The Portland Trail Blazers and Golden State Warriors played a drag race of a game at the Moda Center on Wednesday night. The biggest news of the evening was the Blazers trading starting small forward Josh Hart to the New York Knicks for Cam Reddish and change. That left the Blazers starting Gary Payton II at small forward and digging deep into their bench as the game went along. But the Warriors were without All-Star guard Steph Curry. The team best able to make up for their roster gaps seemed destined to win the game.
Portland got good contributions from Payton on defense, plus stout games from forwards Trendon Watford and Jabari Walker off the bench. The latter two stared Draymond Green in the face and laughed, no small feat for young players.
But Klay Thompson shot 7-19 from distance on his way to 31 and Jordan Poole added 38 on 7-12 shooting beyond the arc for the Warriors.
That would have spelled doom for Portland, but a huge 31-9 free throw edge, going +16 on the boards and +24 in the paint, and a brilliant fourth quarter from Jerami Grant saved their bacon. And the eggs. The whole omelette, really. The Blazers emerged from the closely-contested scrum with a 125-122 victory, pushing their record to 28-27 on the season.
Damian Lillard registered a triple-double on the night with 33 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 assists. He shot only 8-21 from the field but made all 16 of his free throw attempts.
The Blazers got off to an atypically hot start against the Warriors, destroying the visitors inside via layups and drawn fouls. This trend would continue throughout the period, as Portland would push tempo and force the ball into the paint, winning the energy battle by a significant margin. Golden State looked lackadaisical, at best, on defense.
But as the Blazers know, a certain amount of mediocrity can be made up for with a bevy of three-point shots. That’s the tack the Warriors took, attempting 15 triples in the quarter, making 6.
As Blazers fans ALSO know, that tactic doesn’t work if you turn over the ball, allow offensive rebounds, and don’t get back on defense. That’s exactly what Golden State did, impersonating Portland on the Blazers’ own home floor. The cheek.
The Blazers outscored Golden State 22-4 in the paint in the period, more than making up for the three-point onslaught. They also earned 10 free throws in the process, making 9. That left Portland up 34-27 after one. Every starter besides Anfernee Simons scored 5 or more, on pace for 20 in the game. That included Gary Payton II, subbed in for the recently-traded Josh Hart at small forward.
Klay Thompson led the charge for Golden State at the top of the second, hitting three three-pointers in short order. Simons hit one and the Blazers continued to score inside, but the Warriors cleared up their turnover and rebounding issues. As a result, their triples started to put pressure on Portland’s margin.
At the 8:20 mark, a driving layup by Thompson brought the Warriors back within 3, 43-40. But then the Blazers went Moe Green, saying, “You don’t shoot threes on us. We shoot threes on you.” Lillard was fouled on an attempt. Shaedon Sharpe hit one from the left sideline. All along, Portland continued to penetrate, drawing foul shots. A Drew Eubanks energy dunk with 5:20 remaining put Portland up 56-47.
Then Golden State caught on a little. Jordan Poole hit three free throws off of a foul. Donte DiVincenzo got an and-one off of a dunk. Salt in a couple turnover-based breakaway dunks and all of a sudden, the Warriors were back within two, 59-57, with 3:30 left.
The Blazers kept plugging away as the quarter closed, but the Warriors now had their feet under them. Draymond Green drew offensive fouls. Golden State started controlling the boards. Thompson continues to strike deep, but they also scored inside and at the foul line. Poole hitting a buzzer-beating three was the icing on the cake.
When the dust cleared, Damian Lillard had 18 points, but Thompson had 20 and the Warriors led 67-63.
The Blazers started hunting outside shots at the start of the third, partly because Golden State re-committed to interior defense, partly because...Blazers. They found success, hitting a midrange shot and 2 out of 4 threes, but Golden State is one of the few teams that Portland doesn’t want to get into a shootout with. The Warriors ran Portland defenders off of screens, freeing up shooters on the regular. Echoing Thompson’s efforts in the first half, Poole hit three threes before five minutes had passed in the period. Golden State took a healthy 7-point lead with 6:56 remaining in the third.
Trendon Watford once again anchored the bench unit, handling the ball and defending stiffly, making room for a comeback. Lillard obliged, taking over the scoring himself in familiar fashion, wagging his metaphorical finger at the Warriors and all their shooting.
The dual-ended run sparked Portland’s energy. They started rebounding harder, forcing turnovers, doing the things that got them the lead early in the game. They also got a billion free throws against zero for the Warriors. That helped.
Unfortunately with the eager energy came extra turnovers on Portland’s end. Lillard parading to the foul line off of drives kept the Blazers even, but those lost possessions prevented them from getting ahead despite the momentum switch. A sweet alley-oop between Watford and Sharpe with 9 seconds remaining tied the score at 95, which is where it stood at the end of three.
The Blazers committed to getting inside at the start of the fourth, not repeating their curious approach to the start of the third. Watford, Simons, and Jabari Walker all scored within 6 feet, more than making up for Golden State’s lack of second-unit shooting. When Walker hit a corner three with 8:30 remaining, things looked rosy for Portland. They led by a half-dozen at that point, 106-100.
Anfernee Simons turned over the ball trying to get it to Lillard on the next possession, then got checked on a dunk attempt the possession after. The first led to a breakaway dunk, the second to an open three, both by Poole. In just over a minute, Portland’s lead went from six points to one.
The two teams fought hard to establish themselves over the next few minutes, with Poole continuing to stroke deep and Portland’s forwards scoring from every range. Jerami Grant came alive, hitting a three and converting an and-one on a layup against Andrew Wiggins. That left Portland up with 4:30 remaining, but only by three, 117-114.
Grant’s heroics were necessary, as Lillard had trouble connecting inside or out for most of the fourth quarter. He had been banged around pretty good early in the game, drawing all those foul shots. He appeared tired as the game wound to a close. Even so, he assisted on both Grant’s big buckets, plus one for Watford in between. Where fatigue shuts a door, Lillard opens a window.
Both teams went cold for the next couple minutes, missing fairly easy shots in puzzling fashion. On one play alone at the 2:00 mark, Golden State missed two open threes and a tip-in. That’s when the game turned, as Grant converted a layup at the other end, then the Blazers forced a turnover which led to free throws for Lillard. Suddenly the Blazers were up 121-114 with 1:30 remaining. That was enough to ensure the win and a happy night in Portland despite saying goodbye to valued member of the starting lineup.
Stay tuned for extended analysis coming soon!
The Blazers take tomorrow off before facing the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night at home, with a 7:00 PM, Pacific start.