The Portland Trail Blazers will head into the 2018 NBA All-Star break on a happy note after defeating the Golden State Warriors 123-117 on Wednesday night. Kevin Durant came up huge for the Warriors, scoring 50, but the biggest moments and the victory ultimately belonged to Damian Lillard. Portland’s All-Star led his team with 44 points and ferocious tenacity, refusing to let the Blazers lose no matter how many rallies the champions mounted.
Warriors Coast Early
There was very little evidence at the start the game that the Blazers were playing against one of the best teams in NBA history. The Warriors looked like they may have started their All-Star break a few days early. They struggled to get any type of offense through systems due to poor screening, movement and overall lack of enthusiasm. Golden State didn’t even make a three-pointer until just over a minute left in the first. That lack of enthusiasm carried over to the defense, especially in transition. Kevin Durant found a groove early but the rest of the team struggled.
Meanwhile, Portland (and more specifically, Damian Lillard) showed up ready for a battle. Lillard scored 9 points in the first 2.5 minutes of the game, and the Blazer got whatever they wanted in all facets of the game. Portland dominated the boards early, Lillard and CJ McCollum combined for 32 in the first half, the Blazers retained control of the game throughout. A few bad turnovers were the only things standing between Portland and a substantial lead early. Even with the TO’s, they took a 63-51 lead into halftime.
Durantula vs LetterO
Durant and Lillard took over the second half, combining to outscore all other players in the third quarter 35-33. Durant recorded two 4-point plays in less than a minute, while Lillard scored from everywhere. Five All-Stars played, but all eyes were on those two.
The Warriors’ defense woke up after halftime and started making plays, but the Portland kept putting points on the board. Lillard led the charge with 44 in the game. When the defense focused on him, McCollum took the pressure off. Durant carried the bulk of Golden State’s offense himself, finishing the game with 50 points and 6 assists on 27 shots. His biggest regrets came down the stretch when he missed a wide open pull-up jumper that could have tied the game with 49 seconds left. Then he stepped out of bounds before hitting a three that could have cut the Blazers lead to 1 with 8 seconds left.
Down go the champs!
As great as Durant was tonight, the Warriors are going home with a loss. The Blazers finished the game making enough plays to get by, hitting their free throws and corralling rebounds down the stretch. After being up as many as 20 in the first half, Portland won by 6...plenty good enough against the champions.
Portland was in control for the first half but the lead never felt safe. (Then again, no lead is safe against the Warriors.) In the first half, Golden State was as bad as I’ve seen them over the last 4 years, but the Blazers couldn’t break the game open. Small mental mistakes and letdowns kept them from running away. Portland gave up 5 points in the final 6 seconds of the first quarter, reducing an 18 point lead to 13, then let Golden State grab momentum entering halftime on an 11-4 run. Turnovers were also a problem in the first half.
But even with the mental lapses, Portland’s effort was phenomenal all night. The Blazers came out like this game was important to win and they looked confident that they were going to. A lot of that has to do with the toughness of Damian Lillard, but the energy throughout the roster, especially rebounding, ultimately won the game for the Blazers tonight.
Damian Lillard - Dame really does get up for the Warriors. He shot well from the arc (4-11) but he did most of his damage at the rim and foul line (12-12 on free throws). Dame was smart enough to defer when the defense suffocated him and the rest of the Blazers were able to do enough to keep the game close. His tenacity early set the stage for this one. It was one of the better efforts from Dame this season.
CJ McCollum - CJ was not overly efficient tonight. He took three bad shots in the closing minutes of the game, although he did hit one. But overall, he was good enough that the Warriors had to respect him and couldn’t ignore him while they face-guarded Lillard. For what its worth, he was probably the fourth best player on the floor tonight.
Jusuf Nurkic - Nurk was the only Blazer coming into the game with a matchup advantage over his counterpart. His rebounding was massive, and although he was not spectacular offensively, he finished strong and was able to give Portland 17 much-needed points. Defensively, he got torched on a few switches, but kudos to Terry Stotts for riding with Nurk for 30 minutes in this one anyway. It worked.
Al Farouq Aminu and Evan Turner both played well, but more importantly, each knocked down huge free throws at the end of the game.
Maurice Harkless - Moe played 27 minutes tonight. Golden State is a good matchup for him and it might have been a percentage play, but he was mostly a disappearing act in this one.
Andre Iguodala - Speaking of disappearing... Iggy shot 0-0 in 29 minutes. Strange game from him.
Next Up: All-Star Saturday Night followed by Damian Lillard playing in Sunday’s NBA All-Star Game.