The Portland Trail Blazers took the floor on Saturday night determined not to walk easily into their third loss of the month against the Golden State Warriors. For a single quarter, it seemed like their determination would bear fruit. Portland opened up a 7-point lead in the first frame, playing against type by starting strong.
But tonight the part of The First Quarter was played by The Second, as Golden State converted offensive rebounds and a superior second unit into a game-reversing 31-16 period. After halftime, veterans Steph Curry (27 points, 11-18 from the floor) and Klay Thompson (28 points, 11-16 overall, 6-10 from distance) put Portland away, setting them up for a fourth period knockout blow.
Anfernee Simons led the Blazers with 25 points, including 7-13 shooting from deep. Malcolm Brogdon added 17 points with 12 assists and Scoot Henderson a spritely 12 points and 3 steals off the bench. Golden State shot just 30.3% from the three-point arc, but made up for it with 13 offensive rebounds and 57.8% overall shooting,
The 126-106 defeat gives the Blazers a 7-21 record for the season so far.
The Trail Blazers bucked a couple trends in the first period, both in a positive sense. They shot well from the three-point arc, with Malcolm Brogdon and Anfernee Simons connecting early, but they didn’t get into an almost-surely-fatal distance shooting duel with the Warriors. Often this season, early threes falling has been fool’s gold for the Blazers, who then loft obnoxious amounts for the rest of the game.
Varying their offense inside and out allowed Portland to score consistently and quite efficiently. That allowed them to keep pace with the Warriors, avoiding the all-too-frequent first-quarter deficit that has plagued them in approximately 115% of their outings. 7 points and 4 assists from Malcolm Brogon, some good defense from Anfernee Simons and Toumani Camara, and active play from Deandre Ayton left Portland up 25-17 at the 3:00 mark. Scoot Henderson added to the defensive presence when he checked in. When he rammed home an uncontested dunk off of a turnover at the 1:52 mark, the Blazers led 30-19. It was part of a 7-steal period. Wow.
Portland’s offense dried up in the final two minutes, but their defense remained stout. That left them with a 30-23 lead at the end of one.
The scoring mojo did not return at the start of the second. The Blazers missed a couple of open threes, giving Golden State permission to crowd the lane against Jerami Grant. With Henderson handling the ball most possessions, Portland had no floor-stretching threat on the ball. When players started missing shots off-ball as well, the offense fell off a cliff.
The Warriors also turned strong offensive rebounding into extra opportunities. That blunted the sharp edge of Portland’s defense. Causing the opponent to miss doesn’t matter as much when they double you up in shot attempts.
By the time the Blazers called timeout at the 8:14 mark, Golden State had made up the entire lead, heading into the huddle up 34-33.
At that point. Head Coach Chauncey Billups checked the starters back in. Ayton got the ball in the middle, passing to the perimeter when crowded, which generated open shots for new, more competent shooters. Finally, the point parade got off the curb and moving forward again.
The two teams traded buckets, and the lead, during the middle of the quarter. Neither got on a run, but neither went quiet either.
Steph Curry took care of that little problem as the 4:00 mark rolled around. He juked the entire point defense on a drive, then scored over them with a circus shot. When he hit a patented three with 2:45 remaining, he had 7 straight points and Portland trailed 50-41.
Curry and Kevin Looney (playing off of him) continued to drive the Golden State offense as the half closed. But Portland didn’t panic. Ayton kept them in contact with short shots and free throws. Klay Thompson hitting a three in the final minute made the scoreboard annoying, but Portland trailed only 57-46 at the half. Curry explosions have had much worse effects.
Golden State’s veteran guards attempted to do the Saturday Night Live “Buy-BYE” bit with the Blazers as the third quarter opened. They knew that their chances of winning would be far higher if they extended the lead to Impossible territory instead of letting Portland close it. Curry hit a couple shots in the lane, Thompson a mid-range jumper and a three. But Portland scored efficiently as well. All that noise from the Warriors only extended the lead by two points, 67-54, at the first timeout with 8:35 remaining. It wasn’t great for Portland, but they didn’t lose their heads either.
At that point, though, Thompson got filthier than a Snapchat quick add. He hit another short shot and then a pair of threes. It was a serious “Uh Oh” moment, but Anfernee Simons quelled it with a three of his own. Then Curry hit another dipsy-doodle, making clear to the Blazers that they were in the corner, holding up their gloves in a vain attempt to avoid the haymakers of a superior opponent.
In a direct inversion of the first half, Portland’s bench unit turned the game to the positive. They basically said, “You want to play Old Man Game? Watch us run past, jump over, and score around it.” Scoot Henderson poured in three buckets, including a three. Portland’s defense forced the Warriors into contested shots. And this time, they rebounded them. As the clock drifted past three minutes, then two, Portland cut the lead to 8 and then 7. They even forced 8-second calls from Chris Paul not once, but twice.
Golden State got their buckets back, but the overall scoring in the quarter remained almost even, 32-31 for the Warriors. Considering how the period started, that was a moral victory for Portland. Golden State led 89-77 at the end of three.
Any hope of a Portland comeback withered on the vine at the top of the fourth, as Golden State’s young bench unit matched fire with fire against the athletic Blazers. Brandin Podziemski hit a looper and a three. Trace Jackson-Davis scored a quartet of buckets at the rim. The Warriors had 13 points in the first three minutes of the period. That was already too many for the Blazers to mount a successful charge against. That would have been true even if the Blazers were shooting well themselves. They weren’t.
After trying and trying, the Warriors finally hot the lead to 20, 106-86, with 7:45 remaining. That was the sign that the game was over, three-pointers from Simons and Henderson aside. Portland just couldn’t defend well enough to shave down the gap, no matter how many shots fell.
The gap remained unnarrowed at the 4:30 mark, when Coach Billups checked in his deepest bench and called it good for the pre-Christmas season.
Stay tuned for extended analysis, coming up soon!
The Blazers will get Christmas off. They’ll welcome the Sacramento Kings to the Moda Center on Tuesday, December 26th with a 7:00, Pacific start.