The Portland Trail Blazers gave the Golden State Warriors all they could handle in a Wednesday night matchup in San Francisco. Anfernee Simons returned from injury to score 28 points. Shaedon Sharpe added 26 whileToumari Camara flew around the floor on defense, hounding everyone from Steph Curry to Draymond Green. Portland outran the Warriors, forced turnovers, and even shot three-pointers better for most of the game.
But Portland also started the game shorthanded, with two frontcourt starters injured. They lost point guard Malcolm Brogdon before halftime. Two more players would foul out before the final horn. Missing 5 of their Top 8, facing a comeback barrage by Curry, the Blazers couldn’t hold onto the lead they had built, then nursed, all game long. Taking charge in the final three minutes of the game, Golden State ended the game up 110-106.
33 free throw attempts for the Warriors against only 16 for Portland helped counter the Blazers’ dominance in forced turnovers (17-10) and three-point shooting (16 makes for Portland, 10 for Golden State).
The Blazers looked odd at the start of the game. Anfernee Simons returned to the starting lineup with Malcolm Brogdon. That left Shaedon Sharpe starting at small forward. Deandre Ayton sat out with a sore knee, leaving Duop Reath starting in the middle. Jerami Grant also sat, still in concussion protocol, putting Toumani Camara at power forward. It was time to redo the basics.
Portland started by scoring inside, bankable attempts in the lane that generally fell. Their perimeter game did not follow suit. Bricks from three-point land came thick enough that the ringing from the rim caused headaches.
The Blazers remained active on defense, however, following Camara’s full-court press into active ball-hounding that kept the Warriors shooting over the top of the defense. When Simons and Sharpe finally drained a three-pointer each mid-quarter, Portland led 13-6 with 7:08 remaining.
Golden State made a concerted effort to shut down the paint against Portland after the timeout, also to crash the offensive glass themselves. It worked, until Sharpe canned another three and then slammed a sky-high dunk off a turnover.
As Sharpe was soaring, the Warriors’ main source of points became the foul line. Being veterans and champions and the home team, they drew plenty of whistles against over-eager Blazers defenders.
Portland also went dry from the field as the period closed. The offensive shortcomings of guys like Camara and Matisse Thybulle started to show. The Warriors simply overplayed until the Blazers player they wanted got the ball. If that player was on the perimeter, they let the shot go up. If the player was inside, they collapsed and dared him to pass or shoot through them.
Jabari Walker’s rebounding, a couple of shots from Simons, and some opportunistic steals held Portland in good stead despite the disintegration of the halfcourt offense. Portland led 26-22 after one. Simons had 8 points on 10 shots in his first period back from injury.
The Blazers didn’t get many shots up at the start of the second compared to the Warriors. Because of injuries, the second unit was essentially the third, Anfernee Simons aside. Offense was labored and often looked random. Henderson, particularly, was aggressive with mixed results.
But Portland continued to defend actively, keeping Golden State’s shooting percentage low. Even though the Warriors got twice the number of attempts, Portland maintained the lead.
As happened in the first period, a couple of isolated threes gave Portland an outsized boost. mid-period Thybulle and Kris Murray connected from deep, leaving the Blazers up 39-30 at the 8:00 mark.
Portland’s defensive intensity stayed steady throughout the period. They forced a surprising number of turnovers from the veteran Warriors. The defensive pressure was made easier by Golden State’s complete inability to hit threes. At the 3:00 mark of the second, the Warriors had hit one in the period, the Blazers four. Shame.
But the Warriors once again made hay at the foul line, as the whistles continued to go their way. Those foul shots kept the springy, active Blazers from running away with the scoreboard the same way they were running away with everything else, including and especially three-point shooting. Portland led 55-48 at the half.
The third period started with Simons and Sharpe once again kissing the Warriors hello with a three-pointer apiece. It was a welcome sight, as Malcolm Brogdon exited the game at the half due to a sore knee.
At the other end of the floor, Portland stiffened their defense in the lane, given permission by Golden State’s game-long inability to hit three-pointers. Once again, the threes Portland hit had an exaggerated effect on their lead. A couple of drives, a turnover converted into an and-one, and all of a sudden Portland led by 10, 68-58, with 7:00 remaining.
During the third, though, Steph Curry started bubbling like a borderline boiling pot from the three-point arc. A couple of trademark connections threatened...if not the lead itself, then Portland’s security retaining it.
Forced turnovers continued to keep the Blazers above water for a minute at least. Portland ran and attacked the lane until the clock ticked past 5:00. But as those middle minutes passed, the Warriors finally found the range from distance, courtesy of Curry. Taking bites three points at a time helped the Warriors consume the lead quickly. Extra points at the foul line (still) didn’t hurt Golden State’s cause.
As the Warriors began to score rather than miss, the Blazers had more trouble running the ball. To their credit, they still tried. Henderson and Sharpe pushed tempo at every opportunity, even off of Golden State makes. The quick play still worked against the Warriors too, as they turned over the ball a couple more times.
Golden State got the lead down to one, 77-76, off of a [air of Curry free throws with 2:57 remaining. But tempo, persistence, and plenty of drippy-dip from Anfernee Simons allowed the Blazers to climb back ahead. Portland led 86-82 at the end of three.
The Warriors hit a three, a couple restricted area shots, and some free throws over the first four minutes of the fourth. That doesn’t sound like a ton of strikes, but it was a bonanza compared to Portland’s offense, which died on the vine. Anfernee Simons hit a three and a layup, providing life support to a team that had been caught by a veteran opponent with plenty of kick left.
Foul trouble began to rear its head for the Blazers as well, as Duop Reath picked up his fifth foul and Scoot Henderson his fourth before the quarter was 240 seconds old.
The Golden State surge left the score tied, or the teams separated by a single point, for a bit before Sharpe hit a three and Henderson a pull-up J. That put Portland up by four with 5:50 remaining.
But the Warriors started to control the inside on both ends of the floor. Pushing the ball in the lane for scores or pass-outs not only put Portland’s defense on its heels, it drew decisive fouls, including the sixth on Jabari Walker with 4:08 remaining. With Portland missing three starters, including two in the frontcourt, already, that hurt.
At that juncture, Head Coach Chauncey Billups inserted Matisse Thybulle, a much smaller defender. Reath, the more natural replacement, had the aforementioned five fouls already.
Instead of defending a 6-10 point lead, running away from the Warriors as they had earlier, the Blazers found themselves incredibly short-handed, playing small, scrambling to preserve a one-point edge with a little over four minutes left. It was like overtime come early, with only one team really pressed and stressed,
Portland’s lack of size and interior scoring ability started to show as the game closed. When they got it inside, the players catching had few moves, no length, and thus no options. They were distressingly easy to defend. That left the Blazers shooting over the top. Though they’d had a game-long advantage in that category, it wasn’t the way to close out a game against the Warriors.
Klay Thompson gave Golden State a 103-100 lead with a layup just past the 2:00 mark. A Sharpe free throw with 1:18 left cut the lead to two. But a lob play in the halfcourt left Golden State up 4 with 1:00 remaining.
That’s when Thybulle showed his worth, hitting a three and pulling Portland within 1. They forced a Warriors miss, but turned over the ball after the rebound, a cruel inversion of the game flow heretofore. Down just 1, they gave up another three to Curry, who made the bucket. Golden State led 108-104 with 9.2 seconds remaining. That was the ballgame.
Stay tuned for extended analysis of the game, coming soon.
The Blazers will host the Dallas Mavericks on Friday night with a 7:00, Pacific start time.