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Warriors vs. Blazers Game 4 preview: Time for Golden State to sweep the series with Steve Kerr out

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Steve Kerr out, as is Jusuf Nurkic for the Blazers. Kevin Durant, Livingston, and Barnes all questionable.

NBA: Playoffs-Golden State Warriors at Portland Trail Blazers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

What: Round 1, Game 4 (Warriors lead series 3-0)

When: Monday, 7:30 p.m. PT

Where: Moda Center, Portland, OR

TV: TNT

Blog buddy: Blazer’s Edge

With just one more win needed to seal a trip to round two of the playoffs, a victory Monday night would mean a welcome respite for a weary Warriors squad. In our preview, I wasn’t alone when I predicted a sweep in this series.

After three games, it’s “so far so good” although it took some late game heroics to win that last one! The Warriors had already spent the series proving they could win without Kevin Durant and Shaun Livingston, and now it looks like they’ll need to prove they can win without head coach Steve Kerr as well.

Most importantly, the injury updates

Kerr missed his first game of the season due to illness. Not just any illness though; the actual concerns here go well beyond basketball and at this point the Warriors are definitely keeping him out for Monday’s game, and potentially much longer.

Damn.

In the interim, Kerr will participate in practices as he can, and will watch game films and such. Yet another reason the Warriors want to get this series over with as soon as possible is to maximize down time before Round two of the playoffs. It’s good to know that even in the worst case scenario, assistant coach Mike Brown and the rest of the coaching staff will still have Kerr’s input and guidance. As Luke Walton showed last season, this machine that Kerr has built can run pretty smoothly, even without him directly being on the sideline for every game.

The Trail Blazers are a donut - a big hole in the middle

The Blazers made the right move and will be shutting down Jusef Nurkic for the rest of the series. Nurkic has not been with the Blazers long, but his interior presence and sheer size change the entire dynamic of their team (they went 13-6 with him, a marked improvement that saved a .500 season for them). In a much less immediate sense, he also seemed to be the best option for slowing down Javale McGee. However, after trying to play through a non-displaced leg fracture and still experiencing pain, it’s a no-brainer to shut Nurk down – even more so now that the Blazers are down 0-3. This is a team that has an infamous history with injuries and it seems past time that they’re due for some good luck.

The Warriors are resilient and deep like a submarine

Speaking of 0-3, the Warriors continue to list Shaun Livingston, Kevin Durant, and Matt Barnes as “questionable.” I’m not going to venture a guess as to how ready these guys are, but I can’t help but appreciate what a luxury it is to not have any pressure to rush these players back. It’s one of the silver linings from the lingering after effects of the way our last season ended – the Warriors organization, from players to staff, understand the two-and-a-half month slog that are the NBA playoffs.

This is made possible partially through strong bench play. Of course super reserve Andre Iguodala has been amazing, and beyond that, I’m honestly having a hard time figuring out who has been the biggest revelation. McGee gets the extra attention at the end of this article, but Iguodala and Patrick McCaw both warrant a mention here for their contributions. The absence of Durant (along with backup point guard Livingston and reserve wing Matt Barnes) forced both Iguodala and McCaw into expanded roles. Both have met the request and perhaps even over-delivered.

What’s been working?

In the series preview, I talked about my two main factors – the battle of the backcourts, and injury (specifically if Nurkic could force us to play Zaza more than we wanted to).

Of the backcourt battle, I said:

Unlike the Warriors, it just doesn’t seem possible for the Blazers to contend in the series unless their backcourt outplays ours.

But I didn’t talk about scale. Sure, for what it’s worth, the Portland duo of Damien Lillard and CJ McCollum have outscored Klay Thompson and Steph Curry by a combined total of about 8 points per game (the duos have averaged 53.7 and 45.6 PPG, respectively). Some of this is undoubtedly due to the absence of Kevin Durant, which has simplified Portland’s defensive needs. Thompson is shooting well below his average - his pedestrian .474 TS% is second-worst among Warriors in the series.

And yet… it’s all working out. Both Curry and Thompson have managed their fair share of dominant plays, and with the bench playing as well as they have been there’s really no need for more. I said that the Blazers backcourt had to outplay ours, but even if they have, the margin has not quite been enough yet. Not that it’s much consolation, but they’ve earned a lot of praise with their play this series. Which brings me to my next point…

Injuries and the bigs

Maybe Nurkic would have prevented it, but whatever the reason, Javale McGee has been going off in the series. His 32.3 points per 36 minutes leads the team – ahead of even Kevin Durant. On a per game basis he’s fourth in team scoring (11.7 PPG), despite averaging a mere 13 minutes per contest. That’s pretty much dead last, ahead of only Damien Jones and Kevon Looney.

At this point, it sure as heck looks like McGee – a guy who was out of the league – may be the player that puts this series out of the Blazers’ reach.

In a series where we have been forced to survive without our third star as Durant continues to rehabilitate from lower leg issues, it’s really not overstating to say that McGee saved the series. These are small samples of minutes that we are looking at (McGee’s 39 minutes are just slightly more than the 36 minutes played by Durant in a single game) but his impact is irrefutable. And it’s not just points. While Draymond Green may lead the team in blocks with an eye-popping average of 4.6 blocks per game so far, it is McGee who leads the team in block percentage (the percentage of shots blocked by a player while he’s on the court) and rebound percentage (percentage of rebounds gathered while a player is on the court). The Blazers have no real answer for McGee, and unless they figure one out fast, the next game could easily be the last one of the Blazers’ 2016-17 season.

All stats for Blazers and Warriors playoffs were taken from Basketball reference.