The Portland Trail Blazers looked amazing against the Golden State Warriors as the two Western Conference rivals dueled by the Bay on Tuesday night. The Blazers contained their hosts and produced enough points from Damian Lillard and his ancillary teammates to take a 17-point lead into halftime. The wheels fell off and then some in the third, and Portland fell 123-105, dropping their record to 29-32 on the season.
If you missed the game, you can find a quarter-by-quarter recap here. After you’re up on that, here are a few more how’s and why’s from the contest.
Dame Does His Best
Damian Lillard did not score 71 points tonight. This was, in part, because the Warriors were so fixated on him that they sent two men after him every time he touched the ball, and sometimes before. Have you ever had a crush on someone and somehow you just know when they enter a room? Even when you’re not looking at them directly you can sense their presence like sunlight behind your closed eyelids. The Warriors’ defense was crushing hard on Lillard tonight.
That alone makes his output of 25 points incredible, despite a pedestrian 9-21 clip from the field and 2-7 from the three-point arc. But Lillard did far more than just score. Bending the defense so dramatically left the weak side of the floor wider open than a State Campground in a blizzard. In fewer than two steps, Dame had open passing lanes to the middle of the court and the outer edges. If he didn’t hit a three-point shooter in the far corner, he passed to Drew Eubanks in the lane, who pivoted and got the ball there. As a result, the Blazers got shot after shot from the sidelines, so uncovered that Matisse Thybulle and Cam Reddish might as well have been Dale Ellis.
Nothing will be as impressive as tying the 8th-best output of points in any NBA game ever, but in its own—much more sustainable—way this game paid tribute to Lillard’s ever-present scoring threat.
Well...almost ever-present. The Warriors turned up the wattage in the fourth, holding Lillard to just two shots in the period. To be fair, he checked out of the obvious loss early, but no Lillard equaled no win for Portland either way.
Speaking of three-pointers, both the Blazers and Warriors are good at them. On a normal night, that is. In this game, only one of the two teams lived up to that billing in each half.
In the first two quarters, Portland made hay at the arc, as described above. Golden State close-outs were non-existent. When they stuck to their men to prevent the weak-side shot, Lillard made them pay. The combined result was a party beyond the arc for Portland.
That inverted completely in the second half. Golden State drew Portland’s center-less defense inside, then destroyed the Blazers from the arc. Klay Thompson beating you is one thing, but when Donnie DiVincenzo goes 5-7 from the arc as part of an 8-11 night overall, that’s trouble.
At the end of the game, Portland had a 12-39 (30.8%) mark from distance against 12-30 (40.0%) for the Warriors.
The Warriors languished in the first half when they depended on the threes alone, but they fixed that problem (and how!) in the third period. They scored 22 in the paint during that critical frame, in which they came all the way back from 17 down to take a 5-point lead. Portland couldn’t stop penetration with anything but a foul. The utter lack of perimeter containment from everyone not named “Thybulle” cost the Blazers dearly. In fact, this would have been a win but for this issue.
The Warriors ended the game with 66 points in the paint, a devastating number from a team that averages 44.0, 28th in the entire league.
Calling Portland’s first-half defense good would be generous, but it more than sufficed. Their genius came in forcing turnovers, disrupting rhythm and keeping the Warriors from getting shots off in the first place.
Unfortunately the Blazers gave it all back during their second-half struggles. Not only did Golden State stop committing turnovers themselves, they forced Portland into miscues. Every time Lillard sat or got denied the ball, Portland passes went wonky.
To be fair, the Blazers won that battle 18-13, but that wasn’t enough to make the difference.
Steph Curry not playing has been no sinecure for the Blazers in recent years. Lack of defense at the guard positions turns Klay Thompson into Steph, Mark II. Tonight Thompson shot only 8-21, which was fine for Portland. But the Warriors’ next option, Jordan Poole, had 29 on 10-24 shooting. DiVincenzo had 21 as mentioned above. 73 points combined from those three guards helped Golden State’s cause immensely, especially with starting forwards Draymond Green (4-5 shooting for 12 points), Kevon Looney (7-8 for 14), and reserve F/C Jonathan Kuminga (8-10 for 16) all in double figures as well.
Stay tuned for extended analysis coming soon!
The Blazers turn right around to face the New Orleans Pelicans tomorrow night at home with a 7:00 PM start.