In a commercial for Kaiser Permanente last season, Stephen Curry proclaimed that every challenge that he faced was won or lost in his mind.
In last night’s Game 3 of the 2019 Western Conference Finals, Curry’s commercial rang true for both the Golden State Warriors and Portland Trailblazers, and reminded those watching in the Moda Center and at home that the game of basketball is not only a game of runs but also a mental game of wills.
The Warriors have it. The Blazers don't and consequently are on the verge of getting swept out of the playoffs.
After falling behind by 18 points in the second quarter, the Warriors outscored Portland 29-13 in the third and followed up with 28-20 in the fourth. That had less to do with strategy and more to do with the mentality and heart of this team. Here are a few observations from last night’s 110-99 game 3 victory.
The decision to start Damian Jones
In the interest of experimentation or arrogance, Warriors’ coach Steve Kerr decided to reboot “The Damian Jones Project” last night by starting him over Andrew Bogut. The logic for the former was that in a potential match up with Milwaukee, Golden State may need him to contend with the Bucks’ length and athleticism. Fair enough on the surface level, but what makes Kerr’s decision to start Jones an arrogant one is the real circumstances as it pertains to Jones.
Before a pectoral tear sidelined him for five months, Jones underperformed. There were multiple games, for example, where he either grabbed only a couple of rebounds or none at all. If not that, he’d get lost and struggle on defense.
All of which didn’t matter to Kerr. Since he’s been feeling himself in the midst of this “Strength In Numbers” wave, he thought that starting Jones, a fledgling center who is fresh off of rehabbing the pectoral injury, in the middle of the conference finals on the road against a desperate Blazers team made sense.
It didn’t. In the first three minutes, Jones committed there fouls. The third foul, biting on a CJ McCollum pump fake gave the Blazers guard three free throws. The Warriors were down five after Jones left the floor, but the damage was already done. Portland capitalized on this error by going to the line 13 times in the first.
It’s understandable that the Warriors are trying to develop the talent that they have, but in the middle of the conference finals certainly wasn’t the time or the place.
Forget about Dray? NEVER!
This series has Draymond Green’s handprints all over it. Last night wasn’t an exception at all. While most of the team was listless and lacked intensity, Green had enough for the whole roster and was the catalyst of the 18-point comeback. Green dictated the pace, quickening the tempo to ensure Portland can't defend in transition. He also defended the paint at times and closed out on shooters in other instances. Most importantly, Green capitalized offensively when the Blazers were playing his passes, lighting up the defense for a triple double of 20 points, 13 rebounds, and 12 assists.
Another thing that really stood out last night was Green’s leadership and counsel. When Jordan Bell missed a breakaway dunk in the third quarter, Green was right there in his ear providing encouragement.
ESPN had Green mic’ed up, and they picked up the talk.
“He missed a shot tonight? Did he? I did. He did too. Keep it moving.” he said to Bell, “It’s okay, you missed a shot. Everybody did. Nobody’s perfect.”
In addition to his energy, Green was even consulting with Kerr on reads and play calls, and leading the reserves per video coordinator James Laughin’s suggestion. In the absence of Durant and DeMarcus Cousins, Green stepped up not only his production but also his leadership.
Nine days of much needed rest
If the Warriors finish off the Blazers tomorrow, they’d get nine days off before game one of the NBA Finals.
And those days will be very useful.
In addition to Durant’s calf strain, Cousins’ injured quad, and Curry’s dislocated finger, Andre Iguodala left the game in the first quarter last night and didn’t return to the bench until the midway point in the second quarter.
Eventually, Iguodala played 18 minutes, but was subbed out for good in the third. Why? It was discovered that Iguodala was diagnosed with left lower calf tightness, and the issue was close to the Achilles, for which he needed a MRI.
Golden State forward Andre Iguodala underwent an MRI on his leg this morning and the results came back negative, league sources tell Yahoo Sports.— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) May 19, 2019
If the Warriors sweep, it will give them much needed time for recovery. Durant’s next evaluation is looming, Curry’s finger will have time to heal for one more round, while Cousins inches closer to action. With a potential match-up with the Bucks looming, winning Monday will be critical.