The Portland Trail Blazers finished their 2021 preseason schedule against the Golden State Warriors tonight. Once again, Damian Lillard had the game off, this time joined by reserve point guard Anfernee Simons. Any Lillard-less version of the Blazers is expected to suffer on offense, but Portland couldn’t do much on defense tonight either. Steph Curry topped 40, the Warriors hit a bunch of threes, and the Blazers exited the exhibition season winless.
Portland got off to a 27-17 lead after the first quarter, a reversal of their preseason-long trend of falling behind early. There were asterisks. Golden State had the energy of a stoned opossum. They settled for threes on offense early, most of which were open, but few of which actually fell.
On the other end, whatever the “new” offense is for Portland seem to degrade into an awful lot of old style. Norman Powell and CJ McCollum accounted for most of the scoring, McCollum in particular in isolation. It was like the Blazers said, “Screw it, we’re going for matchup ball,” then screen for CJ, screen for Norm, watch them take it to the Warriors at the rim and arc. When that wasn’t happening, Portland’s offense stalled.
Jusuf Nurkic had an up-and-down outing. His sparkling moments included hesitation drives and blocked shots. But he also committed turnovers and slowed the ball. He’s not much better with his back to the basket than we’ve seen in past seasons. He’s a good passer when everybody, including him, is on the move. He’s just not a great setup guy from a standstill in the middle of the floor. Basically, if it happens fast with Nurk, it’s good. If there’s any slowdown, flip a coin. Collecting fouls like Halloween candy isn’t helping his cause much.
Portland’s new defense was aided by the Warriors’ approach to the evening, but early on we did get a chance to see what could happen if the Blazers force as many turnovers as they commit. It wasn’t bad. They got transition opportunities and looked disruptive. The effect was only occasional. Coverage at the arc was still bad. The Warriors got too many layups, dunks, and putbacks in the halfcourt.
The best way to describe Portland’s effectiveness on “D” right now is this. When they can keep the ball at the level of the screen, their long arms create trouble, The defense looks good. As soon as the ball gets past that layer, it all falls apart. This is not terribly encouraging. The Blazers can’t handle generic NBA players right now, let alone Steph Curry.
Curry scored 21 points in the first half, wiping away Portland’s first quarter lead and giving the Warriors a 55-51 edge at halftime. The Warriors spent the third quarter BBQ’ing the Blazers with wet sauce, courtesy of Portland’s improved defense, which had no answer for Golden State on the run. Golden State led 98-77 after three. At that point, the game, and Portland’s preseason run, was essentially over. And so was this recap. No need for suspense; the fourth-quarter players for Portland won’t get minutes in the regular season unless something goes really wrong.
Speaking of...Dennis Smith, Jr. started in place of Lillard and Simons tonight. He’s expected to earn Portland’s 14th roster spot, with the announcement coming soon.
Portland’s preseason is finished. They will face the Sacramento Kings in Game 1 of their 2021-22 regular season campaign next Wednesday night at 7:00 PM, Pacific. Between now and then, stay tuned for our Season Preview running every day between now and tip-off!