The Portland Trail Blazers fell to the Golden State Warriors 110-99 in the second game of their Western Conference playoff series tonight. The outcome was less of a surprise than the fact that the Blazers led through three quarters of the game. Portland accumulated a sparkling 18-point advantage only to watch the Warriors march through the fourth quarter like a whirlwind through a feather factory. They outscored the Blazers by an amazing 34-12 margin, taking both the game and a 2-0 series lead in convincing fashion.
The Trail Blazers came out playing hard, playing brilliantly. They might as well have blown a trumpet announcing it was their night when Al-Farouq Aminu hit a pair of three-pointers in the first period. Those were the icing on a cake made of fine board work and aggressive transition basketball. The Blazers didn't just clean up their rebounding problem from Game 1, they polished that glass until it shone. Every quick Portland score gave the Warriors less incentive to hang around underneath their own basket, making the job easy. Before the game was two minutes old the Blazers were pressuring on the defensive perimeter, scooping up unopposed rebounds, and barreling down the floor. Aminu scored 10 in the period. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum both hit quality shots. A few turnovers near the end of the quarter provided the only blemish on a 34-21 drubbing in Portland's favor.
The Blazers kept rebounding and running as the second period commenced but they were forced to go with a smaller lineup for the sake of preserving energy. Not only had they been pushing tempo on offense, they'd been chasing Klay Thompson around the perimeter on the other end. Mason Plumlee couldn't spend 48 minutes doing that and Ed Davis had limited utility outside the lane. Smaller defenders were required. As the quarter progressed, Golden State wore down those defenders, scoring copiously in the paint. The lane would prove fertile ground for them for the remainder of the game. Worse, Golden State's small lineup punished Portland's offense by getting hands in passing lanes and forcing the Blazers to dribble rather than finding open men for easy buckets. The margin crept ever closer until the Blazers ripped off an 8-0 as the half neared its close. Portland led 59-51 at the break.
Portland's defense continued to allow easy points in the lane in the third period. For a while it looked like Golden State would make their comeback on layups and dunks alone. But Lillard made sure that no matter how many points the Warriors put up, the Blazers maintained distance. Lillard scored 14 in the period from a variety of ranges. He and McCollum torched overplaying perimeter defenders by sliding past screens or simply stepping inside the arc where defenders were scarce. Their mid- and long-range games were in high gear. This trend towards the perimeter would end up costing the Blazers in the fourth, but for one, glorious quarter it looked like they'd found the magic bullet to put the Warriors away. Portland took the third period 28-25 and led 87-76 heading home.
Sadly, like Robert Frost, the Blazers had many miles to go before they slept. And the Warriors whacked them with switches and branches every step of the way...so much that when they emerged from the forest they were barely recognizable.
Golden State opened the fourth period with a 6-0 run. During Lillard's early-quarter rest turnovers abounded for the Blazers. Even after he returned Portland's shots and passes became predictable. Golden State took full advantage. As the Warriors crept closer the Blazers tightened up. Scorers telegraphed their moves, never reversing the ball and seldom moving left or right. Straight line drives into traffic yielded semi-embarrassing shots. Portland's spacing was about as good as that between Ted Cruz and his wife:
Ted Cruz accidentally punches, elbows his wife in the face after dropping out of the GOP race pic.twitter.com/l6uYiX4mKB— GIF The News (@NowThisGIF) May 4, 2016
The results were about the same too.
When the Blazers did pass the ball around, it inevitably ended up in the hands of a frontcourt player...all of whom appeared to go on strike at the same time. The shots were open; they just didn't want to shoot them. When they did fire, they shot hesitantly. The resulting misses created a shame spiral feedback loop. Before long Lillard was the only viable scoring option. As soon as he put the ball on the floor, three Warriors collapsed on him.
Festus Ezeli and Draymond Green both played quality fourth-quarter minutes. Their speed allowed the Warriors to cut off penetration on one end, then occupy Plumlee, Moe Harkless, and company on the other. Portland's bigs had to stay home on everybody lest they give up quick dunks. This left the heretofore under-performing Thompson single-covered on the perimeter. Suddenly he wasn't under-performing anymore. Golden State's perimeter shooting revived, now matching their inside game.
Watching the Warriors score 34 in the period was bad. Watching them hold the Blazers to a dozen points was infinitely worse. That all of this happened after three of the best quarters Portland has registered in the playoffs was crushing. It was as if the Scooby Doo gang ripped the mask off the monster only to discover IT WAS A REALLY BIG SNAGGLETOOTHED RABID SUPER MONSTER. Run, kids! Get to the Mystery Machi...too late. The Warriors' custodial crew will be mopping bits of Scooby off of the logo until Game 5.
