The Portland Trail Blazers are undefeated in 2021. They didn’t meet much resistance and were able to comfortably dispatch the once-mighty Golden State Warriors 123-98 on the road. It was a nice bounce back win after getting manhandled by the Clippers on Wednesday.
The Blazers put on an outside shooting clinic against the Warriors. CJ McCollum had the hot hand early, then passed the baton to Damian Lillard in the second half. Together, the duo combined for 62 points, including 10 of Portland’s 20 makes from downtown, to go along with 12 assists and 4 steals.
The Warriors immediately made it clear that their defensive focus was taking the ball out of Lillard’s hands, trapping him in the pick and roll and daring anybody else to beat them. Portland was happy to oblige and moved the ball with ease, taking what the defense gave them, which usually ended up being an open three. Lillard was the only starter not to convert from deep in the quarter, while CJ McCollum singed the net, draining 4 treys on his way to a 16-point opening shift.
Golden State struggled to find any offensive rhythm for most of the period. At one point Portland held a commanding 29-9 lead, before a bench unit led by none other than former Blazer Kent Bazemore began to restore some order. The score after the first read 36-21 Blazers.
The second period became a battle of second-unit forwards, as the Warriors continued to chip away at the Blazers’ lead behind Eric Paschall, who had 9 points in the quarter. Golden State pulled as close as 8 points, but were kept at bay (no pun intended) by Carmelo Anthony, who scored 13 of his own, including a fading corner three with five seconds remaining.
Finding little daylight on the perimeter, Lillard decided to just put his head down and take it to the hole. He blew by the Warriors’ flat-footed defenders. There were a few shots he probably wishes he could have back, but it was enough to preserve a somewhat comfortable advantage. Golden State shot poorly, but managed to stay in the game by getting to the charity stripe, where they were near-perfect. The Blazers led 67-55 at the half.
It was all Lillard coming out of the break. The All-Star erupted for 15 points in the quarter to put the game out of reach. After struggling with his outside shot in the first half, Dame canned three from deep during a run that saw Portland’s lead balloon to 24 points.
During this run, Lillard passed the 15,000 point threshold for his career, becoming the second-youngest active player to achieve that feat. It was a truly exceptional accomplishment, and not even the most impressive historical benchmark that happened tonight. More on that later.
With Jusuf Nurkic and Enes Kanter both hampered by foul trouble, midway through the period Terry Stotts turned to Harry Giles. Giles injected energy in his short stint, becoming a part of several hustle plays, including a diving no-look save of a loose ball and a pretty bounce pass which set up a Derrick Jones Jr. baseline dunk.
Some late heroics from Stephen Curry were impressive, but too little, too late. Portland led by 18 after three, 98-80.
The final 12 minutes were little more than a formality. Lillard padded his stats with a couple more threes. The team made a concerted effort to get Anthony one more bucket to propel him into 14th place on the NBA all-time scorers list, moving him past Tim Duncan. The decisive bucket was a baseline three-pointer with just over four minutes remaining. The 18-year future Hall-of-Famer now has a whopping 26,499 points to his name.
These Aren’t Your Father’s Warriors
At the risk of beating a dead horse, Golden State did not look good. At all. Even with a so-so performance from Curry (26 points), the Warriors still struggled to get the ball in the basket, shooting a dreadful 39% from the field, including an abysmal 7-35 (20%) from beyond the arc. Portland was able to withstand several mini-droughts throughout the game simply because Golden State couldn’t put any points on the board to make them pay.
Derrick Jones, Jr. made life difficult for the Warriors, particularly on the defensive end. He turned in an impressive all-around performance with 8 points, 8 rebounds, 5 steals and 3 assists. His hands were everywhere: picking off entry passes, stripping the ball on drives, I’m pretty sure at some point he nicked Steve Kerr’s wallet. While his offense remains a work in progress, the ranginess, athleticism, and instincts promised when Jones signed with the team in free agency were on full display tonight.
The Blazers will hope for more of the same as they remain in San Francisco for a rematch with the Warriors on Sunday. Tip is set for 5:30 p.m. Pacific.