When Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard met as the Golden State Warriors faced the Portland Trail Blazers, NBA observers expected a Kong vs. Godzilla battle. One immortal showed up, as Curry scored 35, but Lillard looked distressingly vulnerable as the Warriors double-teamed him all night long. Dame struggled shooting and turning the ball over until the final two minutes. A three-pointer, a pair of free throws, and a drawn charge against Draymond Green left an imprint on the game and were just enough to give Portland a cobbled-together 108-106 victory.
Lillard had 22 in the winning effort. Carmelo Anthony also scored 22.
Portland’s defense at the start of the game resembled a divorced dad at Christmas. They just kept giving and giving and giving. The Warriors jumped out to a 10-0 lead on layups and threes...huge no-no’s from Portland’s perspective. Worse, Portland’s own threes were missing badly. Every shot inside the arc was well-defended. It took four minutes for the Blazers to score their first bucket. In that same span, Steph Curry hit 3 threes. The Blazers continued to play like they had never met on the defensive end. The old Golden State team would have been up by 1000 after the quarter. Unfortunately for them, everyone besides Curry missed easy shots. A few turnovers complicated the Golden State situation. They could only manage a 29-28 lead despite 16 in the quarter from Curry.
Carmelo Anthony carried the Blazers through the first half of the second period, scoring 11 points in his first 11 minutes of play. His devastating jumper freed up teammates, as the Warriors had to respect him and then some. This allowed Portland to keep even with the opponent even with Lillard and Enes Kanter resting. The Warriors were bigger, but not necessarily better. Then Curry returned. He either scored or caused so much distraction that Portland couldn’t cope. But the Warriors still couldn’t escape. Robert Covington served up some stiff defense as the quarter closed while Gary Trent, Jr. made the Warriors pay for their “Double Lillard Always” defense with layups and free throws. Curry scored a billion, Dame’s well was dry, but Golden State only led 56-55 at the half. Perhaps the Blazers were lying in wait, all set to push the accelerator to the finish line?
Portland opened up the third giving Golden State a dose of their own medicine, trapping Curry at the arc every time he caught the ball. But Curry was able to make passes out of the double-teams that the Warriors defense just wouldn’t allow to Lillard. Kent Bazemore became an outlet for threes and connected. Covington returned the favor shot for shot, though. The Blazers stayed afloat as they often do: with the three. Had their defense been stiffer, they could have gone ahead. So, too, had Lillard ever been able to find the range, Neither happened. But Portland’s triples and hard play from the supporting cast made up the difference. Portland led 82-80 after three.
Portland’s offense got stagnant and their interior defense crumpled at the start of the fourth. That happens when you aren’t playing a real point guard or center. When they weren’t getting layups or foul shots, though, Golden State’s bench couldn’t score any better than Portland’s did. Again, the game turned when Curry returned. He bent the floor by merely existing, let alone when he scored. But this time Lillard responded with a couple buckets. Unfortunately the well dried up for the rest of the squad. Threes were a struggle and nothing else fell. But Lillard’s rally was short-lived. He just couldn’t overcome the double teams. Anthony performed better on offense, on balance, than Dame did.
But then came the final two minutes.
Lillard hit a three with 2:04 remaining but Draymond Green answered immediately. Lillard could only manage a pair of free throws until the 14 second mark when, with his team down 1 and Kent Bazemore all over him, Dame hit a step-back three to give his team the lead. On the ensuing possession, he saved a broken defensive set by drawing a charge, negating a Green layup that would have tied the game. Covington missed both free throws on the possession foul, but the Warriors had no timeouts left and Golden State couldn’t convert the halfcourt three for the win.
The Blazers finish their first-half schedule tomorrow night at 7:00, Pacific as they face the Sacramento Kings