With a full day of processing under our belts, it’s time for final reflections on the Portland Trail Blazers’ 110-81 loss to the Golden State Warriors in Game 2 of their best-of-seven playoffs series. You’d think a blowout like this should be put to bed early, but gems and opportunities for clarity remain. Let’s dig in.
Want the story in a nutshell? Here you go:
Steph Curry...19 points
Klay Thompson...16 points
Kevin Durant...0 points
Trail Blazers lose by 30.
There’s no way to get around the magnitude of those numbers. The Blazers got a golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s factory and went full-on Augustus Gloop. If Portland can’t win when Golden State’s guards shoot 34% and Durant doesn’t play, under what conditions can they win?
But forget winning. They barely got within 30 on a dream-outcome night.
Everything said, thought, or written about this game and the series from now on has to flow through that filter. It rips away the disguise, revealing how deep Portland’s issues run. This isn’t cosmetic, it’s the foundation.
The Coach Was Scrambling, But Not at Fault
As the game drifted through the middle quarters and Portland’s plight became evident, the look on Head Coach Terry Stotts’ face was familiar. He was the spitting image of Hall-of-Famer Jack Ramsay prowling Portland’s sidelines in the early ‘80s. After Bill Walton got injured and departed the team, Ramsay was forced to weave patchwork rotations out of decent, but mismatched rosters. Some nights it worked; others he spent pushing the substitution button until it fell off the panel. That’s how Stotts looked last night: desperately searching for a combination that would turn the tide only to watch each get swamped by ensuing waves.
Coaching wasn’t the issue in Game 2. For the most part, the Blazers got the shots they wanted...the open and/or close-in looks the system is supposed to give them. The coach can design an offense that provides those opportunities. The coach cannot hit the shots. For all the good looks, the Blazers still shot 33% overall, 21% from distance, and got 11 attempts blocked.
The quintet of Al-Farouq Aminu, Moe Harkless, Allen Crabbe, Meyers Leonard, and Evan Turner have taken turns bearing the shooting and scoring load for the supporting cast throughout the year. Last night they combined to shoot 3-19 from distance. If four of those shots were contested, I’ll eat a Lakers jersey. The utter lack of punch and marksmanship from secondary scorers allowed the Warriors to focus on Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum while still sparing defenders to watch the lane.
The Warriors are great defenders but their job was way too simple. No game plan or chain of substitutions could have overcome the Grand-Canyon-sized hole in Portland’s scoring attack.
Contested Shots Can’t Fall Forever
When fellow Blazer’s Edge writer Eric Griffith and I were discussing Portland’s set-up before Game 2, we agreed on one thing: the evening had serious potential for disaster. The weaknesses in Portland’s offense had evidenced themselves in Game 1 but they’d been covered up by phenomenal performances from Lillard and McCollum via an unconscionable number of contested shots hit. At some point those percentages were going to come back to earth.
Lillard shot 5-17 in Game 2, missing all his three-point attempts. McCollum shot 4-17, hitting a single three-pointer. Between them they attempted only 4 free throws. We have splashdown.
The best parts of Portland’s Game 1 performance weren’t sustainable; only the worst parts endured. It wasn’t pretty but it wasn’t abnormal either.
Back to Basics
It’s worth noting that some of Portland’s issues weren’t specific to the Golden State matchup, but lay in the realm of Basketball 101. When you field a lineup containing no players taller than 6’8”, rebounding is likely to be an issue. It’s no accident that JaVale McGee looked like a fifth star in Golden State’s lineup. His reach cleared everyone else’s by a foot. But it’s not like the conventional Blazers lineups did better. This is the essential problem: any combination of five Portland players results in a weakness that’s relatively easy to pick apart.
Yes, Jusuf Nurkic would help solve that. No, he hasn’t arrived yet.
Not an Effort Issue
One of the least fair criticisms I heard whispered after Game 2 was that the Blazers weren’t ready to play, weren’t giving it their all. The Big Book of Basketball Emotions says that losing after such a mighty effort in Game 1 could create a fatalistic let-down in the second meeting. Some of that may have hovered at the fringes, but overall Portland looked just as committed and alert in Game 2 as they did in the opening contest. They moved the ball. They stuck defenders in front of opponents. They just weren’t big enough or skilled enough for those things to make a difference. I can put the mightiest effort possible into lifting a motor home. That doesn’t mean it’s going to work, nor that the result will look good.
The effort explanation is a canard, insulting to both teams. You can make up a half-dozen points by playing harder. Unless you literally took a nap on the court, there’s no way to effort yourself into 29 or more.
Game 3 commences Saturday night at 7:30 pm, Pacific in Portland.