With one quarter to play in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals, the Portland Trail Blazers held an 11-point lead over the Golden State Warriors. Twelve minutes later, they lost by the same margin. It is not at all easy to win in The Oracle arena—only two team have done so since the Warriors won the 2015 NBA championship—but the Blazers came close. That fourth quarter meltdown notwithstanding, they played excellent basketball.
The Blazers hope to replicate their early success in the upcoming third game of the series back in Portland. Down 0-2, it is more important now than ever that they recognize what went right while addressing what went wrong. Head coach Terry Stotts is mindful of both ends of the spectrum.
"I think that you have to evaluate how much you actually want to change, because of the good basketball we played for a long stretch." Stotts said. "We made some mistakes defensively that gave them some opportunities and some momentum. Offensively, I think we still have to screen better, make better decisions when we get into the paint, and space a little bit better."
The Warriors’ late-game defensive pressure exacerbated those offensive issues, exposing for perhaps the first time in a long time, a certain desperation in the Blazers. Rushed shots, bad passes, and overall poor decision making defined Portland’s play down the stretch. Save for a too-little-too-late layup from CJ McCollum in the final seconds, their last made field goal came with over five minutes left to play. They were almost completely shut down, outscored 34-12 in the fourth quarter.
Fortunately, that fateful fourth can be considered an outlier. The Blazers were in control for the vast majority of the game, leading from start to near-finish and even outpacing the Warriors from three. Taking defensive assignments in shifts, Maurice Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu, Gerald Henderson, and Allen Crabbe harassed Klay Thompson into just 7-20 shooting despite a point total of 27. The Blazers did a lot right, and they know it.
"Every adjustment we made from Game 1 to Game 2 really made a difference in that game." Said point guard Damian Lillard. "I thought we played a great three and a half quarters, then for the last five or six minutes of the game we just loosened up. We didn’t execute the way we had been the entire game, we didn’t move the ball the way we had the entire game, we didn’t defend the way that we did for the first three and a half quarters and they made us pay for it."
With a few minor tweaks, the Blazers likely have at least one more chance to pay them back before the return of reigning MVP Stephen Curry turns their game plan on its head. A winning formula is within the Blazers’ reach if they can keep their composure. Game 3 tips off in Portland at 5:30 p.m. PDT, Saturday, May 7.