The Portland Trail Blazers fell to 2-0 in the Western Conference Finals tonight as the Golden State Warriors recovered from a 15-point halftime deficit to beat Portland, 114-111. Five Blazers scored at least 12 points, including 16 from Seth Curry off the bench. The Blazers shot 44.2% from the field and 46.2% from three-point range, but they couldn’t match the Warriors’ production down the stretch.
Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, who combined for 45 points, failed to score in the final seven minutes of the game. Meyers Leonard and Curry tried to keep Portland’s offense afloat, but Golden State consistently created easy looks around the basket as Portland’s defense stretched to the perimeter, trying to eliminate three-point looks by a red-hot Steph Curry.
Stotts Makes Defensive Adjustments
The main takeaway from Game 1 was Portland’s drop coverage on pick and rolls involving Steph Curry. Despite a sassy response from Head Coach Terry Stotts to a post-game question about the matter, he did adjust the defense’s treatment of such plays. The Blazers three big men — Enes Kanter, Zach Collins and Leonard — still didn’t blitz Curry, but they did come out to the arc and put a hand up to prevent the open pull-up looks. As the game progressed, however, the Warriors adapted with a small-ball lineup and found Draymond Green on the roll for an easy assist or finish at the rim.
Stotts also adjusted the way Portland’s bench defended Klay Thompson at the start of the second and fourth quarter, minutes when he’s the only starter on the floor. Instead of McCollum getting bodied in the post and by screens, Rodney Hood face-guarded Thompson and fought over picks. The Blazers eliminated his easy looks that prevented them from taking advantage of Curry’s time on the bench in Game 1, as well as forced him to put the ball on the floor more and create his own offense.
Finally, the defense switched on off-ball screens, reducing the number of catch-and-shoot opportunities. And up until the fourth quarter, the switching also stopped the screener from slipping for an uncontested run to the basket.
Iterations of Portland’s Pick and Roll Offense
En route to a 15-point halftime lead, Lillard and McCollum navigated the pick and roll smoothly as the Warriors didn’t blitz as aggressively. Aminu and Moe Harkless knocked down their first few threes and the lane marginally opened for the guards to get to the rim.
Steve Kerr made the obvious change and ordered his big men — primarily Kevon Looney — to jump out on the screen and force Lillard to the sideline. This flashback to Game 1, and even worse the New Orleans Pelicans series last year, forced Portland’s offense into turnovers and bad looks from long range. To add insult to injury, the fast breaks created by these two outcomes gifted Golden State with easy buckets and a 13-0 run in the third to regain the lead.
The Blazers eventually responded with two different approaches:
- Not giving Lillard or McCollum a screen at all. While Thompson, Green and Andre Iguodala are all solid to great defenders, the star backcourt fancies their chances in an open floor one-on-one.
- Slipping Leonard. The big man is a three-point threat, preventing Lillard or McCollum’s original defensive assignment from chasing the guard into a trap. And when they did chase, Leonard was open on the slip to hit a three or make a play at the hoop.
Neither worked as well as the Blazers utilized the pick and roll in the first half, but both options lowered the turnovers and forced midrange shot attempts.
The Final Play
Despite losing a 17-point lead in the third period, the Blazers recouped in the fourth and hung with the Warriors throughout. Portland rebuilt a 108-100 lead with 4:28 remaining, but couldn’t stop the Warriors from converting at the rim on backdoor cuts. Neither Lillard nor McCollum, heroes to that point, could convert in the final minutes of the game. Steph Curry hit a three with 53 seconds remaining to put Golden State in front 112-111, followed by an assist to Draymond Green with 12 seconds left after a McCollum miss. That made the score 114-111, Warriors with Portland in possession for the final play.
The Blazers got the ball to Lillard, defended in isolation by Andre Iguodala. Iguodala wore him like a suit. Their arms intertwined and Lillard bobbled the ball. He recovered, but momentum carried him to the sideline with the clock dwindling perilously. Lillard rose for the attempt with four seconds remaining, but Iguodala reached in and stripped the ball clean before it got above his waist. The Blazers didn’t have time to recover as the Warriors ran out the clock.
Golden State won the rebounding battle by 13 but only collected two more offensive rebounds than Portland. The damage was done as the Warriors scored 25 second chance points to the Blazers’ 14. Several offensive boards led to three-pointers by either Thompson or Curry, players you don’t want to give an extra look to as the defense scrambles.
Many of the second chances resulted from the failed experiment of a small-ball lineup after Collins picked up his fifth foul with four minutes left in the third. In those final four minutes, Jordan Bell collected three offensive boards — and Jonas Jerebko one — for seven second chance points. Portland, having already blown the lead at that point, needed to capitalize on solid defensive outings with buckets of their own. The second opportunities negated the strong defense and allowed Golden State to match every Portland bucket and end the third quarter at a deadlock.
Seth Curry isn’t just the “Other Curry”
In 29 minutes, the Blazers’ Curry scored 16 points on 5/9 shooting and four three-pointers. His threat when lurking on the perimeter allowed the Blazers offense to run away with a double-digit lead in the second quarter. The Warriors defense didn’t attack Lillard’s penetration on pick and rolls as hard, reducing the live-ball turnovers and creating open looks for guys like Al-Farouq Aminu and Kanter.
In the second half, Curry’s offensive impact appeared in the box score. He matched a Lillard triple two possessions earlier with his own to regain Portland’s lead at the start of the fourth quarter. As Portland began to develop on that lead, he knocked down another three when Golden State trapped Lillard and allowed Leonard to slip, receive the pass and kick it to the corner. One final Curry three again recovered the lead with one minute remaining — his shot ended a three-minute scoring drought and nearly put the Blazers in a position to win.
Defensively, Curry recorded a game-high four steals, all from his brother. Twenty-plus years of playing against one another leads to an understanding of the other’s tendencies I guess.
Seth’s two-way performance led to a team-high plus/minus of +13. Him playing serviceable defense against his brother bodes well for the Blazers utilizing a three-guard lineup, an offensive heavy group that forces the Warriors to rethink aggressive blitzes on the pick and roll.
The Blazers head back to the Moda Center to host Game 3 on Saturday, May 18, at 6 p.m. PT.
A note for optimism: The Houston Rockets trailed 2-0 in the semifinals but managed to defend their home court both games to even the series. The Blazers are capable of beating this Warriors team on their home floor, but there are changes to be made after the two losses.