The youthful, brilliantly-coached Trail Blazers have come together this season, standing to test the limits of their chemistry at 12:30 PM against the champs at Oracle.
January 8th, 2016
In their first matchup of the regular season, Golden State celebrated a 20-point blowout, despite a sub 50% scoring game from Steph (8-18 FG, 4-11 3pt). Damian dropped 40 that night, but the Warriors defensed C.J. McCollum to a 7-23 FG outing, while riding the success of Klay's hot 7-10 3pt shooting (36 points). Draymond was also extremely active, posting another triple double, and the Dubs got the most efficient game of the season from Brandon Rush. (8-9 FG, 4-4 3pt)
The Warriors need to emulate the strengths from that game. This is Klay Thompson's moment. He enters this postseason as a player with new realizations about his career. If this were a Scorsese film, Klay would be hitting his character arc. He's conquered a new plateau of self-doubt, and has busted through the proverbial glass ceiling of legitimate superstardom.
I bumped into Marc Spears and Rusty Simmons at a local restaurant the summer before last year's championship season. Interrupting their oyster-romp, I walked up to the table, just like this:
Me: "Marc Spears...NBA writer for Yahoo Sports..."
Spears: "Uhhh...yes, how you doing?"
Me: "Hey Rusty, I like your stuff too."
Me: "Anyway, saw you guys over here, and wouldn't let it go until I spoke my mind - Mark my words, Klay Thompson will be the best player to put on a Warrior jersey since Rick Barry."
Spears: "Ah, ok. I don't know about that one. But we're definitely going to see."
Simmons: (Staring at me, chewing silently)
Yes, Stephen Curry has made me eat my words. Incidentally, Klay is beginning to tap into his highest potential and the playoffs are the marrow of a player's growth.
Mychal Thompson played for the Blazers 1978-86, and Klay grew up in Lake Oswego, Oregon. Many who know him, will be watching.
When Steph's knee gave way from under him, the Warrior fan thought his luck had finally run out -- for all of one day. The MRI not only promises the return of the torch, but also affords Steve Kerr's team the chance to take another round without their best guy. A winning series against Portland would ice Steve's rightful place as COY, and add drama to the Warriors' legendary saga as a quintessential sports team -- without fear, without weakness.
Klay single-handedly put the Rockets to bed with his seven three-point hammers. The league will remember that. The approaching pages remain unwritten, but the author returns to his old stomping grounds near Washington State, and promises to give his old followers something to remember. Thompson will look to scribe his masterpiece at the Rose Garden, and the ball will be his pen. The spectator should not be perplexed to watch Klay put up 10+ bombs a contest this round.
Thompson vs McCollum
C.J. is a 6'-4" combo guard with average shot-contest ability. He will need to match his defensive efforts with his offensive production, as shooting guard is perhaps the most crucial position this series. Golden State's number 1 option will go head-to-head against Portland's number 2.
McCollum will have a hard time grabbing and jolting the stronger Thompson off the ball, and doesn't have the length to recover on defense after going over the screen. Not only do the Blazers count largely on C.J.'s scoring to hurt the Warriors, but they're depending on him to contain Klay.
Portland's starting scoring guard is extremely crafty with the ball, and is a master of the step-back midrange shot. He can make the best defenders leave their feet with a suggestion of his forehead, as his shot must be honored. Klay needs to play him vertically and take from fouling early.
Livingston vs. Lillard
The locomotive power of Lillard in the lane versus the floaty craftsmanship of Livingston presents the NBA landscape a new meditation. We can assume Klay will take the majority of reps against Lillard, with Livingston contributing some good licks there too. Shaun has proven to be the ultimate veteran. His aggressive play continues to catapult Klay Thompson's confidence, and his inside-out style is a spacing dream for shooters. In 5 playoff games against Houston, Livingston showed a steady hand and joined Draymond in dictating the pace of the game.
The two-headed, 6'-7" duo of play initiators in Shaun and Draymond gives this Warriors starting lineup a new look, presenting a new set of problems. Shaun is playing with a different mentality and coming fresh off a 7-8 FG performance. He's going to be attacking a young backcourt. Although coached thoroughly by Stotts, Livingston has the length in the post to keep the ball away, and the wisdom to calmly pick his spots. Unlike Curry, Shaun can take his time surveying the court from the post against Portland's smaller backcourt. This will enable room to operate off the ball on the perimeter.
"It's a different game, playing inside-out. I've got to be more aggressive just because of the production that's out. We've got to cut harder, we've got to play harder, and we've got to defend harder. Every little thing. He (Curry) covers a lot of mistakes, a lot of holes."
