Not like that -- Game 1 gets away from Blazers
OAKLAND — Well, that one was a dud.
The Trail Blazers' plan was to start off their NBA Western Conference finals against Golden State with a bang.
On Tuesday night at Oracle Arena, any kind of spark was missing.
Steph Curry staged a clinic in 3-point shooting and the Blazers never found the range from any distance as the Warriors drew first blood in the best-of-seven series with a 116-94 victory.
Curry matched his career playoff high by making 9 of 15 attempts from 3-point range on his way to a 36-point outburst, which rekindled the moxie that was missing during most of the Warriors' six-game elimination of Houston in the conference semifinals. After going scoreless in the first half of last Friday's Game 6, Curry busted out with 33 points in the second half as Golden State wrapped up its series with the Rockets.
With forward Kevin Durant idled with a calf injury, the Warriors need Curry's offense more than ever.
"I know what I'm capable of on the floor," said Curry, who was 12 for 23 from the field and also had seven assists, six rebounds and only one turnover in his 35 minutes. "The situation calls for me to be a little bit more aggressive, and hopefully that will continue.
"It's nice to see the ball go in. I didn't shoot well for 4 1/2 games of the Houston series, but every game is different. You have to re-establish yourself, and that's my perspective no matter how I play."
Klay Thompson added 26 points as the Warrior duo handily outplayed Portland's Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum in a battle of two of the NBA's premier backcourts.
Lillard, harassed as he crossed midcourt and at every move to the basket by Golden State defenders, managed 19 points on 4-for-12 shooting and had seven turnovers in 37 minutes.
McCollum — who averaged 26.4 points in the conference semis and came into this series averaging 25.6 points in the playoffs — started poorly and never got going, finishing with 17 points while making 7 of 19 shots.
"Our defense was really locked in," said Golden State's do-it-all forward, Draymond Green, who contributed 12 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.
The Warriors' defensive plan was simple: Double-team Lillard and McCollum off of pick-and-rolls or isolation drives and double Portland center Enes Kanter when he received the ball on the post. Make the other guys beat you. It worked.
The Blazers shot a season playoff-low .361 from the field and made only 7 of 28 3-point shots. The Blazers scored only 14 second-chance points off of 16 offensive rebounds. The Warriors scored 31 points on 21 Portland turnovers— 14 of them committed by Lillard, McCollum and Kanter. It was not a pretty sight.
"Reminded me of Game 5 at Denver," said Portland center/forward Zach Collins of a 124-98 loss in the West semifinals. "We didn't play well."
"We shot poorly," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "We had turnovers. We didn't finish well when we had our offensive rebounds. It was a tough night offensively."
Golden State shot .500 from the field and made 17 of 33 (.515) of its 3-pointers while winning its 12th straight playoff series opener and the 24th of its last 27 home postseason contests.
With Durant missing, it seemed the Blazers would have tried to put a blanket around Curry. But the older brother of Portland's Seth Curry had pretty much free reign to take open shots, especially coming off pick-and-rolls. While the Warriors blitzed Lillard and, at times, McCollum, the Blazers' big men mostly hung back, leaving Curry to fire away unobstructed from the perimeter.
"Steph got downhill quite a bit," Green said.
"He got in a rhythm," Portland's Rodney Hood said. "He just oozed confidence. We have to look at ways where we can break his rhythm and not give him as much freedom of movement."
Curry seemed a bit surprised to see the Blazers' offer little resistance at the defensive end.
"They had a certain (defensive) approach," Curry said. "As the game went on, we got a little bit more patient. It was a nice flow — just try to create great shots, whether off the pick-and-roll or our normal motion-type offense. It worked out for us tonight."
Collins and Kanter — the latter finishing with 10 points and 16 rebounds — rarely stepped up to challenge Curry off the pick-and-roll.
"At first, we let him go around (the pick)," Collins said. "As the game went on, we realized we had to get up a little more. We have to do a better job of that."
The results, Lillard said, were unacceptable. It was as if the Warriors — mostly Curry and Thompson — were firing away during a workout session.
