Trail Mix: Warriors 122, Blazers 108
There aren’t many times throughout the season where you look at a game a team lost by 14 points and come away thinking it could have been worse. But that was the case for the shorthanded Trail Blazers on Tuesday against the Golden State Warriors who continue playing basketball at historic levels.
The Blazers were professionals as they stared a near certain defeat in the face before the game. The Warriors were also a little slow to get going. But after the third quarter where Portland was bombared 36-18, it was clear that the Warriors just had them in the rope-a-dope early on.
After taking all of Portland’s best punches in the first half, the Warriors kicked everything into high gear in the third quarter, much like they did on Monday night against the Wizards. The Warriors all but shut it down in the third quarter with a 36-18 beat down after the intermission.
“Well I thought we gave a good effort tonight,” Stotts said. “Obviously, Golden State is a terrific team. They’re solid at both ends of the court and they showed that. Offensively, they were very good all night. They passed the ball well. They had 30 assists after 3 quarters and 37 for the game, they shared the ball really well and kind of put on a clinic as far as how to share the ball. Defensively, they picked it up in the third quarter and were able to create some separation. But it was a good effort. We’ve got to have another good effort tomorrow night.”
After the third quarter, the Blazers trailed by 15 points. Behind some decent play from their bench, led by CJ McCollum, who continues to be Portland’s silver lining in their struggles, they got the lead down below double digits. And as I noted on twitter, they also ran a post-up play for Festus Ezeli during that stretch.
Without two of their biggest guns in LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum (also Chris Kaman, the reserve whose played the most minutes), a double-digit loss was an expected outcome. The Blazers outperformed expectations early, even leading by as much as 12 points. But such deficits against the Warriors are fragile as Curry immediately hit two 3-pointers in the span of 21 seconds to cut the lead in half.
But again, the Warriors are a historically great regular season team. They have the best adjusted point differential since the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls and they are clinical.
“Shorthanded or not, I think everybody was going to play hard,” Stotts said. “Some of it was style of play. We were going to space the court a lot. The first half was the style of play that we wanted. Obviously, we didn’t defend like we needed to, but offensively, we played the way we wanted to play. The message was simple – play hard, be aggressive on offense, stay focused and trust on defense.”
The Blazers had everything clicking offensively in the early going but the Warriors made everything tough.
“We just played well. We stayed in flow, we attacked, we made shots, we made the extra pass, the right passes. It just went our way. I thought our approach to the game was the right type of approach, which was just to attack the game. It worked out for us in the first half, and in the second half, they just outplayed us.”
The celebration for the Warriors acknowledged that they won their first division title in 39 years but it was also slightly subdued because they still have a lot left to go. They posed for a group photo and posted it to Instagram but as Draymond Green said, there “wasn’t no champagne.” While they made history, the Warriors have bigger goals.
The Blazers on the other hand are struggling to get out of a rut. Their five game losing streak could very well become a six-game losing streak when they head to Utah to face the Jazz Wednesday. The Jazz handed Portland their biggest loss of the season back in February. And the Jazz have had the league’s best defense by a wide margin and even having Aldridge back would be no guarantee for a victory. Rudy Gobert has frustrated Aldridge before and not only does a great job at contesting his shots but also bothering his dribbles.
Losing streaks in the NBA seem like they will never end until they do. On the second night of a back-to-back and playing at altitude, the Blazers will once again be facing a tough battle.
- Damian Lillard showed some frustration at some no-calls down the stretch of the game around the basket. It looked like Warriors players were getting away with a lot of contact but at the same time, being the league’s best defense earns you some no-calls here and there. Lillard is the team leader in free-throw rate but perhaps he should be getting a little bit more. Lillard’s free-throw rate went up in the playoffs last season so the Blazers are likely hoping the same happens again. And even if he won’t say it, Lillard is too.
- Alonzo Gee’s defense on Stephen Curry was fun to watch. He hounded Curry 94 feet multiple times and Curry still had a great game because he should be the MVP. Stotts on Gee: “I thought he was solid. I liked the fact that he had a bigger body on Steph. The lineup that they started with Draymond Green at the four, I thought that suited that matchup. I expected maybe Meyers and Joel could play a little more together if they played their bigs but they kind of stayed with a shorter man at four. The style of play that we wanted to play and matching up with them, I thought it was the right way to go and I thought ‘Zo did a nice job. He was aggressive at loose balls, made some hustle plays, which is what we were looking for.”
- As much as the third quarter was about Golden State’s team defense and Curry’s greatness, Robin Lopez got abused like I haven’t really seen before. Without Aldridge there on offense, his warts on that end show a little bit more. But that wasn’t the only problem. Andrew Bogut absolutely abused Lopez in the third period that decided the game. Bogut outplayed Lopez to the point that Stotts brought Freeland in a little early even though Lopez wasn’t in foul trouble of any kind. For comparison’s sake, here were their lines in the third quarter: Bogut: 6 points, 9 rebounds, 3/4 FG. Lopez: 0 points, 1 rebound, 0/1 FG. Lopez didn’t have a great game against Memphis either. He’s still a hugely important presence, but I can’t really remember another time he’s been such a non-factor.
- That being said, the Blazers used Lopez to get their offense going. I can’t remember how many times they ran the double pick and roll that I wrote about last week to initiate the offense. They also used that set with Freeland-(insert shooter)-ball handler. Portland is using it now as they don’t have many other places to turn. But as a change of pace that play still has a lot of good potential when everyone is healthy again.
- Dorell Wright played only about 20 minutes tonight. He had a great first half and then barely played in the 2nd half. Perhaps Stotts saved him knowing he needs him for tomorrow. Batum wasn’t even on the bench during the game though he was in the building. He had to watch the 2nd half in Memphis from the training table so his back might need a little bit more rest. I guess sitting in a chair for two hours wasn’t in the treatment plan.
- Everybody played tonight and Stotts adjusted the rotation by playing Lillard the entire first quarter. It wasn’t unlike Lillard’s rookie season when they relied on him heavily. Lillard played well on both ends and was much more active on the defensive end than he had been the past few games.