In my recap of Game 1 of the 2019 Western Conference Finals, I mentioned a few things that I felt the Portland Trail Blazers would have to do in order to beat the Golden State Warriors with any measure of consistency.
Among those points was that the Blazers would have to find a way to exploit their considerable rebounding advantage on paper and turn that into second chance points. But, clearly, that’s a bit more complicated in reality than it sounds in theory.
The problem for Portland is that in order to take advantage of that rebounding advantage they have to make sacrifices defensively and offensively — with Jusuf Nurkic out due to season-ending injury, there just isn’t a big man on Portland’s roster who can score consistently and defend the Warriors’ schemes.
An nobody embodies that problem more than Blazers center Enes Kanter, as Paulo Uggetti of The Ringer described.
Terry Stotts played him for only 19 minutes and he grabbed five boards and scored four points. This is looking more and more like a “Can’t play Kanter” series—except that if Portland doesn’t play Kanter, their alternate options are not much better. Stotts went to Meyers Leonard early in this game and he ended up playing 17 minutes. While he had some key rebounds and one particularly nifty pass in the fourth quarter, he also took three 3s and only made one. He was a minus-six, the worst of any Blazers bench player. For the few minutes that Portland decided to play small with Al-Farouq Aminu at center, the Warriors crushed the boards, and on the whole night, they outrebounded them 50-37, and 12-10 on offensive rebounds. You’d like to imagine the Blazers will play better at home, but the reality is they’re extremely overmatched in the frontcourt, especially with Kevon Looney suddenly playing like a lite version of young Draymond.
As a result of the Warriors’ Game 2 rebounding advantage that Uggetti mentioned — it was a 30.8% - 20.8% offensive rebounding advantage — they established a 25-14 advantage in second chance points. The Warriors generally kept themselves out of foul trouble. C.J. McCollum, in keeping with his track record against the Warriors, shot 9-for-23 (39.1%) from the field.
It’s just going to be hard to beat the Warriors that way, no matter how big a first half lead they establish.
Tonight, both teams are responding to the post story in this series by starting a different center: Meyers Leonard starting for Portland and Damian Jones starting for the Warriors.
Terry Stotts going with Meyers Leonard over Kanter to start Game 3. Different task for Jones. Leonard spreads the floor. Also: Damian Jones vs Meyers Leonard to start a conference finals game. Sure.— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) May 19, 2019
The Blazers’ bench is holding strong against the Warriors and maybe homecourt advantage will swing a game as competitive as Game 2 in their favor over the next two games. However, it doesn’t seem like Leonard will make a difference; it still just feels like it will take one of those bizarrely poor performances from the Warriors for the Blazers to win a game rather than anything in the Blazers’ control.