After being down double digits, the Golden State Warriors entered the 4th quarter of game two of the Western Conference Finals tied with the Portland Trail Blazers before putting the Blazers away with a steal to win by a few points. It wasn’t anything close to the 21 point blowout in game 1, but the three point win puts the Warriors up 2-0 in the series.
Now we swing up to Portland, where the Blazers are facing what is essentially a must-win game if they want to have any hope of winning the series. Even without superstars Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins, the two-time defending champs have proven to be too much for Damian Lillard and the Blazers. A third straight loss tonight will essentially end the series.
To show on screens, or not to show on screens, that is the question
The famous monologue from Hamlet has the eponymous character wondering if maybe death wouldn’t be so bad or if he should continue to put up with the “slings and arrows” of life. For Terry Stotts and the Blazers, they chose the latter in game 2 — rolling out gameplan adjustments like showing harder on screens (stepping forward to challenge the shooter), and decreasing Enes Kanter’s minutes. It felt like a wiser course of action than conceding open looks to the world’s best shooter, but the end result was only marginally different.
Watch the final four plays of game 2. This is exactly what Stotts was worried about when he gave a terse answer after his team was eviscerated by Stephen Curry on the perimeter in the first game — notice how the added attention causes downstream problems for the Blazers defense:
The final four Warriors buckets to close out Game 2 were all created by Steph Curry drawing two defenders pic.twitter.com/vcBSGJSeB0— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) May 17, 2019
Moving forward, it’s not clear what (if any) adjustments are called for next. As is often the case in the NBA, the gameplan will ultimately come down to personnel. As the Warriors erased a 15 point deficit in the 3rd quarter on Thursday it was evident that eventually the Splash Brothers would be able to wear a path through the frantic Blazers help defense.
Kanter played 10 less minutes (19 minutes in game 2), but the cupboard is relatively bare, as far as other options go. Without Jusef Nurkic, the Blazers have subpar solutions. Zach Collins, who was heralded by some Portland fans as an X factor coming into this series, was a team worst minus-12 in 13 minutes of action, with no points and five fouls. Meyers Leonard appeared to be the next option, but was largely ineffective in his 15 minutes. Lacking the foot speed and acumen of someone like Draymond Green, Leonard was often caught out of position.
My guess is that Mo Harkless or Evan Turner will become the de facto center, not because they are any sort of ideal response, but more so because the Blazers don’t really have any other options.
Curry ended up with 37 points on a disgustingly efficient 22 shot attempts. Like so many teams that came before, the Blazers staff and players are going to spending a lot of time watching game film and scratching their heads in search of ways to slow down Curry, while not also opening themselves up to cutters getting easy layups.
These hands — Warriors defense stifling Blazers attack
While the huge strip by Andre Iguodala is getting the lion’s share of attention, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green were just difficult for Portland to figure out. Lillard and McCollum ended the game with 45 points, but on a not very efficient 15-of-39 shooting.
But first, let’s talk about that strip.
Like he did to LeBron James in game three of the 2017 Finals, as well as to Kevin Durant and to Russell Westbrook back in 2016, Iguodala managed a high stakes steal that effectively ended the game. Running back to the training room as the final buzzer sounded, Iguodala held his hands out in front of himself, wondering aloud at the magic.
Sportscenter airs Andre Iguodala yelling "these motherfuckers are crazy" while holding up his hands LOL pic.twitter.com/Zdu89jcwDk— gifdsports (@gifdsports) May 17, 2019
The league came back with their “last two minute report” to confirm that there was some hot stove contact, but regardless, the end result was a heartbreaker for Portland and their fans.
And let’s not overlook Draymond Green, who was absolutely phenomenal all game. According to Chris Haynes, it was Green who lobbied Kerr at halftime to ramp up the on-ball pressure on Lillard and CJ McCollum:
...annoyed with how their defense had just allowed 65 points, he had one question right before his team took the court to begin the second half: Do we want to continue blitzing Lillard and McCollum?
Draymond Green, a few members of the team told Yahoo Sports, promptly responded, “Absolutely. In fact, we should blitz harder.”
This defense from Draymond is beyond remarkable:— Drew Shiller (@DrewShiller) May 17, 2019
1) he stops a McCollum layup by forcing CJ to pass
2) he lands from jumping, immediately turns and blocks what looked like was gonna be an easy Harkless layup
(do people realize how amazing this is?) pic.twitter.com/dCNflD8dRT
Finally, because he doesn’t get anywhere near an appropriate amount of credit for it, check out the impact that Klay Thompson had while serving as the primary defender on Lillard:
Damian Lillard when defended by Klay Thompson last night on 44 possessions:— r/Warriors (@GSWReddit) May 17, 2019
0/4 3PT pic.twitter.com/2djxbPuXgP
Role Players coming up big for the Warriors, not so much for Blazers
After running the starters out for as much as they could take against the Houston Rockets, Kerr started the Conference Finals by saying that this was a series where we could dig a bit deeper into our bench.
The obvious standout so far has been Kevon Looney. A revelation all season, he’s a frequent contributor to the team’s best lineups this year. Stout enough to survive in the post, and agile enough to not get destroyed off switches on the perimeter, he’s recently become one of the team’s most frequent recipients of gifts provided by Portland’s heavy attention on Curry and Thompson.
Kevon Looney in Game 2 vs. the Blazers:— Drew Shiller (@DrewShiller) May 17, 2019
-29 minutes (playoff career high)
-14 points (T-2nd most in playoff career)
-7 rebounds (3 offensive = 8 Warriors points)
+8 (second best to Curry's +10) https://t.co/neJ85nu0AL
These playoff games are often decided in the margins, and Portland’s game 2 margins were not good, aside from Seth Curry’s 16 points.
Mo Harkless (12 points, four rebounds) was decent, but Zach Collins (zero points, zero rebounds), Evan Turner (six points) and Enes Kanter (four points) will all have to do significantly better if the Blazers are to have any hope of winning game three in Portland tonight.
This one is pretty easy, every game will be at 6pm on ESPN (tip off is approximately 6:10)
Game 3: Sat, May 18, Golden State at Portland
Game 4: Mon, May 20, Golden State at Portland
*Game 5: Wed, May 22, Portland at Golden State
*Game 6: Fri, May 24, Golden State at Portland
*Game 7: Sun, May 26, Portland at Golden State
* - If Necessary (which is getting less and less likely)
Coming in, we had this series going just five games. With everything on the line, this would seem to be the one that Portland takes.
But after stomping them by over 20 points and then delivering a heart-breaking last-minute comback, I’m not sure the Trail Blazers are going to be able to avoid the sweep. Even without Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins, the Warriors have felt like a team that is a tier above their opponent.
Warriors by 5.