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Free Throws Doom Blazers in Tight Fight with Warriors

Portland did (almost) everything right in a narrow loss.

Portland Trail Blazers v Golden State Warriors Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Portland Trail Blazers came out on the wrong end of a 110-106 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday night. Portland did nearly everything right, defending impressively, forcing tons of turnovers, and even out-shooting the Warriors from the arc. A little bit of Steph Curry magic and a whole lot of free throws allowed Golden State the victory despite Portland’s sterling effort.

If you missed the game action, you’ll find our quarter-by-quarter recap here. After you’ve got that down, here are the factors that influenced, or stemmed from, the game.

Glimpse of the Future

We said this at the end of one of the recaps last week, but I’m going to repeat it here, right up top. As the season progresses, we are starting to get glimpses of the potentially scary identity these same Trail Blazers might possess three years down the road.

Portland’s physicality—coupled with their ability to close against veteran shooters and dribblers—gave the Warriors fits tonight. Forget open shots. For giant swaths of this game it seemed like Golden State’s players couldn’t take two steps without being bothered by a Portland defender. If the Blazers switched, their lateral agility made them look interchangeable. If they got bumped off the play, their recovery was lightning quick. When the Blazers weren’t tall, they were wide and strong. It was impressive.

Even in this nascent, inexperienced form, Portland looked intimidating tonight. If they stay true to type with drafting and trades over the next couple years, keeping this core intact and letting them grow together, the Blazers have a chance to be a major defensive problem for opponents someday.

Anfernee Simons

The Blazers welcomed Anfernee Simons back into the starting lineup tonight after an 18-game absence. He controlled the ball and played aggressively in the first period, taking 10 shot attempts in that quarter alone. After that, he appeared to assimilate more seamlessly, including on defense, where he didn’t seem as big of a liability as he has in the past.

Unsurprisingly, Simons’ shot looked a bit off after his long layoff. You can tell the difference between him and Portland’s younger, less-instinctive shooters though. Simons missed long and short. Noticeably absent was the barrage of bricks to the left and right of the rim that we’ve become all too accustomed to, coming from Portland players. Simons’ stance, talent, and scoring ability are a notch above every other smaller player on the floor for the Blazers.

That showed forth clearly in the second half when Simons not only found the range, but caught fire like a Pee Chee dipped in gasoline. He kept Portland in the fray despite the team losing 60% of their customary starting lineup before the start of the third quarter.

Simons finished with a team-high 28 points on 10-27 shooting, 6-13 from the arc, with 4 assists and 1 turnover.

Scoot’s Spots

The development of point guard Scoot Henderson is one of the permanent storylines of the season. Henderson had 9 points on 4-9 shooting with 4 assists and a turnover in this game, but a couple of characteristics stood out,

First, Scoot was able to show his quickness on both ends of the floor. Surrounded by active, athletic players, Henderson became part of a whirlwind, darting and diving around Warriors players with effective tenacity. No matter what happened, Scoot never gave up on the play defensively. He was a big part of Portland’s ball-hawking scheme tonight.

Henderson also employed the midrange pull-up more than he has in past games. It was plenty nasty too. Defenders aren’t even fully stopped, recovering from defending the drive, when Scoot rises into the air to strike. That shot is going to become a big deal for him as time goes along.

Shaedon Three-Guard

Injuries to Deandre Ayton and Jerami Grant forced the Blazers to play small in this one. Shaedon Sharpe started the game as their presumed small forward. It wasn’t a disadvantage, as Golden State’s lineup isn’t huge.

Throughout the evening Sharpe darted and soared, providing sterling perimeter defense against three-point shooters besides. He scored 26 on 10-18 shooting, 4-9 from the arc, with 6 rebounds and 5 assists. It was an incredibly efficient performance. Sharpe was clearly the best player the Blazers fielded tonight.

Turnovers

A nasty and active Blazers defense forced the Warriors into 17 total turnovers. It was the premier defensive weapon of the game for Portland. At times Golden State looked befuddled, unable to pass or put the ball on the floor.

With Portland committing an uncharacteristically small number of turnovers themselves (just 10), this was a huge plus. When the Warriors hit shots, forced turnovers kept Portland in the game. When Golden State missed, turnovers allowed the Blazers to dominate it.

Three-Point Advantage

In one of the more interesting developments of the evening, the Blazers also rode an advantage over the Warriors in three-point shooting. Portland wasn’t brilliant, shooting 16-46, 34.8% from the arc. But their ability to stay with Steph Curry while still closing on shooters at the baseline and diagonals was damn impressive. Few places did Portland’s speed advantage show better than on the perimeter.

Golden State shot 10-34, 29.4% from distance tonight. Curry went 5-13. It was a strong, but not decisive, performance. The Blazers didn’t lose because of Curry’s threes, but because of his 10-11 shooting clip at the foul line.

Lights, Camara, Action!

Portland’s strong defense was anchored by Toumani Camara, who started the game by throwing a repetitive, and effective, full-court press on Curry, then continued to pester anyone he stood in front of the rest of the evening. Camara not only has the ability to inhibit almost any player on the court (see also: Curry defense), he can provide help and get back at the same time.

Camara grabbed 13 rebounds and while playing D well enough to counteract his 3-14 shooting clip and his 6 personal fouls. Seriously, get another few seasons on this guy and he could become one of the premier perimeter defenders in the league.

P.S. The header to this section is brilliant. The Blazers might as well pick it up to describe their defensive scheme this season. It fits as well as anything.

Free Throws

If there’s a sad trombone for Portland in this game, it comes at the foul line. Golden State went 28-33 from the charity stripe, the Blazers just 12-16. This despite the two teams remaining fairly even in points in the paint (46-40, Warriors).

Some of the fouls can be attributed to Portland’s young, aggressive defenders. Just as many went to the team with titles and MVP’s to their names.

The list of Blazers in foul trouble included:

Toumani Camara—Fouled Out, 27 minutes

Jabari Walker—Fouled Out, 22 minutes

Duop Reath—5 fouls, 22 minutes

Scoot Henderson—5 fouls, 26 minutes

Folks, that’s a lot of fouls in not very many minutes.

Congratulations, Warriors.

Up Next

Boxscore

The Blazers will host the Dallas Mavericks on Friday night with a 7:00, Pacific start time.