The Portland Trail Blazers walked into Game 3 of their NBA Playoffs series against the Golden State Warriors needing a win to keep hope alive after falling behind 0-2 in Oakland. In a mirror of Game 2, Portland built up a double-digit lead at the half, only to watch it melt away under the glare of Golden State’s defense. Portland defenders held up at the three-point arc, keeping shot attempts tight for Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, but the rest of the Warriors butchered the Blazers in transition and at the rim. Only scoring for two quarters and only defending one section of the floor wasn’t enough to bring victory. The Blazers fell 110-99 and now face series elimination in Game 4 on Monday night.
Portland came out aggressively on offense tonight. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum each hit threes in the opening minutes. This was followed by supporting cast players attacking the bucket, often after getting defenders to bite on fakes. If drivers didn’t hit the floater, they drew fouls. Golden State went in the penalty early; Portland would attempt 13 free throws in the first period alone.
Results were mixed on the other end. Meyers Leonard started the game, giving Portland inside-out mobility on defense. He bothered shots at the rim and arc, putting in a fine first shift. Portland’s guards had more trouble, getting caught on screens or lunging futilely for plays that had already passed them.
The Blazers kept a 6-8 point lead for much of the quarter until their second unit stalled late. Persistence held Golden State in good stead. After all those foul shots, made buckets, and energy expended, Portland led only 29-27 after one.
The Blazers spent the early part of the second quarter scoring in the paint. Enes Kanter checked in against Golden State’s bench and took advantage. Then Leonard returned mid-quarter with some great defense and a three-pointer cherry on top, later obliterated by a bowl-smashing slam on the break. Three games in, the Blazers finally managed to milk a tangible edge out of their center position.
As Portland’s big men were making hay, Klay Thompson was waging his own private Battle of Winterfell: his shooting was cold as winter; none of them fell. The Warriors subsisted on chip shots from Draymond Green and the occasional Steph Curry shot. But Brother Seth gave as good as he got, keeping the Warriors at bay.
Leonard ended the half with 13 points, hailed as the hero of the hour. Portland went into the locker room with a 66-53 lead.
If the second quarter was a dream for Portland, the third proved a nightmare. Straight out of the locker room, CJ McCollum picked up two quick fouls on defense. Damian Lillard found himself trapped hard on offense and turned over the ball. That’s how the misery began. It continued with multiple dunks for Golden State on the break, as they got out in front of a flagging Portland defense. Portland ended up shrugging off the Warriors’ press, finding guards in single coverage, but they couldn’t hit enough shots to stem the tide of transition points.
When stuck in the halfcourt, the Warriors went inside first, hitting threes whenever Portland sagged towards the middle. Leonard remained a bright point for Portland; Thompson stayed frigid for Golden State. Both were anomalies. Golden State came ALL the way back with a 29-13 third quarter which ended with Portland trailing 79-82.
The Blazers played the first period like Will Smith in Fresh Prince...jazzy, hip, and sparkling with a different kind of hope.
They played the second like Smith’s early movie career in Independence Day and Men in Black...objectively great, everything anybody could want.
They played the third like his recent turn in After Earth...the less said about it, the better.
But the fourth? The fourth period was straight up Genie in live-action Aladdin. It should have been good. It was based on solid source material: Lillard and McCollum taking plenty of shots. You just knew it was going to fall flat before you even saw it.
Golden State’s march through transition continued throughout the final period, this time spurred by incredible individual defense that saw multiple blocked and bothered shots against Portland’s scorers. They scored, Portland didn’t. The Warriors took the quarter 28-20 and put Portland down 0-3 with a 110-99 victory.
Golden State averaged exactly 27.5 per quarter tonight, with scores of 27, 26, 29, and 28 in the four periods. Portland scored 29 in the first and 37 in the second, then managed only 33 for the entire second half.
Golden State responded to adversity with better defense. Portland responded to adversity by abandoning theirs, especially in transition. The Warriors tallied 21 fast break points, 46 points in the paint.
The Warriors only hit 31% from the arc. Thompson and Curry went a combined 7-21 from distance. When the Blazers took the harder shots away, the Warriors simply scored the easy ones.
Portland got a 10-7 advantage in offensive rebounds, an 11-8 advantage in three-pointers hit, and shot 33 free throws to 23 to Golden State. But they let the Warriors shoot 48.8% from the field overall, averaging only 40.0% themselves on practically the same number of shots.
Converting only 20-33 on foul shots as the Warriors hit 20-23 didn’t help. The Blazers shot 60.6% from the free throw line tonight against a season average of 81.4%. Had they shot their season average, they’d have earned 7 more points in what turned out to be an 11-point game.
CJ McCollum, one of the league’s very best foul shooters, missed 5 free throw attempts in this game. That’s more than he missed in the entire series against Denver, or the entire series against Oklahoma City, or the entire month of April, or the entire month of March.
Either the Blazers are really, really tired or they’re really, really far off focus. Either way, their schemes and dreams don’t matter a bit if they can’t do basic things like hit free throws and get back in transition.
Meyers Leonard deserves special mention for this game. Head Coach Terry Stotts inserted him into the starting lineup and he responded with good defense against Golden State’s screens. He also produced 16 points on 6-12 shooting, 3-7 three-pointers hit, with 4 assists, and no turnovers. He left to a wholly-deserved standing ovation. This may have been the best overall game of Leonard’s career.
Damian Lillard posted 19 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists in 40 minutes but by the end, he was missing layups and failing to get back in transition just like his teammates. He also had 5 turnovers.
CJ McCollum didn’t help Lillard that much. McCollum shot 2-10 from the arc, 7-20 overall, and scored a team-high 23. His decision-making late has been suspect in the last two games.
Evan Turner also played well. He shot 5-6 for 12 points off the bench. At least he didn’t look shell shocked.
Other than that, there’s not a lot to say. The Blazers have been up substantially at the half of each of the last two games. The Warriors showed them how little that means. They demonstrated the extra commitment championship basketball takes, over and above whatever the Blazers assumed was necessary. Portland is now down 0-3, facing the most improbable task of all time.
They can’t worry about that now, of course. They’ve got to find a way to build a lead and make it stick. Or they can Cancun their way to a legitimate sweep instead of traveling to Oakland for the presumptive Gentlemen’s version. If you’re Portland, you just worry about winning the next quarter and the next game. There will be time enough to put this all in perspective.
Here’s hoping Game 4 will be better.
Game 4 commences at 6:00 PM, Pacific on Monday at the Moda Center.