A deserted parking lot, a late-arriving crowd, and hardly a fully-engaged Warriors team. The entire night had the feel of a regular season game in January rather than Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.
And after an emotionally brutal series against the Houston Rockets, it’s only natural for the following round to be a bit of a letdown. And yet, the Warriors still steamrolled the Portland Trail Blazers, 116-94, Tuesday evening.
It was apparent from the start that the Splash Brothers were happy to not see P.J. Tucker rushing them. Without the Rockets rugged defender, the Warriors found easy and open shots against the Trail Blazers.
Klay Thompson got up 14 of his 24 shots in the first half after averaging just 17 per game last series. And Stephen Curry hit four of his nine 3’s before halftime, which tied for the most he made in a single game against the Rockets.
Houston guarded the 3-point line better than anyone the Warriors have faced, and after encountering that the defense of the Trail Blazers must have felt like a 5-on-0 scrimmage.
Draymond Green said that style of defense got Curry going immediately:
“When you’re guarding like that, you’re obviously going to get cleaner looks. The Rockets were switching everything, so Steph got downhill quite a bit, but it’s good to see Steph have a game like that at a time that obviously we need it most. It was really big for us, and I expect him to continue to play that way.”
After being hounded on every pick-and-roll last series, Curry found himself wide open after every pick as Portland deployed a drop coverage with Enes Kanter, essentially taking away Curry’s driving lanes, but yielding pull-up 3’s. Probably not the best strategy against the best shooter the game has ever seen.
Curry said that while the looks are there all game, it’s important to still be patient with them:
“I mean, we’ve played against Kanter before, and there are certain looks you can get. But when it comes to just seeing the pictures, whether it’s coming off and shooting every time, or, you know, giving it up and relocating or trying to get our motion offense going, you know, whatever the situation is, as long as we’re just being patient, it’s key for us.”
His 36 points were the most he’s had since Game 1 against the Clippers and most of them came with little resistance.
The Houston series was Curry training in weighted clothes like Goku, and this Portland series is him with all that weight removed, moving at twice the speed.
It was so easy to get open 3’s it seemed like it confused Curry and the rest of the Warriors. Everyone found themselves running free on the perimeter and they shot 51.5 percent from deep for the game, easily the highest percentage they’ve had the last six games.
What kept Portland in the game was the Warriors insistence on fouling every play leading to a 22-3 free throw disparity entering the fourth quarter. That, and their tenacity on the offensive glass, as they pulled in 16 offensive rebounds.
Kerr said it was more about the Warriors rushing than anything:
“I thought we were in a rush the first half, took some quick shots. We were just not quite in our rhythm, but sometimes that happens. You know, first game of a series, you’re kind of feeling out the game and I thought we settled in better the second half.”
All of that was enough to keep the game close in spurts, but with the Warriors holding Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum to a combined 36 points — the same number Curry scored on his own — it wasn’t nearly enough to threaten even the bored Warriors.
Green said that while they played good defense, those two could still get loose at any time:
“You can play that same defense and they can really get it going. We have to make sure we stay locked in on the details moving forward and understand that Damian is not going to have the game that he had the rest of the series and neither is C.J. but we have to do whatever we can as a team to try to continue to force them to have those type of games.”
Green was the only other Warrior to score in double-figures. He finished with 12 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and three blocks, adding his usual hounding defense and effort.
The Warriors also went deep into their bench, something they couldn’t do against Houston, routinely playing the trio of Quinn Cook, Jordan Bell and Jonas Jerebko together, after they got DNP-CD’s for essentially all of the last series. And while they all produced, having a combined 20 points, that also added to the feel of a regular season game.
Kerr said this matchup lends itself to playing more of his bench guys, and he’s going to continue to utilize it:
“Jonas [Jerebko] came in, knocked down a couple shots. I thought Jordan Bell’s minutes were good. They just came in and executed and defended… And this series feels like it’s a series where we can play more people. It’s a different matchup, and I think that what you saw tonight is what we’d like to get to every night if we can in terms of playing 10, 11 guys.”
And yet, that might be all the Warriors need to advance to the NBA Finals — a regular season effort
The two teams will get just a days rest before taking the court for Game 2 Thursday. The entire series is set to play every other day.
Curry’s nine 3’s came up just short of the playoff record of 11 held by Klay Thompson. … Damian Jones got into the game in garbage time after being cleared for contact just this week. It’s the first time he’s been on the court for the Warriors since November 29.