The Golden State Warriors defeated the Portland Trail Blazers 119-113 in the third game of this first round playoff series. Down 16 in the third quarter, the Warriors went on a 19-1 to take the lead for the first time since the opening minutes of the game. The run was fueled by JaVale McGee, who continues to demonstrate his value at the center position. Despite a poor shooting performance in the first half, the Splash Brothers found their stride in the second half, with Klay Thomspon and Stephen Curry getting 14 points in the third and fourth quarter respectively. Faced with a double digit deficit on the road against a team playing with considerably higher stakes on the outcome of the game, the shorthanded Warriors found a way to prevail.
The Warriors struggled out of the gate, allowing Portland to build a ten point lead late in the first quarter. This game was a must-win for the Trail Blazers and their star backcourt of Damian Lilllard and CJ McCollum played like it. Lillard and McCollum outscored Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson 27 to 8 in the first quarter, and 39 to 22 in the first half. The scoring discrepancy was formed in part by Portland’s backcourt making seven of their 11 first half three-point attempts, compared to the Splash Brother’s measly two of nine. Behind their stars, the Blazers shot 58% in the opening frame to the Warriors 38%.
While Lillard and McCollum had Monstar’d away Curry and Thompson’s talents from beyond the arc, rookie Patrick McCaw answered the call and played with poise in his second career playoff start. The rook scored just five points in the first quarter, on a layup and corner three, but his contributions extended beyond just putting up points. Defensively, McCaw put his long frame and defensive instincts to use, picking Jusuf Nurkic’s pocket on one possession and blocking Al-Farouq Aminu on another. He finished the game with a balanced statline: 11 points, five rebounds, five assists, three steals, and a block, all without a turnover.
McCaw looks like a completely different player than just a couple months ago, and not just because he is rocking a fresh new cut. The nervous, over-passing McCaw of old is unrecognizable in his inspired play of late. While he finished the game with the Warriors lowest plus-minus (-14), he has taken tremendous strides in his play, and his development is a welcome sign for a team that looks to be in the luxury tax for years to come. 1st Quarter Score - 30-37
The 2nd quarter started much like the 1st with the Warriors struggling to convert on offensive opportunities and create stops on the other end. The Blazers opened the quarter with a 12-3 run, as the bench unit lead by Klay Thompson and Draymond Green stagnated offensively. David West, an important passing axis in those lineups, threw two early turnovers which was representative of how the game as a whole went for him. This quarter was artificially extended by a lengthy review of a West shove on Evan Turner, which resulted in a Flagrant 1 on West and a technical on Turner.
Draymond Green was the shining point of the second quarter, doing whatever he could on both ends to erase the deficit leading into halftime. Just seconds after he was inserted into the game late in the half, he blocked a Maurice Harkless layup. In another sequence, the DPOY-hopeful fed JaVale McGee on a perfect lob, then got free throws off Noah Vonleh, and finally drew a charge on Vonleh on the other end. Green would finish the game with a near-triple double: nine points, eight rebounds, seven assists, six blocks, and two steals with two made three-pointers as well. 2nd Quarter Score - 54-67
While the Warriors ultimately forced themselves back into the game in this quarter, it would get worse before it got better, as a 25-foot CJ McCollum three put Portland up 16 with 8:30 left in the quarter. Unsurprising to anyone who has payed close attention to this series and the Warriors win streak before that, JaVale McGee was the most impactful player in his limited minutes and completely turned the tides of the game (who would have thought this was a sentence one could write during the preseason?).
McGee finished the night a ridiculous +24 in just 16 minutes played, scoring 14 points on playing fantastic defense on the other end. McGee has become a fan-favorite for not just his gravity-defying lobs and powerful blocks but because of his growth within the team. Early in the season, the lob threat was always there, but because of McGee’s poor defensive principles, the Warriors rarely built leads off his play. That is a far cry from the McGee of late, who has been a force on both ends of the ball. Ron Adams and the coaching staff have turned a perennial fouler into a savvy defender, who showed multiple instances of terrific on-ball defense on smaller players as well. The advanced statistics confirm the eye test as well; the Warriors have been at their best this series with McGee on the floor.
Series so far: Portland's outscored GSW by 4 in 105 JaVale-less minutes. GSW's outscored Portland by 51 in JaVale's 39 minutes pic.twitter.com/lw2ioIA2Ag— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) April 23, 2017
Klay Thompson finally found his shot in the third, putting up 14 of his final 24 points in this frame. Thompson made four of his six three-point attempts in the quarter, finally putting some pressure on the Portland defense. Like other Warriors, Thompson found himself the beneficiary of McGee’s hustle with one particular sequence that included the center poking the ball away from Turner, then diving for the ball and finally recovering for a contest at the rim to force the miss which would lead to a Thompson three on the other end. The Warriors outscored the Blazers 33 to 21 in the quarter and took the lead with a JaVale McGee dunk to put the Warriors up 85-83.
This lead to a fantastic shot of Kevin Durant reacting like much of us, in utter awe of this team. Durant’s reaction is funny because he has essentially become a fan in the last months, with his knee and now calf issue sidelining him. With the best seats in the house, he has had a literal front-row view into the chemistry and team play that has made the Warriors the most dominant team in the past three years. 3rd Quarter Score - 87-88
While JaVale McGee was the game-changer for the Warriors in this first round matchup, it was Stephen Curry who took the team home and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. The two-time MVP showed up when it counted, pouring in 14 points in the final frame, including two clutch trips to the charity stripe. What should have been a dagger three that put the Warriors up 113-106 with less than a minute to play was wiped away when Klay Thompson fouled Damian Lillard on a three-point attempt. Lillard hit all three-free throws and the Warriors were faced with another must-score opportunity. As he often does, Curry delivered and hit a tough running jumper on Allen Crabbe to ice the game.
The unanimous MVP tallied 34 points and eight assists with just one turnover. Additionally, he grabbed four boards, forced two steals, and registered a block in 39 minutes of play time. He finished with +13, second only to McGee’s +24. Curry had the ball on a string all game long, narrowly eliminating flashy dribble sequences from his personal highlight reel with unfortunate misses at the rim. One warrior who has not been mentioned yet is Andre Iguodala, who was particularly springy with several powerful dunks, including a tomahawk semi-poster on Vonleh. Iguodala logged heavy minutes, 36 on the night, but he was important in transition and he lead all reserves in points with 16. It would be nice to see his offense, specifically his shooting, return to the level it was during the win streak, but it appears more likely he has somewhat regressed to his mean in that respect. Final Score - 119-113
It is easy to look at a game such as this one and draw the conclusion that JaVale McGee is the Warriors best center by any measurable stretch and deserves as much playtime as he can sustain with his asthma. This is compounded in part by how unplayable Zaza Pachulia has looked at times. As someone who has been biased towards McGee all season long, it’s particularly hard not to compare the slow, lumbering Pachulia with the tornado of limbs that is McGee. It is important to remember that with the Warriors center rotation, matchups determine minutes due to the disparate advantages offered by every piece. That being said, in this matchup agains the Trail Blazers, McGee is the best option by far and has so far outplayed all other centers. This may not always be the case, especially agains teams with personnel better suited to defend the lob threat and force counterplay on the other end, but McGee has shined in his limited minutes and transformed the Warriors into an unstoppable force.