It wasn’t nearly as straightforward as Game 1, but the Golden State Warriors wound up with another double-digit victory over the visiting Portland Trail Blazers, 110-99.
Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, the stars of act one, were again terrific for Golden State. After a slow start, Thompson caught fire in the second half, finishing with 27 points and going 8-for-8 from the free throw line. Green filled the stat sheet in typical fashion (17 points, 14 rebounds, 7 assists) to go with all-world defense throughout.
There was also an unlikely hero in Festus Ezeli. Ezeli was the only Warrior that didn’t see the floor in Game 1, but his fourth-quarter defense changed the course of Game 2.
Often teaming with Green to defend the pick-and-roll, Ezeli was excellent both at staying in front of smaller players and as a rim protector. His presence on both ends (4-of-4 from the field) brought energy to the team during the game’s crucial moments, and helped lead a suffocating defensive display that choked the electric Blazers into a measly 12 fourth quarter points.
Head coach Steve Kerr said Ezeli’s presence swung the game:
“He was so active and mobile against all the actions that they run. He made things a little bit tougher on their guards and they’re so explosive and run really good stuff that you have to cover a lot of floor against Portland. I thought between Festus and Draymond, I thought those guys did a great job protecting the paint and moving and guarding the pick-and-roll up top.”
Game 2 proved once again that the Warriors’ brand of frenzied, fast-switching defense is their key to success — especially without Curry.
Already a stellar defensive team, Golden State may better without their MVP, and while the topic of conversation often swirls around who will pick up the offensive slack, time and again the Curry-less Warriors define their success by what they are able to do when their opponent has the ball.[envira-gallery id=”182556″]
Thompson and Andre Iguodala were also terrific down the stretch, teaming to shut down Damian Lillard who looked unguardable during an incredible 15-point third quarter that included five three pointers. Lillard didn’t hit a field goal in the fourth quarter. More shockingly, the Warriors only allowed him to attempt three.
Green talked about the importance of sticking to the defensive principles:
“You look and they score 34 points in the first, 25, 28….12. That’s the key to the game and we’ve talked about that the entire series. Defensive mindset. Offense will happen, we’ve got to go in with the defensive mindset. As hot as they were, and they were hitting everything at first, to hold them to 99 points, to keep them under 100, that’s very tough to do. That fourth quarter defensively was huge and that’s how we have to be the entire series if we are going to win the series.”
Even if the Blazer’s potent shooting offense is given a slight edge when compared to the Warriors’ without Curry, the discrepancy on the defensive end is sizable. The Blazers were the 20th-ranked defensive team in the league this year, meaning the Warriors should be able to score at a decent clip without having to resort to the spectacular. The same cannot be said for Portland, who had to do just that to have a shot after three quarters.
That wasn’t enough for the Blazers once the Warriors tightened up late. If they can continue to stick to those defensive principles, it won’t be enough for the remainder of the series.