Eight months after a Western Conference Finals showdown, the Golden State Warriors and Portland Trail Blazers met in the Pacific Northwest on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
The teams looked just a little bit different. Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala were gone for the Warriors, as was surprising almost-hero Meyers Leonard, and Splash Brother Brother Seth Curry for the Blazers. Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green were injured on one side; CJ McCollum, Rodney Hood, and Zach Collins on the other side, not to mention the still-sidelined Jusuf Nurkic. The Warriors roster was gutted by injuries; Portland’s by a combination of injuries and a large trade with the Sacramento Kings, in which the Blazers new players were not yet able to join the team.
Golden State played just eight players, because eight players was all they had. Portland played just nine players, because nine players was all they had, and if you’d never heard of Moses Brown or Jaylen Hoard, no one is taking away your NBA fandom card, I promise.
Of the seventeen players who played in the game, only two of them appeared in that series in May. One was Damian Lillard. The other was Anfernee Simons, who saw all of three minutes of action in the playoff sweep.
On the surface, it was a hilarious game to end up on ESPN’s holiday schedule. In reality, it was perfectly fitting.
The game - a 129-124 overtime win by the Blazers - was fun. More than that, it was thrilling. And not just if you’re a Blazers fan. And honestly, you needn’t cheer on Portland to appreciate Lillard, as the Oakland product put up 61 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists, to just 2 turnovers. That’s like, my entire high school career, minus a few dozen turnovers.
But if the Blazers were fun in victory, the Warriors were somehow even more fun in defeat. They didn’t have the star performance that Portland had - D’Angelo Russell had 27 points, 8 rebounds, and 9 assists, but shot just 9-27 from the field, 5-16 from deep, committed 6 turnovers, and had 5 fouls - but somehow they hung around.
The Warriors whipped the ball around the perimeter, and often into the post, resulting in 30 assists - a beautifully large number that we grew accustomed to with the dynastic Dubs. They scrapped, outrebounding the Blazers 60-54, despite being just 26th in the league in rebounding rate. They didn’t shoot well, but between rebounds and turnovers, they managed to take 16 more shots than Portland - enough of a discrepancy to force five minutes of free basketball.
If you watched the game, you left with a smile on your face, loss be damned. If you didn’t watch the game . . . well, look at some of the social media reaction:
Warriors are on a 3-game entertaining streak— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) January 21, 2020
THIS GAME IS ON ONE— Nitz Bluv (@nitzbluv) January 21, 2020
Warriors keeping the fans thoroughly entertained while keeping the tank rolling along is elite talent and execution— Andy Liu (@AndyKHLiu) January 21, 2020
The Warriors aren’t supposed to be fun. They have the worst record in the league. The bulk of their stars are sidelined.
I’ve spent many a recap this year saying things like, “if you didn’t watch this game, I don’t blame you.” But lately that hasn’t been the case.
There are a lot of fun things you could have been doing on your holiday Monday evening. I’m not sure many of them were more fun than watching the Warriors empty their gas tank against the Blazers.