The Portland Trail Blazers find themselves in a familiar position as the underdog yet again in these NBA Playoffs, this time against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. Aside from LeBron James’ 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers, the Warriors have looked pretty much unbeatable. So, how could Portland knock off Golden State? A panel of ESPN writers gave their takes on what has to go right:
5. If the Blazers win this series, how did they do it?
Young: The Warriors will likely deploy a trapping and blitzing approach to Lillard, so it will be on McCollum to cook against Thompson. And similar to the series against Denver, the Blazers have to find ways to make the most of their matchup advantages -- Hood against smaller defenders, Kanter on the offensive glass, Collins’ physicality. But at the core, it will be about Lillard and McCollum: Can they outplay Curry and Thompson?
Marks: The easy answer is that Lillard and McCollum combine for 70 points per game and carry Portland to four wins. But I am looking at Game 1 as the deciding factor in this series. Can the Blazers carry their momentum less than 48 hours after winning a road Game 7 to steal a road Game 1? If they do, expect a long series.
Sedano: Literally, everything will have to break right for them. Schematically, their best shot for success is to make Curry defend every possession. Make sure that Lillard or McCollum gets switched onto him when they are attacking on offense. We’ve seen the Cavs and Rockets in previous years use this strategy with some modicum of success. You have to hope that tired legs factor into the equation as the Warriors’ depth is depleted.
Snellings: It starts with a strong team defensive effort in which Curry and Thompson don’t get easy 3-point opportunities. Collins takes the next step as a defensive anchor, building upon the 3.3 blocks in 23.4 minutes that he averaged in the last four games of the Nuggets series. Durant and Cousins miss most of the series, thus reducing the Warriors’ primary scoring options to the star guards. Lillard and McCollum find a way to take advantage and carry their team to the NBA Finals.
Pelton: They took one of the first two games on the road with Durant sidelined and the Warriors still feeling out the series, then rode home-court advantage to a six-game win, having gone 5-1 at home over the first two rounds and handed Golden State three losses by 15-plus points in their last four regular-season matchups in Portland. (Before that, in fairness, the Warriors had won five in a row at the Moda Center dating back to Game 4 of the teams’ 2016 matchup in the conference semifinals.)
A constant theme centers around Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum being stellar, and making things very difficult for Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
This exact plan was turned upside-down in Game 1 as Golden State earned a comfortable win behind their backcourt’s scorching night. We’ll see if Portland’s adjustments in Game 2 paves a way to a road win.
You can read more from the ESPN roundtable on the Blazers-Warriors series here.