After starting out the season with two unimpressive wins and a blowout loss to the Spurs, the Warriors finally played like a team that has Steph Curry and Kevin Durant on it, on Tuesday against the Portland Trailblazers. Golden State defeated Portland 127-104 and was leading by as many as 35 at one point, despite the fact that Golden State's starters were sluggish to start the game.
For the most part, the first half saw the Warriors continuing a trend from their first three games of the season: missing wide-open shots and allowing the opposition's best player to go off, which in this case was Damian Lillard. Curry was particularly sluggish in the first 24 minutes, going 2-9 from the field for 5 points to go along with 4 turnovers.
It seems sharing the court with another MVP and not having the same green light he had last season to launch shots at-will has thrown Curry off his game. The first half gave an uneasy sense of foreboding that we will only see glimpses of Curry's heroics from a season ago. To compound matters, Curry gave up a wide-open layup to Lillard early in the first quarter and committed silly fouls, including one where he grabbed Lillard's arm on a three-point attempt. Here’s how coach Steve Kerr summed up Curry’s performance in the first half, per Mercury News:
“He had the attention span of Riley (Curry) in the first half,” Steve Kerr said.
As for Curry’s fellow Splash Bro, Klay Thompson hasn't been able to buy a shot all season, and his shooting slump carried over into Tuesday's game in which he finished 6-17 from the field. Perhaps nothing captured how forgettable Thompson's night was than when he got blocked three times under the basket ... in the same possession. It seemed like the Warriors were going to have to rely once again on Kevin Durant's brilliance in isolation to stay afloat against a non-contender.
Meanwhile, Durant continues to look like the most comfortable Warrior on the floor offensively as he continued his efficient scoring season, with 20 points on 9-15 shooting.
Unexpected bench production
While the starters seemed submerged in the mire of their early season woes, the bench unit soared above the criticism of their lack of firepower. We quickly learned that part of the reason Curry struggled so much is that he transferred his powers to Ian Clark, who made all 8 of his shots for a career-high 22 points. Clark became the first Warrior reserve since Chris Mullen in 1996 to take at least 8 shots without a single miss.
The Warriors were losing 21-14 when Clark entered the game, but a montage of floaters and three-pointers from Curry range by the 6'3" guard out of Belmont University helped put the team up 32-25. After getting outscored 118-54 in the first three games, the Warriors' reserves combined for 54 points on 21-30 shooting. That shooting percentage would've been a little higher if Andre Iguodala hadn't forgotten how to make layups.
Steph being Steph
The two-time MVP took back his powers from Clark during halftime and, in the second half, was no longer reticent about taking the shots he normally takes. Curry's first basket of the third quarter came in semi-transition when he bobbled the basketball after dribbling behind the back and launched a three anyway. Curry erupted for 11 points in the first two minutes of the quarter, and the Warriors' lead ballooned to 13. He then took a contested three early in the shot clock that splashed through the hoop.
Curry's outside shooting barrage opened things up for him in the paint, where he took a hit from Mason Plumlee and converted one of the most acrobatic reverse layups, after driving baseline, you'll ever see. Curry ended up outscoring the entire Blazers’ team by 3 in the third quarter with 23 points on 8-12 shooting. It was a relief to see Curry putting on a similar fireworks show to the ones we were accustomed to seeing all last season.
While Curry went out guns blazing offensively, Durant and Draymond Green shut Portland down defensively. As if Green needed any more motivation — Lillard recently said that the Warriors’ defense was "just not the same" without Andrew Bogut. The comment unsurprisingly fueled Draymond to a monstrous defensive night, blocking 3 shots and coming up with 2 steals to go along with 8 boards. Blazers rookie Jake Layman went off for 17 points in garbage time. Otherwise, Golden State held Portland to just 39% shooting from the field.
“I think some opinions will change sooner or later,” Green said in response to Lillard's comments, per Mercury News. “But until then, we’ll just keep doing that. And when they change, we’ll keep doing that still. It was fun to do that. I love when people say stuff like that. I take it personal. It really got me going on that end tonight. I felt amazing out there. And I think our defense was amazing.”
Golden State allayed much of the concerns that arose after their shellacking in the first game of the season against the Spurs. However, Portland isn't the physical, rebounding machine that usually gives Golden State problems. The Warriors' toughness will be tested much more heavily against Steven Adams and the Thunder on Thursday night in a highly anticipated match-up.