Portland Trail Blazers (0-1) at (1-0)
Tuesday May 3, 2016
Oracle Arena | 7:45 p.m. PDT | Local TV/Radio: TNT; 620 AM
Portland injury report: Meyers Leonard (Out - Shoulder) | Golden State injury report: Kevin Looney (Out - Hamstring)
SBN Affiliate: Golden State of Mind
Under normal circumstances, Game 2 of an NBA playoff series is not a "must-win" for the road team, even if they're already trailing 1-0. The lower seed could still return home, win Games 3 and 4 in their own arena and make it a three-game series heading into Game 5.
Unfortunately for the Portland Trail Blazers, they are not playing under normal circumstances in their Western Conference semifinals series against the Golden State Warriors. If they lose Game 2 tonight, the series will be all but over, barring another spate of injuries to the opponent.
The reason tonight's contest is a "must-win"?: Stephen Curry.
The Warriors' star player, reigning and presumptive NBA MVP, missed Game 1 of the series with a sprained MCL, suffered against the Houston Rockets in the opening round of the playoffs. Unfortunately for the Blazers, Curry has sounded optimistic about returning for Game 3 on Saturday at the Moda Center. Assuming that timeline is correct, it will be nearly impossible for the Blazers to win four of the remaining five games against the Warriors, thereby necessitating a win tonight.
Curry's on-court impact for the Warriors this season has been massive - he's had singularity levels of "gravity" and totally disrupted defenses all season. His effect has been measurable: With Curry off the court this season, the Warriors have an offensive rating of 105.9 and a defensive rating of 107.7. With Curry on the court the Warriors have an ORTG of 119.5 and a DRTG of 101.4. That's a 20-point swing per 100 possessions.
Given the massive swing in effectiveness without Curry, the Blazers have to be disappointed with their Game 1 performance. Riding high after four consecutive wins against the Los Angeles Clippers, the Blazers went into Game 1 in Oakland optimistic they could be competitive with Golden State. Instead, the Warriors jumped out to a 20-point lead in the first quarter and cruised to an easy victory. The Blazers never cut the lead to less than nine all game and never mounted a serious threat.
Much of the Blazers struggles in Game 1 can be traced back to their starting backcourt of CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard, who combined for a respectable 42 points, but shot only 13-43 from the field.
For Lillard, poor shooting has been a disturbing trend this offseason. He shot only 36 percent from the field against Los Angeles in the first round and struggled mightily against the Clippers' defensive traps in the games Chris Paul played. Lillard has shot well from outside over the last three games, converting on 48 percent of his attempts (13-27), but he is shooting an absolutely putrid 27.5 percent on 2-pointers over the same span.
By contrast, after a poor performance against the Clippers in the opening game of the playoffs, McCollum rebounded in Games 2-6 to score 23.2 points a night on 48 percent shooting. Impressively, he also averaged six free throws per game despite setting NBA records for low free throw rate during the regular season. McCollum thrived in Games 2-6 against the trapping Clippers defense, using his stellar ballhandling to weave through traffic and score in the midrange hole of the defense as DeAndre Jordan hung back in the lane to block shots. McCollum struggled against the Warriors in the first meeting of the Western Conference semis, however, converting only 5-of-17 field goal attempts.
Blazers coach Terry Stotts adjusted well to the Clippers' defensive trapping in the first round, using Mason Plumlee as a de facto point guard to get Lillard and McCollum cleaner looks off the ball. Stotts will need to make similar adjustments against the Warriors to spring his starting backcourt. The Warriors, however, play an entirely different type of defense than the Clippers. Rather than trapping, they're are capable of switching nearly every matchup on the court. With Shawn Livingston starting in place of Curry, they have extra length and defensive mobility at every position, facilitating the assignment swaps. This defensive philosophy is the complete opposite of what the Blazers faced against the Clippers.
On the other side of the ball, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green caused major headaches for the Blazers in Game 1. Portland's had trouble fighting through screens and sticking with shooters all season, and the Warriors took full advantage of that, repeatedly getting Thompson open looks on Sunday. Golden State's shooting guard opened the game with 18 points in the first quarter. The Blazers had only 17.
Green also torched the Blazers, finishing with 23 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists. During the regular season, much of Green's playmaking prowess came as a result of Curry's gravity. Curry would force a double team and then find Green on the perimeter - the Warriors point forward would then exploit the 4-on-3 advantage created by the double on Curry and whip a pass to the open man. Green proved on Sunday that he has playmaking skills with or without Curry, repeatedly finding open shooters despite playing 5-on-5.
Keys to the game:
Don't fall behind early: The Warriors often jump out to big leads in the first quarter. They lead the league in scoring margin for the opening frame (+5.2). For context, no other team has a scoring margin greater than +3.1 in ANY quarter. The Warriors' early blitzes often sink opponents for the rest of the game, as the Blazers found out on Sunday. Portland must stay with Golden State at the beginning of the game to have a chance tonight.
Green and Thompson vs. Lillard and McCollum: Players 3-13 for both teams were more or less a mix of below average to competent (except on the boards) in Game 1, with neither side decisively outplaying the other. The Blazers will need their stars to match Golden State's stars to stay in the game.
Rebounding: In Game 1, the Warriors collected 16 offensive rebounds and out-rebounded the Blazers by 15 total. It's virtually impossible to win against a high-octane offense like the Warriors if you lose the rebounding battle by that margin. The Blazers must give up any attempts at fastbreaks and put a body on every Warrior on the defensive glass. They cannot win if Golden State's frontcourt holds a 37-19 rebounding edge.
Terry Stotts: This series will test the limits of Terry Stotts' coaching prowess. The Warriors' "switch everything" defense mitigates a number of Portland's off-ball tricks that usually spring players for back-door layups, and Thompson is exactly the type of player the Blazers don't have the personnel to contain. Can Stotts find some way to adjust?