Blazers remain confident
The odds are stacked against the Trail Blazers in their quest to gain a spot in the NBA Finals for the first time since 1977.
Portland lost the first two games in its best-of-seven Western Conference finals series to defending champion Golden State, both games at Oracle Arena. The series moves for the next two dates at Moda Center, beginning at 6 p.m. Saturday.
Only seven percent of teams down 0-2 in a best-of-seven series have advanced in NBA history. Two of those teams were from Portland. The '77 champions, who lost the first two in Philadelphia, came back to win four straight from the 76ers for the title. In 2016, the Blazers rallied from an 0-2 deficit to beat the Los Angeles Clippers in six games in the first round. That one comes with an asterisk, though, since the Clippers lost their two best players — Blake Griffin and Chris Paul — to injuries early in the series.
The Blazers go into Saturday facing a must-win situation. No team has come from an 0-3 hole to win a series. And if the Blazers do win, it will be a similar situation in Game 4 at 6 p.m. Monday at Moda. Only 11 teams have been able to move on after falling behind 1-3.
Since 2015, when the Warriors won the first of three titles over the last four years, they have been ahead 2-0 in 13 playoff series and 11 times have won in five games or fewer. The only time they've lost was in seven games to Cleveland in the 2016 NBA Finals.
Even if the Blazers win the next two, they still face long odds returning to Oracle for Game 5 on Wednesday. The Warriors, 10-1 in their last three playoff appearances against the Blazers (2016, 2017 and 2019), have won 25 of their last 28 postseason home games.
In order for the Blazers to eliminate Golden State and reach the NBA Finals, they must win four of the next five games — including at least once at Oracle.
The Blazers aren't looking at any of those things, of course. The way they see it, the Warriors did nothing but hold serve at home in the first two games. Now it's Portland's turn.
"That's the only way you think of it," the Blazers' Seth Curry said Thursday night. "We played well (in Game 2). Every game has its momentum shifts, its own feeling to it. Now we go back to Portland and win a game, and we'll see what happens."
The momentum in a series always swings to the team that won the last game, unless that team was down 0-3 before finally breaking through. The Blazers can't let that happen Saturday.
They're focusing on the competitive nature of a 114-111 loss in Thursday's Game 2, one that got away from the local quintet, which held a 15-point lead at halftime and was in it until the final fatal possession. It was heartbreaking, but certainly a more palatable performance than in a 116-94 loss in Tuesday's opener.
"We're very encouraged," Portland reserve guard Rodney Hood said afterward. "We played better than the first game, were in position to win. It's a series. There's another game on Saturday. We have to take care of home and come back here for Game 5 tied."
"I like our chances going forward," said guard CJ McCollum, who will be eager to atone for his 0-for-6 fourth-quarter shooting Thursday night. "I like the way we came out and competed. We have to bring that same energy at home. Being down 0-2 — that's not what you'd like to see. But it's our reality, so now we got to go get some at home."
Portland shot well in Game 2 — .442 from the field, an outstanding .462 (18 for 39) from 3-point range — but was manhandled 50-37 on the boards. The Blazers had a huge edge in points off turnovers (18-3) and fast-break points (13-4) in the first half, but got skunked in those categories in the second half (21-0 and 13-0).
In the end, it came down to an Andre Iguodala strip of Damian Lillard as the Blazers' point guard was drawing to attempt a game-tying 3-pointer in the closing seconds.
"Does it sting a little? Sure," said reserve center/forward Meyers Leonard, who made a solid contribution with seven points and six rebounds in 17 minutes in Game 2. "But we're not going to hang our heads. We know we have the talent to beat (the Warriors). We're plenty deep. We have plenty of experience in the playoffs.
"We were much more aggressive (in Game 2), taking away certain things that they want to do. Now it's a matter of putting it all together."
The Blazers haven't yet slowed down Stephen Curry, who bombed in 37 points Thursday to go with his 36-point outburst in the opener. But at least their own representative in the Curry fold made his presence felt, really for only the second time in the playoffs. Seth scored 16 points on 5-for-9 shooting, making 4 of 6 attempts from beyond the arc. He also registered four steals and provided some able resistance at the defensive end for his ballyhooed older brother.
"That's what I expect when I get (open) looks," Seth told reporters. "I expect to knock them down, make big-time shots if I get the opportunity. I'm out there for a reason. I try to make plays on both ends of the court."
They are the first brothers ever to play against each other in a conference finals. It was a fascinating subplot for the fans at Oracle and a national television audience, including the vision of their parents — former NBA guard Dell and wife Sonya — wearing mixed outfits (both Blazers and Warriors) and cheering on both of their sons.
"I thought of their parents at one point," Golden State coach Steve Kerr told the media. "Can you imagine watching your two boys go head-to-head in a playoff game, and both of them hitting huge shots?
"It must have been an amazing night for Dell and Sonya. It's an incredible story to have two boys in the NBA, but particularly in the conference finals, playing head-to-head and knocking down all these big shots. That much be fun."
It was fun for the brothers, too.
"It was like the coolest experience I've ever had playing against him," Stephen Curry said. "We talked about the stage, and (Seth) was amazing. Every minute he was out there defensively, he was a pest. He made three big shots in the fourth quarter. For my parents, it's probably nerve-racking as heck, but it worked out perfectly tonight. He played well, and we won."
Both brothers talk a little smack to each other, "not as much as you'd think," Stephen said, "but there is some."
With Stephen at the line shooting three free throws and Portland holding a 108-107 lead with 2:01 remaining, his brother saw an opportunity.
"After he made the first one, I told him, 'That was like 70 in a row,' to try to jinx him," Seth said. He said, 'It's gonna be 72." And he made them both."
Stephen has actually missed four in these playoffs. He is 78 for 82 from the line, an ungodly .951 percentage.
"He tried to distract me, and I knew how to go back at him to stay focused on what I need to do," Stephen said. "As much as I love him and we have history and all that, it's just playing basketball."
Seth believes the Blazers are fully capable of playing good enough basketball to win Game 3.
"We're confident we can play with them," he said Thursday night. "We're a better team than we had in the past against these guys. "We're disappointed the way we let that lead go in the third quarter and didn't close it out. We'll go back home, figure out some things and have a lot of confidence on our home court."
Leonard said home court advantage is "hugely important." The teams split a pair of games at Moda in the regular season.
"Our fans are incredible," he said. "That place is going to be electric on Saturday night. We'll be ready to play, just like we were tonight. (The Warriors) had one big run, and they executed down the stretch. That's the only reason we lost the game.
"They're a very good team, but we've proven we can not only hang with them, we can beat them."
Stephen Curry has played at Moda 23 times through the years, going 10-9 in the regular season and 4-0 in the playoffs. He missed Portland's only postseason win over Golden State with a knee injury in 2016, then came back the next game for 40 points — including an NBA-record 17 in overtime — plus nine rebounds and eight assists in a 132-123 victory.
"If we can bottle up our second-half performance (Thursday) and carry that on the plane with us and get off to a good start on Saturday, that would be helpful," the Warriors star said. "They have an amazing atmosphere. It's loud. It's energetic. The fans really care. They are passionate. I know they're going to be excited.
"We have to do what we can do to take them out of it early. Knowing (the Blazers are) going to feed off that energy, it's going to be tough to win up there, so we gotta bring it."
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