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OAKLAND, Calif. — The threes still pour down, the ball still moves crisply, the home crowd still gasps in delight, and the blowout wins still accumulate one after another. Not much has changed for the Warriors without an injured Stephen Curry, except for who gets the attention and the credit.
Golden State smoked Portland 118–106 in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals on Sunday, jumping out to an 18–4 lead and spending the final 42 minutes in various degrees of garbage time. With Curry cheering from the bench due to an MCL sprain, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson carried Golden State to the resounding victory. Green posted a triple double and Thompson had 37 points.
This series features teams with quality offenses built around potent backcourt and four-out lineups. That’s just about the extent of the similarities between the Warriors and Blazers, who entered the second round as the most lopsided matchup on paper. Indeed, Game 1 was decided by three key differences: Golden State has length for days on the perimeter, Golden State can protect the paint no matter how small its lineups get and Golden State is familiar with and comfortable within the intensity of later-round playoff basketball.
“When Steph’s out there, we can go toe-to-toe with anybody on offense and probably have the advantage,” Green said. “But when he’s not out there, you’ve got to get it done on the defensive end.”
Through three quarters, Blazers guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum combined to shoot just 5 of 27 from the field and 1 of 6 from deep as the Warriors blanketed their every movement. When Portland’s guards ran pick-and-rolls, Golden State crowded them, forcing passes. When Portland’s guards stepped back into jumpers, Golden State closely contested without fouling. When Portland’s guards worked to get open off the ball, Golden State rarely lost containment.
“Not many guys who could chase Damian Lillard around for 37 minutes and score 37 points too,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “Klay is a tremendous two-way player.”
And when Portland’s guards attacked the paint, Green and Andrew Bogut were there waiting. Midway through the second quarter, Lillard barreled toward the paint, charging hard to the front of the rim for a finger roll. The shot never had a chance, no with Green racing across the key from the weak side to erase it.
“It sets the tempo for the game,” said Green, after posting 23 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists. “You’re not going to come here and get layups.”
Lillard, who was battling a chest cold, finished with 30 points (on 8-for-26 shooting) thanks to a face-saving fourth-quarter flurry, but his inability to truly shake loose from Thompson put Portland in a deep hole early. Ditto McCollum, who scored 12 points (on 5-for-17 shooting) and never found the range from deep. Together, the two guards shot just 5 for 15 in the basket area and 7 for 23 in the paint.
The 6' 3" Lillard and the 6' 4" McCollum are giving up multiple inches to their Golden State counterparts, a disadvantage made worse by the unreliable nature of Portland’s release valves. When Al-Farouq Aminu and Moe Harkless are struggling to space the court, as they were in Game 1, the Blazers’ undersized backcourt duo is left to drown in wingspan.
“One of the strengths of our team is our length on the wings with [Andre Iguodala], Klay and Shaun Livingston,” Kerr said. “I thought our guys did a good job of making everything difficult. There’s no guarantee that will work again.”
The Warriors’ defensive successes continued from there thanks to their frontcourt advantage. Mason Plumlee, fresh off a huge series against the Clippers, was totally overwhelmed, held to just one point on seven shot attempts. Ed Davis, a second-chance point maestro, fouled out in just 18 minutes. The defending champs were plus-15 on the glass overall and their starting frontline outrebounded Portland’s by a whopping 37–17 margin.
“People don’t realize how good our frontcourt is,” Thompson said. “They’re the best defensive frontcourt in the league.”
Sensing the Warriors’ developing advantage, Blazers coach Terry Stotts sought to open the court for his offense by downsizing to a center-less lineup. The result? Green held down the paint on both ends and Golden State’s passing exploited the look for numerous easy layups. It was a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” type of night for the Blazers, and it might not be the last of those.
While Curry told the ABC broadcast that he thought his chances of returning for Game 3 were pretty good, the Warriors continued to play like they are a team gunning for a championship, not a team biding its time.
Their hot start, powered by Thompson’s four first-quarter threes, set a foreboding tone for what might prove to be a quick series.
“They’re an elite team either way [with or without Curry], and they showed that tonight,” Lillard said.