"I don't expect to make all of that up - that's a guy who leads the league in scoring, and he's the most valuable player. But it's really important to make sure we all remain aggressive and confident. We're trying to make a run for a few more weeks, so I don't think he (Kerr) wants to overexpose me or my body to 40 minutes a night or something like that. But I feel good - trying to remain healthy."
- Shaun LivingstonNYTimes.com
Harkless vs. Green
Most people think Mo Harkless is cooked. They're probably right, but Harkless boasts a level of athleticism not dissimilar to that of Harrison Barnes. He's got great size, power, and full-court speed. You need all of these things if you want to step to Draymond, and Harkless has them. But even with his superb physicality, at 22 years old, the Queens, NY native will lose the mental edge to Green and tons of technique.
Draymond is the ultimate chess player in this league from the power forward spot, and Mo Harkless has recently learned the rudiments of checkers. In my personal opinion, the biggest box here that Green must check, is the rebounding battle. Portland will look to stay alive with extra possessions at the cost of Mo's sweat, while denying them to Golden State. Draymond can't let this happen.
Plumlee vs. Bogut
I'm a little worried about this Mason fella. In Chicago, Plumlee shot a total of 13 free throws, making 10 of them. He knows how to create contact. Against Dallas, Mason pulled ten offensive rebounds, and he's coming off a high-energy first round performance. It's imperative that Bogut saves his fouls and stays in the game to protect the goal from Lillard. Some help on the glass from Barnes is in order here.
Barnes vs. Aminu
This is perhaps the biggest wildcard matchup of the series, in my opinion. Harrison's arrival remains unpredictable. Aminu, like Harkless, is a bit of a hybrid swingman with his combination of length, power, and speed. Truly, Portland's youth, earnest physicality, coaching style, and range on the defensive end, make for a greater challenge than even a healthy LAC team could offer -- and Aminu is no exception to that quality. After something of a breakout year, it's impossible to predict whether he or Barnes will show up to help their clubs.
Speights vs. Davis
Mo would do wonders for his team this round if he could sustain his defensive improvement, or even kick it up one notch. Davis will look to make a difference in the paint, and I can't help but think he's looking at Speights like he has a crosshair on his forehead. Speights needs to hit him. Make him feel pain on the first touch of contact down the court when Davis is looking to gain ground. If Speights can challenge Davis in the position battle while maintaining a decent percentage from the field, it will put Golden State leaps and bounds ahead of Portland. This is a huge match up. Mo has a chance to mitigate one of the Blazer's greatest strengths: the effectiveness from their variety of bigs.
Crabbe vs. Iguodala
This is a great plus matchup for the Warriors. Crabbe is a long 6'-7"and shoots 40% from three. In both Game 2 and Game 3 of the LAC-POR series, Crabbe went scoreless, and finished in the minus category on both occasions. In other words: Trying to find your game in a playoff round against Andre Iguodala is grim. I'm counting on Andre to keep him under wraps.
Fate of the Clippers
Fate can be a funny thing. In late March, Klay Thompson struggled not to laugh in Ros Gold-Onwude's face when she asked about the dwindling rivalry between the Warriors and Clippers after their final regular season contest. The two Pacific-division teams have experienced parallels; both have struggled over the past two decades as bottom-feeding punchlines, and both have seen a major culture change in the past 5 years.
But while fortune seemingly beams on the footsteps of every Dubnation representative nowadays, the Clippers are being silently vacuumed back into the rabbit hole of NBA obscurity.
Chris Paul? If it wasn't clear last season, Paul has to know by now that his ultra-talented squad doesn't have what it takes to make any noise in the finals. Chris is 30 years old now, and has undergone his second major surgery since 2010. He can hear LeBron's voice calling him home like Jesus Shuttlesworth's mom from that Brooklyn apartment window. Once Chris Paul leaves the Clippers, they're just the "other team" in Los Angeles again, leaderless and directionless.
Doc Rivers? Some are beginning to question his championship tenure with the Celtics, and are starting to doubt his leadership. After failing to make the conference finals in consecutive seasons with a loaded roster and arguably the best general in the league at the helm, Rivers' talents as a coach and his vision as an architect are losing credibility, if not the good patience of the people. After the loss of his mother, respectively, and the falling of his two stars, the Clippers will bow out of another post-season, prematurely. It's a long walk back to that drawing board.
Blake Griffin? It's widely speculated that Blake should be moved this off-season. After teeing off on his own man, and then sustaining a season-ending injury instead of a redemption - it's obvious why rumors of his relocation have surfaced.
The Warriors and Clippers should be playing each other in the 2nd round. Instead, they find themselves at a crossroads. Whatever fortune has decreed, it's smiled on the Warriors and frowned heavily on the Clippers. Whatever momentum they've built over the last 6 years is gone.