Portland's first-half rebounding was great. Their transition game was superb. Their three-point shooting was excellent (13-30, 43%) and they held the Warriors to 8-24 from beyond the arc (33%). So many things went beautifully in this game.
But the seeds of defeat crept in following the glorious start. Defense in the paint was a chronic problem. Golden State scored 56 in the lane...out of character for them but by no means bad. The shots were so easy they couldn't help but take them. Turnovers plagued the Blazers throughout; they committed 17 in the game and gave up 21 points after.
Most of all, the Blazers got predictable and slow in the fourth period. Golden State came out determined to clamp down and they did. They're the World Champs and deserve credit. Their vise-like defense took over this game. The Blazers aided them by getting tunnel-vision. The Warriors sniffed out penetration and collapsed, then dared the Blazers to make a shot with anybody but Lillard. They stuffed Plumlee down a hole, kept Harkless away from the rim, let Aminu shoot, and fenced off McCollum from the ball. Portland's offensive choices became Lillard, Plumlee frantically looking for passes that weren't there, or forwards with suddenly-shaking hands attempting jumpers. With 2-3 Warriors packed inside on most plays, the Blazers never got a sniff of an offensive rebound either. They passed up shots, shot against the clock...everything that had once blossomed now withered.
It's worth mentioning again that Ezeli and Green gave the Blazers fits in the fourth. Ezeli's mobility allowed the Warriors to watch the lane no matter where Plumlee or shorter centers roamed. Mason was a complete non-factor in the period. Green carved apart the Blazers with his offense and freed up Thompson for the nightmare finish. Big bigs didn't succeed against the Blazers in this game but mobile bigs sure did.
The Blazers fired all their guns at the Warriors tonight and hit with most of their rounds. The caliber wasn't big enough to stop them. Eventually the Blazers ran out of ammo. Meanwhile Golden State ran out the tank in the fourth as Portland dove into the foxhole and hoped things wouldn't turn out as bad as they looked. They did. That's that.
Portland will reload before Game 3 and hope that homecourt advantage gives them enough of a boost to penetrate the Warriors' armor. If tonight was any indication, the Blazers should be able to win at least one at home. But superior teams have been winning like the Warriors won tonight from time immemorial. The same, "Played well, nice try" script that brings hope of a win or two for Portland will also become the writing on the wall. If the Blazers play like this against the Warriors they'll have no reason to hang their heads. They'll also have no clear path to winning the series. They have to hope something changes radically over the next two games. If they don't redefine this matchup quickly, they're not going to be happy with the ending.
After a brilliant start and a glistening third period Damian Lillard faded into an 8-20 performance. Don't let those numbers fool you. He shot 6-11 from distance, scored 25, and was completely Lillardish for most of the game. His 25 points tonight were far superior to his 32 on Sunday. I loved this game for him up until the fourth. When things fell apart, he had nowhere to bail out. That effectively ended his run and the game.
CJ McCollum drafted behind Lillard for a 9-19, 22-point performance. He was masterful in making the Warriors play for being too aggressive on individual perimeter defense. He got into open space and scored effectively.
Mason Plumlee started the game strong but declined steadily until an abysmal fourth period sent him packing. He was quite effective against Andrew Bogut and Green, less so as his opponents got quicker. When the Warriors collapsed into the lane in the fourth, it spelled his doom. He dished 4 assists but committed 6 turnovers. He wasn't able to keep his counterparts out of the lane as the game progressed. It turned out to be less than his finest outing.
Al-Farouq Aminu hit 3-5 three-pointers, 5-10 shots overall, and scored 14 points against 4 turnovers. His shooting boosted the Blazers early. His defense did the same. The "click, click" as the Blazers fired in the fourth came largely from Aminu and Harkless.
Speaking of Maurice Harkless, he scored 11 on 4-11 shooting but helped defend the perimeter well in the first half. Interior defense was another matter. But truly, the Blazers inverted enough tonight that you could pin their interior defensive woes on overmatched guards as much as overmatched forwards. When you send Harkless and Aminu out on Thompson (good moves), who's minding the store?
Gerald Henderson had a great offensive night, shooting 5-9, 2-4 from range, and scoring 12. A dozen points being a "great offensive night" tells you all you need to know about Portland's bench. Henderson also committed 3 turnovers.
Allen Crabbe hit both of his shots. He only attempted 2 in 20 minutes. He did have 3 assists though.
Ed Davis grabbed 5 rebounds and blocked 2 shots in 15 minutes but this doesn't seem like his series. He's not quite big enough to shove around Golden State bigs, not comfortable getting around the floor enough to watch smaller opponents, and not skilled enough on offense to keep his man from camping out in the paint waiting for rebounds or blocked shots. Ed's great, just not as effective against Golden State unless he has a monster rebounding night.
Links and Such
The Blazers get a couple days to recoup before facing the Warriors again in Game 3 on Friday night.