Despite a dominant performance from their backcourt duo, the Trail Blazers came up short in their attempt to steal Game 1 of their playoff series with the Golden State Warriors on Sunday afternoon.
Playing without their starting center, and on the road in front of a raucous Oracle Arena crowd, Portland remained competitive through the first three-quarters. CJ McCollum, who finished the game with a playoff career-high 41 points, was 11 for 15 in the first half. Hitting 3s, finishing fast breaks, and driving to the basket, his full offensive arsenal was on display. Though guarded primarily by Klay Thomson, most of the Warriors lineup took turns trying to defend McCollum. On back to back possessions to start the second quarter, McCollum beat DPOY candidate Draymond Green off the dribble and finish with layups at the basket. It was a complete mismatch when Steph Curry attempted to guard him. Thompson grew increasingly frustrated in his defensive effort and received an earful from Steve Kerr after he lost McCollum on a big three-pointer in front of the Warriors bench.
Not to be outdone, McCollum’s backcourt running mate also put on a show. Oakland native Damian Lillard dropped 34 points on 12 for 26 shooting. Many of his points came on drives to the basket, where he dazzled by finishing layups among the swinging arms of JaVale McGee and David West. Lillard also had a quick trigger, frequently pulling up from well beyond the three-point arc, which Mike Breen affectionally referred to as “Cuh-ry Range”.
While the Portland starting backcourt combined for 75 total points, it is the Blazers bench that can be pointed to as one of the reasons for defeat. The second unit played a combined 66 minutes, went 3 for 14 from the field, and contributed a paltry nine points. It can be difficult to establish a rhythm when two teammates are taking a majority of the shots, but Al-Farouq Aminu went 0 for 5 and Allen Crabbe shot 1 for 5, missing his only two free throw attempts.
Golden State was able to capitalize on the Blazers shortcomings, displaying their depth and defense. The Warriors second unit put up 20 points on twelve shots including two big threes by Ian Clark, but it was the Dubs defense that ultimately made the difference. Led by yet another stellar performance from Draymond Green, the Warriors were able to stifle both Lillard and McCollum, holding the duo to just 5 for 11 shooting in the fourth quarter (the rest of the Blazers in the 4th: 0 for 10).
Green finished with another one-of-a-kind stat line, putting up 19 points, 9 assists, 12 rebounds, 5 blocks and 3 steals. His block of Noah Vonleh in the third quarter sent both Oracle and Twitter into a frenzy, and simultaneously shifted the momentum back when it seemed like the Blazers were poised to make a run.
Portland will have a couple of days to prepare for Game 2, which isn’t until Wednesday evening. They must receive solid contributions from their bench as well as their other support players in order to have a chance against Golden State. As long as Jusuf Nurkic is unavailable with a right leg fracture, Portland will be undermanned in the paint on both ends of the floor. Vonleh and Meyers Leonard are the only available replacements for Nurkic, neither of whom will be able to hang with Draymond and Co. for 3 or more games. It is hard to see a scenario where the Blazers steal a game from the Warriors in Oakland, but they will probably need another outstanding performance by their backcourt duo.
Game 2 is Wednesday night at 7:30PM.