The Portland Trail Blazers’ 2016-17 season ended on a dour note at the Moda Center on Monday night. Portland’s opponent, the Golden State Warriors, hit their absolute apex in the first quarter, jumping out to a 45-22 advantage. The Warriors cruised from there to a 128-103 victory, easily completing a 4-0 sweep over the Blazers.
Damian Lillard was the lone bright spot for the Blazers – he finished with 34 points and 6 assists. Stephen Curry paced the Warriors with 37 points, 8 assists, and 7 rebounds, while Draymond Green paired elite defense with 21 points, 4 assists, and 6 rebounds.
If the Blazers were planning to come out fired up in this game, somebody forgot the matches. The Warriors hit their first four three-point attempts on their way to a 14-0 run to start the game. That would extend to 28-5 before Portland started fighting back. For most of the period Portland’s jumpers sprayed wildly and their drives resulted in blocked shots or turnovers. It wasn’t a clinic as much as a massacre. The Warriors shot 62% to Portland’s 30%, the edge expanding to 73% vs 27% beyond the arc. They attempted 12 free throws to Portland’s 3. They tallied 11 assists and 6 block while the Blazers offered up 5 TO’s. Golden State ended up ahead 45-22 after one.
In a display of bravado, Lillard scored 10 straight points to start the second quarter. He’d tally 16 in the frame on the way to an impressive 21-point half. Even more impressive: the Warriors scored 72 before intermission, taking a 24-point lead into the break.
The rest of the game went about as you’d expect. Lillard scored plenty. So did the Warriors. Portland never closed the gap. The most noticeable event was Lillard getting a standing ovation for his cumulative work this season at the 6:00 mark of the fourth period, when he left the floor for the last time. It was one of the only things left to applaud about. The final horn sounded with the Blazers on the wrong end of a 128-103 score, ready to face final interviews and head home for the summer.
From the Warriors’ perspective, the first quarter (and much of the game, in general) played out absolutely perfectly. They were moving the ball really well, even by Warriors’ standards, and drained nearly every shot they took. The Blazers certainly helped out with some boneheaded defensive decisions – “Did Dame really just go under a screen while guarding Klay?!” But no defense is going to stop the Warriors when they shoot 8-for-11 on 3-pointers and get assists on 11 of 15 baskets in the first quarter alone. They finished an incredible 17-for-29 from three for the game.
Defensively, the Warriors were also at their peak. They switched seamlessly across all five positions and used blitzing double teams to disrupt Lillard’s and McCollum’s rhythms. McCollum failed to even hit a field goal for 41 minutes, symbolizing how far the Blazers were in over their heads. Add in some excellent interior defense – when the Blazers did make a rare foray into the paint every shot was challenged – and Portland’s offense had no hope of keeping up with Golden State’s flamethrowing first quarter.
The 23-point hole after the first quarter stifled any remaining spirit the Blazers had left. Lillard tried to spark the team offensively, but the Warriors were simply too good. The Blazers never cut the lead to single digits after the initial quarter, and so the season ended with a sweep at the hands of the odds-on championship favorites.
The Blazers’ season and playoff series technically ended tonight. In hindsight, however, the season ended on March 31 when the team announced that Jusuf Nurkic had broken his right fibula.
With Nurkic the Blazers had a 14-6 record, and were 6-2 against playoff teams. They were coming off a 117-107 victory over the Rockets – arguably the most impressive win the team has had since March 5, 2015. Without Nurkic they were not even deserving of a playoff spot.
With a healthy Nurkic the Blazers could have, theoretically, tried to disrupt Golden State’s dominance by playing a traditional lineup and leaning heavily on isolation heavy offense. But without Nurkic they had no real chance of making the 67-win Warriors uncomfortable. The final result was ugly but predictable.
Of course, no single player short of Michael Jordan or Lebron James was going to change the outcome of this game. When the Warriors are firing on all cylinders they are among the best teams of all time. Even with Nurkic, the Blazers would have had little hope against Golden State tonight.
Be sure to check in with Blazer’s Edge all week as we wrap up the season! Dave Deckard bats lead-off with some general reflections tomorrow afternoon.