The Portland Trail Blazers got some good news heading into Game 2 of their playoff series against the Golden State Warriors: Kevin Durant would be sitting out with a calf injury. Durant’s absence would, theoretically, give the Blazers a puncher’s chance of evening up the series.
The Warriors, however, rallied together to thoroughly outclass the Blazers, despite Durant’s absence. Golden State dominated the paint all night on both ends and cruised to an easy 110-81 victory. Both team’s starting backcourts played poorly, but the Warriors got more help from the supporting cast for a second consecutive game. Javale McGee, especially, made a difference by grabbing multiple alley-oop buckets over smaller defenders on his way to 15 points on 7-for-7 shooting.
The Warriors had a definite plan coming out of the gate. They kept as close as a starched shirt to CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard. They also defended the lane, using Draymond Green like an intercept fighter swooping in to eradicate Portland dribble drives. Everything else they just let go. This left Portland’s forwards on the perimeter attempting three point shots. They missed.
Golden State’s early attempts from distances also sprayed off the rim, but I bet you can guess which one of those situations remedied itself first. Between 8:49 and 7:26 of the first period—about a minute and 20 seconds—the score went from 9-4, Portland to 9-15 in favor of Golden State. Lillard kept the Blazers afloat with nifty drives but he couldn’t stop the quarter from crumbling like an over-baked cookie. Golden State hitting threes freed up the heretofore-struggling Klay Thompson from mid-range. Thompson hitting from 19 feet freed up the paint. When the Warriors starting scoring at the rim they blew the game wide open. Portland committing turnovers instead of forcing them as they had in Game 1 proved the icing on the cake. The Warriors led 33-17 after one. The moral of the story: dunks beat contested jumpers and three-pointers just make it worse.
The second period began with the Blazers playing small ball and getting their hats handed to them (then jammed down their throats) on the boards. McCollum and Allen Crabbe hit a couple of mid-range shots but the effect paled as Golden State used the rim like their own personal vending machine.
Portland would bear down in the middle minutes Rebounds came easier as the Warriors missed a raft of jumpers. Unfortunately Portland’s longer-range attack matched theirs blow for pathetic blow. The Blazers pulled close off of a few drives, prompting Golden State to abandon the distance attack and resume their layup-fueled symphony. Portland ended up +7 in the period but the score still read 55-46, Warriors at intermission. If the Blazers could have hit more threes or curbed their propensity for turning over the ball, they might have been tied or ahead.
The wheels fell off for the Blazers in the third quarter. The teams opened up trading buckets in the lane. Portland would make good there, scoring 10 in the period. But they made only one (1) bucket outside of the paint all quarter long. After taking a moment to warm up again, Golden State proceeded to drain five (5) three-pointers in the frame. That amounted to a 15-2 Warriors advantage outside the lane. Golden State scored more on threes than the Blazers scored total in the period. The Warriors led 83-58 after three.
Final Score: Warriors 110, Blazers 81
Watch this. You’ll feel better about sports and life in general.
The Warriors are not worried about the Blazers. They made that clear before tonight’s game even began, framing the decision to rest Durant as a precautionary measure. Normally, “precautionary” rest is employed on a Tuesday night in January - not during the playoffs. But the Blazers did nothing to make the Warriors pay for the hubris of sitting Durant.
For a second consecutive game, Curry and Thompson were largely ineffective - combining for only 35 points on 34 percent shooting. But Lillard and McCollum were even worse, scoring only 23 points on 26 percent shooting. With Durant out, and the backcourts ineffective, attention turned to the supporting casts. And Golden State’s role players outplayed Portland’s decisively, once again.
The most obvious impact came from McGee and Zaza Pachulia. The Warriors’ centers dominated the paint, combining to shoot a perfect 11-for-11 from the field and score 23 points in only 25 minutes of action through three quarters. With Jusuf Nurkic still nursing a leg injury, the Blazers were powerless to stop either big man. The Warriors also held a clear advantage on the glass, outrebounding the Blazers 30-22 in the decisive first and third quarters. Blazers coach Terry Stotts tried numerous smallball lineups, many with Al-Farouq Aminu at center, but no combination could gain a foothold inside.
Defensively the Warriors smothered the Blazers by daring Portland to shoot open 3-pointers. Every player not named McLillard was left open repeatedly on the perimeter so that Golden State could pack the lane and swarm Lillard and McCollum if they penetrated. They were hellbent on stopping another 75-point outburst from the Blazers’ dynamic duo. And it worked - the non-Lillard/McCollum Blazers shot only 6-for-27 from deep, allowing the Warriors’ defenders to camp out in the lane.
The Blazers also committed numerous atrocious turnovers on the perimeter. The Warriors’ length often forces mistakes, but the Blazers were especially out of sync tonight. Sixteen turnovers through three quarters on a night when shots aren’t falling isn’t going to get the job done. The result was a lot of sequences like this:
To make matters even worse, after playing solidly in Game 1, the Blazers defense regressed to its early season form. The Warriors scored repeatedly on backdoor cuts and extra passes. Some of the plays were just solid offense, but on many occasions Portland was caught sleeping:
Overall, tonight’s game was a major step backward for the Blazers after a promising Game 1. They’ll look to get back on track in Portland on Saturday night. No team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit in NBA history, so Game 3 is a true “must win” for the Blazers.
Damian Lillard couldn’t get anything going tonight. He tried to play distributor, at times, but the Warriors’ defense clogging the paint wouldn’t allow Lillard’s teammates to get involved. Lillard had one particularly rough sequence in which he walked down court and jacked a 30-footer early in the clock that missed badly. Curry grabbed the rebound and ran down court, immediately hitting his own 30-footer.
CJ McCollum couldn’t find his shot tonight. His defense also regressed to its midseason form after looking particularly good last game.
Maurice Harkless brought some energy on his way to 15 points and 8 rebounds. He shot only 5-for-14, though, and was mostly quiet in the second half.
Evan Turner looked good in the first half (7 assists!) but less good in the second half. He did play nice defense on Curry at times.
Allen Crabbe missed all five of his 3-pointers. Despite Crabbe’s reptuation as a shooter, the Warriors were leaving him as open from deep as Harkless and Turner. He simply has to knock down shots for Portland to have ANY chance.
Al-Farouq Aminu and Noah Vonleh were largely non-factors. Neither player looked particularly good.
Meyers Leonard had an embarrassing shift in the first half - Blazers coach Terry Stotts pulled him after only 22 seconds when he surrendered an easy alley-oop to McGee.