"Very poor execution defensively on our part," he said. "Having bigs back that far, understanding the team we are playing again — they are not going to shoot midrange jumpers and try to attack the rim. They shoot 3's at a high clip. We have to bring guys up and run them off the line.
"Tonight, they were setting solid screens and coming up shooting practice shots. That's the last thing we need if we want to have a chance to beat this team."
Said McCollum: "Our pick-and-roll coverages were bad all night. They were rolling to the 3's. The 21 turnovers led to a lot of run-outs and easy baskets."
What better ways to defend Curry?
"Anything but what we did tonight," McCollum said.
"Steph got free and had a big night," Golden State coach Steve Kerr said. "He carried us at times. That was a big part of the game."
Lillard, meanwhile, was struggling to get open looks, just as he did through much of the Denver series. Thompson and Andre Iguodala have the length to make it difficult, and they had help when Lillard tried for penetration.
"They gave a lot of attention to the ball when I was coming off screens," he said. "Even when I was in isolation situations, I was seeing two and three (defenders). They were trying to make things hard for me. Sometimes I couldn't get an attempt up, even if I was trying to force it.
"They did a good job defensively. Even when I was trying to find guys, they were getting deflections. They were making me play in a crowd."
McCollum never got untracked, missing five of his first six, eight of his first 10 and 10 of his first 13 attempts from the field.
"They're a tremendous backcourt," Kerr said. "We're well aware of what they are capable of, so we're paying a lot of attention to them. We're just trying to stay all over them if we can and not give up anything easy."
Hood — who hyperextended his knee Sunday at Denver and was listed as questionable Tuesday night — played well off the bench with 17 points in 26 minutes. But he slipped and fell and tweaked the knee in the third quarter. He stayed in the game but wasn't as effective the rest of the way.
"It was feeling really solid up until (the tweak)," Hood said with an ice pack on the knee in the Portland locker room. "At least I was able to keep playing. Hopefully, after treatment and a day's rest, it calms back down and it will get back to where it was. It's going to be an ongoing thing."
Even with their problems, the Blazers were still within 77-71 as the fourth quarter began. With Curry on the bench and four reserves joining Thompson in the lineup, the Warriors extended their lead to 93-81 by the time Curry returned with 7:02 to play.
"A key stretch in the game," Kerr said. "Our bench came in and did a fantastic job."
Kerr was asked by a local broadcaster if he felt comfortable, even though the Blazers weren't out of it that point, that the Warriors were never in serious jeopardy of losing.
"You never feel comfortable, especially with McCollum and Lillard," Kerr said. "We know what they're capable of. We've seen both of them have huge nights in the playoffs. CJ's Game 7 (against Denver) was incredible, and it goes without saying what Damian has done. No, I did not feel comfortable."
The Blazers cut the difference to 97-88 with five minutes left, but the Warriors took over from there on the way to a 39-point fourth quarter and a decidedly comfortable final margin.
"Other than the fourth quarter, the game defensively was manageable," Stotts offered. "We were finding ways to hang in on a night when we were struggling offensively."
Stotts said he found that encouraging.
In a way, I suppose that's right.
On the other hand, the Warriors were without Durant. Other than Curry, they weren't sharp offensively and seemed vulnerable, if only the Blazers had come in with their "A" game.
Kerr offered an alibi, saying the Warriors benefited from the schedule.
"We were able to finish up the Houston series on Friday, and (the Blazers) had a tough Game 7 in Denver and a quick turnaround," he said.
Lillard wouldn't accept it.
"Once we lace up our shoes and put our uniforms on, it's fair and square," he said. "You have to go out there and handle your business. Our minds were right. We came into the game ready. But if they go on runs and make shots, the game can get away from you."
It got away from the Blazers in the fourth quarter Tuesday night.
Afterward, Stotts was looking at the bright side.
"It's just one game," he said. "That's why it's not one-and-done. You've got a series. It's one loss. We have to play better, particularly at the offensive end."
In every way, really. Because the Warriors are going to bring it — and probably bring it better — for Thursday night's Game 2 at Oracle.