Harkless takes the vocal lead after Game 1 loss
OAKLAND — The leaders are Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, vocally and through their on-court performance.
But there are other Trail Blazers who speak up when the time is right. And after Golden State's 116-94 romp in the opener of the Western Conference finals Tuesday night at Oracle Arena, Moe Harkless had his say.
Portland's starting small forward had played his best game of this postseason, scoring 17 points — two shy of his career playoff high — on 7-for-12 shooting with four rebounds and three blocked shots in 30 minutes. He took advantage of the Warriors' defensive focus on Lillard and McCollum to slash the baseline for three dunks and several other at-the-basket scores.
But he wasn't happy with what he perceived as passiveness from his team, and he doesn't want to see it happen again Thursday night (6 p.m.) in Game 2.
"It didn't feel like we were being the more aggressive team," Harkless said. "We can't sit back and wait for things to happen. We have to go out there and make things happen.
"If we want to win a game here, we have to take it to (the Warriors). And we have to win a game here. They're not going to give it to us. They're a championship team. They're going to bring it. We have to do the same thing."
The Warriors were blitzing Lillard and McCollum on pick-and-rolls and also double-teaming center Enes Kanter when the Blazers dumped the ball inside. The result was 14 of Portland's 21 turnovers, which led to 31 Golden State points. Harkless benefited by working the baselines, and Rodney Hood had success from the outside, but it wasn't nearly enough.
"We have to try to find opportunities when they double 'Dame' and CJ on pick-and-rolls or Enes on the post," Harkless said. "We have to find seams to get easy layups or wide-open shots. And we have to keep trusting each other."
Just as big a problem came at the defensive end with the Blazers trying to slow down Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Curry had a run of open shots coming off the pick-and-roll and wound up scoring 36 points, sinking 9 of 15 3-point attempts in a sterling 35-minute performance.
Evidently, coach Terry Stotts' game plan didn't include Portland's "bigs' stepping up to defend Curry off the screen. That will certainly change Thursday night.
"Any time I was in a pick-and-roll when Draymond (Green) set a screen, I tried to be up and switch," Harkless said. "Enes was up a little bit more in the second half. We're going to have to make some adjustments and figure it out.
"There's no way Steph should come off a pick-and-roll and have a clean look. 'Dame' don't get that. CJ don't get that. There's no way the best shooter in the game should get that."
Golden State eliminated Portland in 2016 (West semifinals) and in 2017 (first round). In the last three playoff meetings, the Warriors are 9-1 at home against the Blazers.
Thursday's game isn't a must-win for the Blazers, but consider this: If the Warriors win, Portland will need to beat them in four of the next five encounters, including at least once at Oracle.
The Blazers came into Game 1 off the emotional high of a seven-game series with Denver, a triumph that provided the franchise with its first West finals berth since 2000. There was only one day between games, whereas the Warriors had three days off between Game 1 and clinching their conference semi series against Houston.
Now the teams are on even turf in terms of rest and re-focus. The Blazers will have to make some adjustments in terms of the strategy, but they'll also just have to play better.
"We know we can play with this team," Harkless said. "We've shown it. But to beat them, we're going to have to take it. They're not going to lay down. They're going to make it tough. They go on runs quick. They're a really good team — a lot of guys over there who know how to play the game."
Lillard and McCollum combined for 36 points — 15 below their average this post-season — on 11-for-31 shooting in the opener. Lillard scored 19 points, with seven turnovers, and McCollum struggled to tally 17 points.
The Warriors didn't do anything defensively against Lillard that many opponents haven't tried this season. They just did it better, with the 6-5 Thompson and 6-6 Andre Iguodala getting the majority of time defending Portland's All-Star point guard and getting plenty of help at every turn.
Green was asked after Game 1 about the Warriors and their intentions of keeping Lillard under control.
"He's a great player, one of the best guards we have in this league," Green said. "He carries a chip on his shoulder, and it's bode really well for him throughout his career."
