Get all of Ben Golliver’s columns as soon as they’re published. Download the new Sports Illustrated app (iOS or Android) and personalize your experience by following your favorite teams and SI writers.
OAKLAND, Calif. — On a night that began with Andrew Bogut fumbling the ball twice on the game’s first possession, an ominous and off-kilter opening, Warriors coach Steve Kerr finally hit his breaking point midway through the third quarter.
Klay Thompson, cold since tip-off and just a few minutes removed from receiving a technical foul, rushed a contested three-pointer early in the shot clock, the latest quick-trigger attempt to dig out of a double-digit lead. Kerr threw his arms into the air, spun backwards, and then returned his attention to the court, just in time to watch Blazers guard Damian Lillard knock down a clean look at a mid-range jumper. The shot, which gave Lillard two of his 17 third-quarter points, had barely found the net before a frustrated Kerr shot his hands into the air to signal for a timeout.
“I thought we lost our poise there a little bit late in the third quarter,” Kerr said after Golden State claimed a 110–99 comeback victory Tuesday to take a 2–0 series lead over Portland. “I was upset. I called a quick timeout. We didn’t run the play right.”
It wasn’t just the one play. So spectacular early in Game 1, the Warriors were uncharacteristically sleepy to open Game 2, granting too much space to Lillard and CJ McCollum on one end and rushing to launch difficult shots on the other. The Blazers built a 17-point lead before halftime thanks to decisive individual offense from their starting guards and improved three-point shooting from complementary options like Al-Farouq Aminu and Gerald Henderson.
“Game Twos always scare me,” Kerr said. “Especially if you’ve won the first one relatively easily like we did. It just happens. It’s human nature. The other team comes out angry, and maybe you let your guard down a little bit.”
With the defensive attentiveness waning, both Thompson and Draymond Green struggling from the field and no Stephen Curry to help lead the comeback, Golden State faced its first big test of the postseason. Thanks in large part to Lillard, the Blazers repeatedly pushed back against Warriors runs, refusing to crumble despite their youth and a loud, testy Oracle Arena crowd.
Portland looked ready to split and, in turn, make the next few days much more complicated for the defending champions. One question was bound to fill the three off days before Saturday’s Game 3: “How long can the Warriors get by without Curry?”
The Warriors’ defense squelched those conversations and that pressure before they could get started. Too soft in defending Lillard’s pull-up jumpers for most of the game, the Warriors chased him and crowded his pick-and-rolls with reserve big man Festus Ezeli in the fourth quarter, holding him without a point in the final period. Too willing to give up high-percentage looks in the paint for most of the game, the Warriors, and Green in particular, took back command of the basket area, holding the Blazers to five field goals while forcing five turnovers in the final period.
“Nights like tonight, they suck. It hurts,” Lillard said, after Portland was outscored 34–12 in the fourth quarter and held without a field goal for more than five minutes down the stretch. “We were in control of the game for three and a half quarters. We controlled the game completely. You’ve got to play 48 minutes of excellent basketball to beat this team, and we played 42.”
Green, who posted 17 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists and four blocks, keyed Golden State’s resurgence by forcing a number of turnovers and contesting multiple shots down the stretch. Those stops helped encourage a more proactive and patient approach on offense, as Green and Thompson probed the Blazers’ defense in search of better opportunities rather than bombing away from outside.
“I was a bit thirsty at times tonight,” Green admitted. “There came a point where me and Klay were trying to do too much. When we settled down and trusted everybody else, that’s when everything clicked for us.”
Thompson scored 10 of his game-high 27 points in the final period, hitting back-to-back three-pointers to give the Warriors their first lead of the game midway through the period. Those threes at once relieved and excited the home crowd; Green took it home with a brilliant end-to-end sequence, blocking Mason Plumlee and then slicing through the paint for a demoralizing dunk.
For Portland, there were plenty of positive takeaways: Lillard (25 points) and McCollum (22 points) regularly shook free of Golden State’s perimeter defenders; good ball movement led to plenty of open looks from outside; and the defensive holes that appeared early in Game 1 were covered up fairly well through the first three quarters of Game 2.
Those developments bode well as the series shifts to the Moda Center, where the Blazers went 3–0 in the first round against the Clippers, but they still amount to a bitter consolation prize thanks to the Warriors’ emphatic closing run.
“This was the perfect opportunity,” Lillard said. “We played how we talked about wanting to play on film. We played hungry, we played physical, we did it together. We were not fun to play against defensively or offensively. … They’re a championship team. They turned it up a level and we didn’t match that.”
Like their coach in his moment of exasperation, the Warriors decided that enough was enough. As a reward, they’ll enjoy a relatively placid extended break, free of Curry-centric panic.