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CJ McCollum Catches Fire but Warriors Burn Brighter

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Portland’s shooting guard made his All-Star bid look credible but the All-Star Team from the Bay proved too much to handle.

Portland Trail Blazers v Golden State Warriors Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

The Portland Trail Blazers are a work in progress. The Golden State Warriors are a generational super-team the likes of which may never be seen again. Golden State suited up healthy as they faced Portland tonight. The Blazers took the floor in Oakland without team leader Damian Lillard. Like a little brother going to the park with the big kids, the Blazers wanted to show they weren’t afraid and give everything they had, win or lose. The surprise was not that the Blazers lost, but how close they came to winning. CJ McCollum dropped 35 points to carry his team. Absent Lillard, it wasn’t quite enough to overcome Steph Curry and Kevin Durant’s combined 65 points. The Blazers gave their all until the final moments but still fell 125-117.

Game Flow

In case you weren’t aware, the Warriors added former MVP Kevin Durant in the off-season. This isn’t the rich get richer, this is like Japan agreeing to become the 51st State. Every bit of globe-changing good stuff was on display early in this game as Durant, Curry, and Draymond Green hit early threes. Portland overcame initial shell shock, responding in kind with a close-range flurry from Mason Plumlee and a pair of threes from Allen Crabbe and Maurice Harkless. McCollum picked up from there, knifing, driving, slashing, and shooting from all over the floor. He led his team to 34 in the first quarter.

Despite a continued aggressive approach on defense, the Blazers couldn’t contain the Warriors. Solid effort got dissected by a truly fantastic offensive execution. Scoring 34 is great, but when you give up 40 in the process the victory is moral.

The second quarter continued along the same vein with McCollum hitting from everywhere while Durant and company drained three-pointers like Slurpees. The Blazers continued pressuring the Warriors, forcing turnovers and getting easy opportunities but the Warriors returned the favor, nullifying any edge. Portland put on a show as the half closed, an Allen Crabbe dunk tying the score at 59 a piece with 2:47 remaining. Portland would push the lead to as much as 8 before a Durant 4-point play and a Curry lay up would close it to two in the closing seconds. The scoreboard read 71-69 at the break.

As is typical of talented, veteran teams, the Warriors stopped messing around as the second half commenced. A dunk, another dunk, a layup, a three-pointer, and another lay up at the start of the third established a lead Golden State wouldn’t relinquish the rest of the evening. After 26 first half points from McCollum, the Warriors paid extra special attention to him, doubling, trapping and forcing him away from the hoop. They dared anyone else to beat them. It was a good move. The only points McCollum would register in the period came off a pair of free throws. At the end of the third, Warriors led 99-92.

The Warriors continued to shadow McCollum in the fourth. All the extra attention seemed to wear him down. He tried to will the team back into the game but was only able to shoot 3-for-9 from the field while turning the ball over twice when the Warriors trapped him in the corner. To their credit, the Blazers resisted wilting on defense and they played the Warriors to a standstill until closing time. Golden State went on a rampage in the final minutes. A Curry three from the corner with 3:09 left left the score 118-107 and essentially clinched the game. A few traded baskets remained beforethe final buzzer rang out, leaving the scoreboard at 125-117, Warriors.

Analysis

Golden State’s 125 points don’t reflect Portland’s active defense all game long. They harassed shooters, closed out on drives, and forced the opponent to make the extra pass every time.

The problem is the Warriors are built to make the extra pass. It’s like forcing bacon to be tasty. Each pass found another Warrior sitting in his comfort zone ready to catch and shoot or attack. Behold the shot chart:

Golden State doesn’t care about all those red X’s at the three-point arc. The aggregate number of green-circled points makes them impossible to contain. Portland forced them off their spots but the Warriors had too many secondary spots to choose from. When the Blazers took away Options 1-3 (and they did), Golden State scored with options 4-137.

Portland tonight showed that they have the capacity to play aggressive defense AND score. That’s a step in the right direction. Perhaps they can turn things around in the new year if they can continue to build on their performances over the past two weeks.

Individual Notes

CJ McCollum did everything he could tonight, but the extra burden of a Lillard-less offense was too much to bear for 48 minutes. After 26 first half points on 10-19 shooting, CJ was held to 9 points on 3-12 shooting in the second half. 35 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists show he left it all on the floor.

Mason Plumlee acquitted himself well against Golden State and Draymond Green tonight. A key cog in the Blazers new aggressive defensive approach, Plumlee was all over the floor. He contested well at the rim, showed, rotated, and recovered, then gave Portland a fighting chance by cleaning the boards. Offensively he was the secondary playmaker, setting up numerous plays to the hoop with a diverse array of passes. His final stat line: 16 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals.

Allen Crabbe gets the final big time nod tonight. With Lillard out someone needs to step into the shot void. Crabbe didn’t hesitate at all tonight, gunning from inside and out and even throwing down one of the fiercest dunks of his young career. He filled the role of playmaker in pick and rolls, dropping 5 assists to go along with 18 points. He also played some great defense on Klay Thompson.

Meyers Leonard played good interior defense, worked to establish position down low on switches, and had a couple of isolation plays against Curry that saw Curry give up the ball after he couldn’t get by.

Shabazz Napier continues to bask in the spotlight whenever it comes his way. A couple of nice drives to the rim, a knockdown three, and some pesky defense highlighted his evening.

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