One of the big subplots in the Bay Area at the start of this series — right alongside the Steph/Seth Curry angle — has been Lillard's return home to Oakland for the final season at Oracle. The Warriors are moving across the bay to the Chase Center, which opens in San Francisco next season.
"He's excited to be back home playing in this series, but that don't mean nothing to us," Green said. "We have to come out and try to stop him, which is a tall task. We're not focused on the stories that build this thing up. It's all about what we do out there on the floor."
That's the way Lillard looks at it, too.
"It's a bigger deal to everybody else than it is to me," he told the media after Game 1. "Everybody wants to talk about it and make a big deal about it, but I just want to play basketball."
Most of Lillard's family members now live in the Portland area.
"I see my family and talk to them all the time, so it's not like I've not seen them since I've been in the NBA," he said. "We're just trying to win the series. All that extra stuff, that's coming from everybody else, not me."
It would be no surprise to see the aggressive 'Dame' come out in Game 2, looking more to create his shot. Certainly, Stotts and his staff will try to devise schemes that will shake him loose for more opportunities.
"We have to understand that Damian is not going to have the game that he had (Tuesday) the rest of the series," Green said. "Neither is CJ, but we have to do whatever we can to try to force them to continue having those type of games."
As he met with the media Monday at the Warriors' training facility, coach Steve Kerr said much the same thing.
"They're both fantastic players, very explosive," Kerr said of Lillard and McCollum. "We're under no illusion that we're going to stop them. We're trying to make things as difficult as possible, but we're well aware they're going to heat up at times. We've got to continue to defend and follow our game plan and see if we can build on Game 1."
The Warriors got it done in the opener without Kevin Durant, who missed the game with a calf injury that will also sideline him for Game 2. The scene is reminiscent to the playoffs in 2016, when Curry missed the first three games of the Western Conference semis against Portland with a knee injury. With the Warriors leading that series 2-1, Curry returned for Game 4 at Moda Center, coming off the bench to collect 40 points, nine rebounds and eight assists in a 132-125 overtime victory.
Durant hasn't begun to practice after suffering the injury more than a week ago in the Houston series. It seems unlikely he'll be back any earlier than Game 5 in Oakland next week, though the Warriors aren't saying when they expect him to be available.
They haven't suffered in his absence. In games Durant has missed, Golden State is 21-4 this season.
The veteran Iguodala has moved into the starting lineup in place of Durant, but the Warriors also have gotten contributions off the bench from such front-line players as Kevon Looney, Jonas Jerebko and Jordan Bell.
"One guy is not going to step in and make up for what Kevin brings to the team, so it's up to everybody to step their game up a couple of notches," Green said. "For the last two games, we've done that."
Golden State also is without center DeMarcus Cousins, who injured a quad in the second game of the Houston series. Reports that he might return for this series seem unfounded. Cousins, like Curry, has yet to step back onto the practice court.
Kerr, incidentally, inferred that the Blazers aren't quite as deep or talented as the Rockets, though he probably wished he hadn't said it after it came out of his mouth in Tuesday's postgame press conference.
"This feels like a series where we can play more people," he said. "It's a different matchup than Houston. What you saw tonight is what we'd like to get to every night if we can — playing 10 or 11 guys."
McCollum said there is no mystery as to what the Warriors do offensively.
"They don't run a lot of plays," he said. "A lot of what they do is just basketball. They make good basketball plays. They move without the ball. Their role players are constantly setting screens. Their bigs are constantly looking. Guys that can't shoot, can't shoot. That's why they are so successful."
Golden State had a huge advantage in shooting from the field (.500 to .361) and 3-point range (17 for 33 to 7 for 28) in Game 1. But the Blazers had a big edge at the foul line, sinking 27 of 31 attempts to the Warriors' 15 of 18.
"We'll look for areas where we can get better," Kerr said. "Keeping them off the foul line is one, for sure."