Mirroring their effort on Monday night against the Los Angeles Clippers, the Portland Trail Blazers battled the Golden State Warriors with everything they could muster tonight. The Blazers scored reasonably well in the paint, got mostly fine performances from Norman Powell and Nassir Little, and even played decent defense for three quarters. Without Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum on the floor, the Blazers couldn’t buy a three-pointer. Plus Golden State had too much talent and experience for Portland’s young players. The end result was a 104-94 win for the Warriors, not unexpected, but still not satisfying from Portland’s point of view.
Powell finished the game with 26 points, He shot 8-23 in the process BUT he drew 11 foul shots, hitting 9, which deserves remark even if his overall percentage was bad. Little scored all 18 of his points in the first half and did it on 5-8 shooting. That’s remarkable per shot production. Jusuf Nurkic kept busy with 12 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists, and 5 turnovers.
The Blazers acquitted themselves surprisingly well in the first quarter. Golden State missed a LOT of shots. Part of that may have been the standings leaders taking their injured opponent lightly. BUT Portland also played active, energetic defense. The Warriors couldn’t buy a bucket outside the arc, leaving the Blazers to storm them inside, then rebound misses in a crowded lane. That’s one of the few strengths in Portland’s defensive attack. The centers, with less territory to cover, looked correspondingly more energetic. If Portland’s bench had been able to hit a three themselves, the Blazers might have carried a lead out of the period. As it was, Golden State led 26-23 after one.
The Blazers managed two things that salvaged the second period for them. First, they scored inside. Almost everyone who hit the floor managed a layup. This saved them as they continued to miss three-pointers. Second, they kept the tempo slow. Normally that’s the kiss of death for them, as their defense leaves them horribly buried under the opponent’s stellar shooting percentage. It’s score or perish. But Golden State spent the first half shooting sub-40%. Thus the slower pace helped the Blazers mightily. The cracks began to show as Steph Curry started connecting on triples late in the period despite Portland’s best efforts. But even those shots resulted in discomfort, not an unrestrained blowout. Nassir Little continued a game-long trend of tough defense and capable offense. Smarts, energy, and those 18 points from Little helped the Blazers stay in close contact, trailing 45-47 at the half.
The well went drier than a hipster joke book at the start of the third period. Portland made two field goals in the first six minutes, Fortunately Golden State wasn’t that much better. Portland’s energy stayed higher than normal. But technical execution started to flag on the defensive end as the Warriors ran screens and misdirection plays. Portland’s reserves-turned-starters just aren’t experienced enough individually or together to contain the floor against a World Championship caliber team. Portland going 1-10 on threes in the frame REALLY didn’t help, especially when Golden State heated up to 5-9. The Warriors led 76-66 after three.
The Warriors went Emeril Lagasse with the offense in the fourth, going, “BAM!” and throwing extra seasoning on every little thing. They ran inside-out action, secondary screens, and put the pace into overdrive even in the halfcourt. The Blazers often found themselves guarding where the Warriors used to be. Ben McLemore heated up as the Blazers started striking from distance. Jusuf Nurkic pounded it inside too. But it was too late. Golden State gave as good as they got. With the lead, it was enough.
Stay tuned for extended analysis of the evening!
The Blazers get an extended break before welcoming the Minnesota Timberwolves to the Moda Center on Sunday at 6:00, Pacific.