The Warriors did not have to wait long to try and get a little payback after the Portland Trail Blazers handed them a shocking overtime loss on Thursday night. The two teams played for the second time in three days, this time facing off at the Moda Center in Portland on Saturday night. This game was a strange one, filled with hyper-charged emotions and questionable officiating. It was also a game the Warriors controlled for nearly the entire time, leading by as many as 18 points on their way to at 115-105 win.
Thompson gets rolling
After struggling for what seemed like the longest stretch of his career, Klay Thompson got something going offensively on Saturday night. Thompson scored 32 points against the Trail Blazers, leading all Warriors players. Thompson’s 32 points were also the most he’d scored in a game since his record-setting game against the Chicago Bulls on October 29th. This game was also Thompson’s 50th career game scoring 30+ points.
Thompson’s long-distance shooting looked much better. Thompson went 4-for-5 from three-point range, his best performance from beyond the arc in quite some time. On his final three-pointer of the night, there seemed to be a sense of relief about Thompson, as if things were finally getting back to normal.
Klay tells his right hand "I missed you" after draining a 3 pic.twitter.com/j9UBktbxyy— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) December 30, 2018
It wasn’t a perfectly played game from Thompson—there was still too much dribbling from him and too many contested, mid-range shots. But it was a game much closer to what we’ve come to expect from Thompson during his time in the league
It should also serve as a reminder that much of the Warriors’ struggles of late were because one of their most important players was mired in an enormous (and anomalous) slump. It’s not worth getting out the pitchforks and flaming torches in anger when it’s more-or-less a matter of unlucky bounces of the ball. If Thompson plays even slightly better in the Warriors’ most recent losses, they probably end up with a few more wins.
The emergence of long-distance Looney?
Kevon Looney also played well on Saturday night. Looney scored 12 points, his most since a December 3rd win over the Atlanta Hawks. 9 of Looney’s 12 points came in the first quarter, points that were needed as the Trail Blazers looked to build on the momentum of their overtime victory at Oracle Arena and start the game strong.
Most notably, Looney knocked down a three-pointer in that first quarter. It was Looney’s first made three-pointer since last season’s game against the Indiana Pacers and just the fifth made three-pointer of his career.
First Dubs of the night from Looney pic.twitter.com/2qlMPG5SyH— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) December 30, 2018
There are a lot of players about whom it can be said “If they could just add a three-pointer to their game.” But... if Looney could add a three-pointer to his game, his value would skyrocket. It will be interesting to see how much more often he breaks out his three-point shot this season and if it becomes something he begins to use more regularly.
Though giving up pounds and inches to Jusuf Nurkic, Looney did an admirable job defending the Trail Blazers’ big man. He wasn’t going to stop him every time, but he displayed a willingness to bang bodies and be physical even while not having a size advantage.
There will be more discussion of the Warriors’ big man situation later on in this piece, but Looney continues to be a dependable and valuable presence on the Warriors’ roster.
Stars and subs make big contributions in Dubs’ win
Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant helped carry the load along with Thompson on Saturday night. The Warriors’ two former MVPs each scored 25 points, coming up with big shots to get the Warriors the victory. But they did more than just score the ball. Curry handed out 8 assists and grabbed 5 rebounds against the Trail Blazers while Durant finished the game with 5 assists, 2 rebounds, 1 steal, and 1 block. Though his offensive game paled in comparison to Thompson, Curry, and Durant, Draymond Green’s defense was stellar and was an important factor in the Warriors slowing down the Trail Blazers’ offense.
Since they were to be without Andre Iguodala in the second half after one of the most absurd officiating decisions in recent memory, the Warriors were going to need some players further down the bench to make up for the absence of the 2015 Finals MVP. Jonas Jerebko and Quinn Cook both stepped up and made key contributions with Iguodala sent home early.
Jerebko, who turns in games like these so regularly I should probably stop being surprised, scored 8 points on Saturday night, going 2⁄3 from three-point range. Jerebko also finished the game with 4 rebounds while also posting a +14.
With all the star power the Warriors have in their starting lineup, the Warriors need their bench players to not be minuses, to make enough positive contributions to bridge the minutes while they get their rest. Jerebko is turning out to be quite adept at playing that way and that’s why he’s looking to be a perfect fit with this Warriors team.
Cook scored just six points in the win , but all six of those points came in the final minute of the third quarter as the Warriors pushed their lead back to 15 after the Trail Blazers had cut it to just 5. Cook has had an up-and-down season but against the Trail Blazers he showed why he’s a solid player for the Warriors to have on their bench and someone who can make important contributions when playing against good teams.
Nurkic, Lillard were trying for the Trail Blazers
While Looney did an admirable job against Nurkic, the Trail Blazers’ big man had his way with the Warriors for much of Saturday night’s game. Nurkic scored 21 points against the Warriors while grabbing 10 rebounds and handing out 7 assists. This game came off the heels of his 27-point, 12-rebound performance in Thursday night’s overtime win.
That Nurkic was able to turn in these performances is perhaps emblematic of one problem the Warriors have been dealing with for much of this season.
21 and 8 for Jusuf Nurkic in 25 minutes. Bigger centers continue to punish the Warriors' undersized interior.— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) December 30, 2018
While the Warriors have always been a bit undersized, it’s been taken to an extreme degree this season. This is where the team misses free-agent departures like Zaza Pachulia and JaVale McGee and the injured Damian Jones. While most people look forward to DeMarcus Cousins getting on the court for what he will do offensively, it will also be a boost to have a more traditional big man out there to do battle with players like Nurkic.
Outside of Nurkic, the Trail Blazers got a great game from Oakland native Damian Lillard. Lillard, who steps his game up when playing against the team from his hometown (though for some reason not against the New Orleans Pelicans in the first round of the playoffs), scored 40 points in Saturday night’s loss, leading all scorers. But beyond those two and 12 points from CJ McCollum (aka Mr. “I’m trying, Jennifer”) the Trail Blazers didn’t have enough to win their second-straight game against the Warriors.