As the Portland Trail Blazers and Golden State Warriors prepare to face off in Game 1 of their best-of-seven series in the 2017 NBA Playoffs, let’s take a closer look at the numbers surrounding their regular season performances in aggregate and against each other.
How Golden State Fared Against Portland
The chart below shows the Warriors’ performance in several key offensive categories and their league-wide rank in each. The right-hand side of the chart shows Portland’s defensive performance and league rank in those same categories. The middle column shows actual results from the four head-to-head matchups this season.
In the Rank columns a number in green indicates the team is in the Top 10 in the league; a number in red indicates a Bottom 10 performance.
In the Change columns numbers in green show a sharp improvement head-to-head against the opponent, while red numbers indicate a sharp decline.
What’s the Story?
From a big-picture perspective the preponderance of green wins. It’s all on Golden State’s side. The Warriors are the best team in the league in points scored, fast break points scored, field goal percentage, assists, offensive efficiency, and True Shooting Percentage. They also rank 3rd in three-point field goal percentage. Their high pace slants some of those rankings northward but they’re still a serious powerhouse.
Portland’s defense, on the other hand, exhibits significant deficiencies. They’re near the bottom of the league in points allowed, three-point percentage allowed, free throws allowed, and turnovers forced. Their defensive efficiency isn’t great either.
The potential danger points come when a green number on the left side meets a red deficiency on the right. When these teams meet this happens in points scored, three-point percentage, free throw attempts, turnovers, and overall efficiency. You’d expect Golden State to blow away the Blazers in those areas.
Looking at the actual head-to-head results, the Blazers managed to contain Golden State a little at the three-point arc this year. They didn’t exactly stop Golden State but they didn’t let them go wild either. Since three-point shooting has been a vulnerable spot in Portland’s defense all year long, that’s a feather in their cap. But the Blazers allowed the Warriors an incredible overall percentage from the field, plus a ton of free throws. Those helped account for Golden State’s disgusting 125 ppg average against the Blazers. If preventing the opponent from scoring is the name of the game, the Blazers didn’t do it.
Portland’s two strengths on defense are preventing the opponent from attempting three-pointers and inhibiting assists. They met the Warriors in the middle in the former category, allowing them 2.3 fewer attempts from the arc than their average. That’s not enough. Unsurprisingly given the plethora of offensive talent the Warriors field, Portland was unable to put any kind of dent in their assist numbers. This highlights the big quandary for the Blazers in this series: if you concentrate on stopping one of Golden State’s offensive stars, what’s going to happen when they pass the ball?
How Portland Fared Against Golden State
Here’s the other side of the coin: Portland’s offense versus the Warriors defense.
What’s the Story?
Portland has a couple claims to fame. They rank high in points scored, three-point percentage, and three-point attempts. An issue: Golden State’s offense ranks higher in all three of those categories, so utility is limited. Nevertheless, the three-pointer remained a staple of Portland’s attack against the Warriors this season. They attempted more triples than average against Golden State. Despite the Warriors sporting the #1 three-point percentage defense in the league, the Blazers still hit them. That’s solid.
Golden State did well keeping the Blazers from scoring easy points in the paint or at the foul line. It’s worth noting that Jusuf Nurkic didn’t play in any of the four matchups. The Bosnian Beast may flip the script in the paint if he takes the floor...one of the few great hopes for Portland in this series.
Big picture, the Blazers did well enough against the Warriors offensively this season, just not well enough to overcome the hole dug by their defense.
Rebounding and Blocks
Here’s a chart of rebounding and blocks, simplified for ease. Head-to-head numbers yielded few surprises and are not included here.
What’s the Story?
The only real highlight here is Golden State’s prowess with blocked shots. Their defensive rebounding looks nice until you scan the percentage row and see it’s largely pace-oriented.
The huge caveat again: Nurkic has had an out-sized effect on all of these categories for the Blazers. If he plays, Portland’s averages will go up.
Golden State’s Stars
Here’s a look at how the Warriors’ top four players fared against Portland head-to-head this year.
Again, numbers in green show a significant rise in performances versus the Blazers compared to season averages; numbers in red show a significant decline.
Klay Thompson sticks out like a sore thumb here. The hero of last year’s playoffs has laid so many eggs against Portland this year that he’s been promoted to Adjunct Easter Bunny. He averaged 5 points shy of his season scoring numbers and his shooting percentages were closer to Al-Farouq Aminu than an All-NBA player.
Any gains from stifling Klay came at the cost of Kevin Durant posting enormous numbers from the field and Stephen Curry blistering the Blazers beyond the arc. For 0-4 Portland, this became equivalent of solving two sides of a Rubix Cube. Head pat, golf clap, still not close to winning.
Portland’s Top Players
Here are the Top 4 for Portland, with Aminu listed as the fourth because he’s likely to play a bigger role in this series than he did at the end of the regular season.
*Jusuf Nurkic did not play against the Warriors in a Portland uniform this year. Since the point of the chart is to see how players improved or faded versus a particular opponent, Nurkic’s numbers against the Warriors in two games for Denver are listed, compared with his overall Nuggets averages. As the Portland faithful will be quick to point out, he’s averaging 15 points and 10 rebounds as a Blazer, significantly higher than his regular-season numbers in the Mile High City.
If the Blazers got to Klay Thompson a little bit, the Warriors returned the favor in spades with Damian Lillard. It’s not shown in the chart, but they cut his field goal attempts from 20 to 16 per game. The results are readily apparent. Lillard shot slightly above his season averages against the Warriors but he scored significantly lower and his assists dropped.
Nurkic had no such trouble. Though his exposure in Denver was limited, he scored half again his season average against the Warriors while shooting an amazing 77% from the field.
Aside from shooting more threes, grabbing more rebounds, and (not listed) committing a few more turnovers, CJ McCollum remained steady against the Warriors. Meanwhile Aminu spent much of his time trying to be a credible three-point outlet for the offense with little success.
Despite their sterling defensive credentials, the Warriors aren’t automatically going to stop the Blazers. Then again, they’re not going to have to unless Portland can bop them in the nose and make them think twice on the other end.
The Blazers are going to have to answer three questions in order to change the probable outcome of the series:
- Will Nurkic play and if so, can he provide a critical advantage in the middle utterly lacking from Portland’s inside attack prior? If so, the Warriors could be vulnerable to paint play.
- Will Damian Lillard remain in this year’s slump head-to-head or will he return to Classic Dame form, punishing the Warriors like an MVP candidate?
- Can the Blazers continue to contain at least one Golden State guard without Durant going ultra-crazy on them? If the can keep Durant shooting deep jumpers they might have a chance; if he’s firing 60% from the field, whatever poison Portland picks will kill them.
The Last (and maybe biggest) Statistic
According to WhoWins.com the winner of Game 1 goes on to win 76.5% of NBA series. That number goes up to 85% when the home team is victorious. If the Blazers are going to have a credible shot at upsetting the Warriors, the outcome of the first game will be incredibly important. They need to come out fired up and take the fight to their hosts right away. If not, subsequent showings will likely prove decorations to soothe bruised egos during a long summer vacation.
This series commences from Oracle Center in Oakland on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. Pacific.
—Dave firstname.lastname@example.org / @Blazersedge / @DaveDeckard