserve a lead and close the game in regulation set up Curry's record-breaking performance. Consider:
1. 38.5% on threes is a far cry from the 57% rate they won Game 3 with. That number wasn't going to repeat, but the Blazers need eye-popping numbers to hang with Golden State. All the eye-popping belonged to Curry.
2. The Blazers allowed Golden State 42.5% from the arc.
3. They also allowed the Warriors to score 28 points on the break, which made holding the lead like trying to hold soup with a slotted spoon.
4. After making the Warriors mess up through most of the first half, Portland gave it all back by committing 18 turnovers against Golden State's 14. This was less carelessness than tightening up and predictability. The Blazers started getting tunnel vision on offense, leaving themselves hard shots with only one possible pass out. Golden State defended the shot and read the pass.
5. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum combined for 60 points but they did it on 18-53 shooting (34%). Curry and Thompson combined for 63 points on 23-50 (46%). Both teams' backcourts scored. Only one team defended.
Though Portland now trails the Warriors 3-1, the series is not over. Those who hoped the Blazers would tie it up at 2-2 then steal Game 5 in Oakland can still root for the next win. Realistically it would only prolong the end, not change it. All practical expectations of Portland advancing expired with this loss. But Game 4 was entertaining (minus the referee foibles). All the Blazers-Warriors matchups have been. Wishing for a couple more games instead of just one is hope well spent.
We'll keep these brief.
Damian Lillard scored 36. 13 of those points came from free throws, leaving him 23 points on 30 field goal attempts. He didn't look like he was getting full elevation on his shot. I'm not sure his physical condition is 100% at this point. But it's the playoffs. Steph Curry's isn't either. Lillard repeated his Game 3 feat of 10 assists.
CJ McCollum scored a respectable 24 but took 23 shots to do it. Sense a pattern?
Al-Farouq Aminu did his job, gathering in 13 rebounds and hitting 3 of 6 three-pointers. He made the Warriors pay when they left him.
Mason Plumlee had a huge night with 7 offensive rebounds, 15 total boards, and 12 points on 6-11 shots. He's still to tentative scoring around the bucket though. He looks like he's expecting to get fouled instead of just powering up and making people foul him in order to stop the devastation. He also committed 5 turnovers, as the Warriors have snuffed out that mid-key passing offense and elected to let Plumlee have anything except an open passing lane.
Moe Harkless played 17 minutes and hit 3-9 shot. This meant extra minutes for other wing players. To wit:
Allen Crabbe played 38 minutes and scored 13 on 5-9 shooting, 2-3 from the arc. He had some impressive defensive moments early but appeared to lose energy and footing as the game wound down.
Other than his brief moment of third-quarter clarity Gerald Henderson struggled, scoring 6 on 2-7 shooting.
Ed Davis also had a couple shining moments with 3 offensive rebounds and 3-3 shooting but he also had 4 personal fouls and 2 turnovers in 16 minutes.
Links and Such
Frame the Boxscore in which Curry scored 40 and broke an overtime record. Or burn it. Whichever.
Even if you don't want to relive this game, you can watch Shaun Livingston get ejected by an incompetent refereeing crew.
Golden State Of Mind will be ready to wipe their hands of this series soon.
The turn-around for Game 5 is quick. The Blazers and Warriors will face each other again Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. at Oracle Arena.