When the NBA season kicked off, almost every expert had Portland listed as a lottery team and struggling to win games. It’s now the second round of the playoffs, and the Blazers are taking on the defending champion Golden State Warriors.
After taking a beating in Game 1 in Oakland, the Blazers were confident pre-game that they would bounce back in Game 2, and they were scorching hot to start the game. Both C.J. McCollum and Al-Farouq Aminu found their stroke from long range, pushing the Portland lead out to 14 points in the first quarter as the Warriors struggled to get into anything that even resembled rhythm on the offensive end.
It was halfway through the first term when Warriors’ coach Steve Kerr opted for his second team to take the floor, however, getting things going on offense wasn’t the only problem for the Dubs. During the Houston series Golden State displayed a ferocious defensive intensity, which in turn sparked some great transition offense. That all seemed to go out the window on Tuesday, though, as the Blazers players took wide open jump shots and drove to the rim for easy finishes every trip down the floor.
As expected, a Warriors resurgence was on the cards, and it was the usual suspects of Andre Iguodala and Harrison Barnes, along with Ian Clark who lead the way. Switching to running Draymond Green at the center and running with a small lineup, the Portland lead had been reduced to only 5 points, but a strong end to the quarter saw the young Blazers respond and hold their ground heading into the half.
In the absence of Stephen Curry, this Dubs team has taken a different form over the past few weeks. Stepping up to take the role as unofficial team leader has been Draymond Green. There’s no doubt that Green loves to talk, but the way that he has taken Curry’s place as the voice of the team while he recovers from injury has proved that he has matured, and is ready to take then next step in his career.
Kerr spoke about Green’s leadership after the game.
“Draymond is extremely passionate and never takes a game off,” he said. “He’s very competitive, very vocal. We’re a pretty quiet team otherwise, so he’s the one that keeps the engine going.”
In a see-sawing third quarter, Portland kept coming at Golden State, but Green was the shining light for the home team. His direct impact on the scoreboard was not huge, but he was involved in setting up almost every offensive play while on the floor, as well as drawing two offensive fouls on the defensive end.
Post-game, Green reflected on his output.
“I feel like I missed a lot of good shots tonight, and I feel like I was a bit thirsty at times,” he said. “There became [a point] when me and Klay tried to do to much, and when we settled down and trusted everybody else, that’s when everything started to click.”
Playing in a point guard type role throughout the fourth quarter, and getting Festus Ezeli and Klay Thompson involved on the offensive end, Green ignited his team as they drew level with the Blazers with 6:43 left on the clock. it took until midway through the final term for the Warriors offense to click into gear, but once things started clicking, it didn’t matter what the Blazers threw at the Dubs — they were ready to take control of the game.
Ezeli’s fourth quarter had everyone talking in the locker room after the win.
“Festus changed the whole game with his pick and roll defense and his presence around the rim” said Kerr. “He played 13 straight minutes. This is a guy who’s been out most of the last part of the season, and didn’t play much in the Houston series. So, phenomenal effort to really change the game.”
Outscoring their opposition by 22 points in the final quarter, the Warrior hit that next level that they seem to find whenever they are in trouble and road out the final minutes of the game as they had been in charge since the tip.
“We weren’t playing with that good of poise for the first three quarters, and the fourth we looked for good shots, played stingy defense and just locked in on both sides of the floor,” said Thompson.
“We turned around what was a pretty bad game for us, but we had enough time to get back,” Kerr reiterated post game.
Green talked about the impact that Iguodala had on the game, especially his performance in the early stages of the game to keep the team within reaching distance of the lead.
“Andre was huge. When no one else could get it going, he got into the lane a couple of times and made big finishes. He hit some big shots as well. Not only that but defensively and being a facilitator as well. He was huge when everything was going wrong.”
Ezeli added: “He is the ultimate professional. The things that I did tonight, he does every night. He comes off the bench and brings that energy for us, he leads our team every night.”
Portland played an amazing 42 minutes of basketball in Game 2, but the fact that it only took six minutes of letting their guard down for this Golden State team to turn a winnable game into a loss, is why they are the unstoppable force that they are.
Damian Lillard praised the Warriors performance saying that they knew that they would be coming in the fourth.
“They are a championship team, we knew that they were coming down the stretch. We let it slip. The whole game we were locked in, we defended really well, we made things a lot tougher for them. We started turning the ball over, shots didn’t go in. When you do that, a team like Golden State is going to take advantage of it, they’re going to find a way to get it done, and that’s what they did.
“They were desperate. It got to the point where it was win or lose. They played desperate and we didn’t respond to it well.”
Blazers’ Coach Terry Stotts spoke about missing the opportunity to seize a road victory early in the series.
“We showed that we can compete with them. It’s disappointing to lose a game when your competitive and in the position we were in during the fourth quarter, but we’ve got to close it out.
“It was a missed opportunity to get a win on the road and we’ve got to learn from it.”
The series heads to Portland on Saturday for Game 3 and the Blazers will be desperate for a win on their home floor.
Feature Image – The Tailgate Times