The Portland Trail Blazers have a lot of reasons to be proud of themselves after the way they played in Game 2 of this Western Conference Semifinal series against the Golden State Warriors. Winning is just not one of those things that did not come with Portland’s strong performance.
The Trail Blazers played three great quarters of basketball before the Warriors — and Oracle Arena — won out, as Golden State triumphed 110-99 to take a 2-0 lead in the Best of Seven series.
The Oracle crowd had been trying to get into the game throughout, but the Trail Blazers seemed to counter every chance. Whether it was Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum or Al-Farouq Aminu, the Blazers seemed always to be able to counter Golden State’s runs with buckets of its own. That motif played out for three-quarters as Portland entered the fourth quarter with an 11-point lead. Things were looking good for Portland to even up the series.
The wheels then came off in the fourth. Big time.
Let us take a look at what caused Portland to unravel in Golden State's three keys to the win:
1) Golden State’s trapping defense was forcing Portland turnovers
The Portland Trail Blazers had 17 turnovers and Golden State scored 21 points on those miscues. Mason Plumlee had six of those turnovers, proving to be a costly liability at several points during the game. Al Farouq-Aminu finished with four after he started trying to force the action in the second half.
Aminu scored 13 in the first half, but he was good for just a single point in the second half. Golden State came out to pay closer attention to him in the final two periods, extending its defense and limiting the Blazers' three-point marksmen. The Blazers also turned it over twice during Golden State’s 9-0 run to open the fourth quarter. That run helped set the tone for the pouncing that the Warriors were en route to executing.
2) Damian Lillard went from firing bullets to firing blanks
Damian Lillard by all accounts had a great overall game but do not look to the fourth quarter for any of that highlight reel. Lillard scored 17 points in the third quarter as the Blazers held strong to a double-digit lead that had been maintained most of the game. He was hitting from all over and even hit a quick-release jumper to beat the horn.
Portland seemed to have all of the momentum.
But in the fourth quarter, the Blazers star attempted just three shots and missed all three.
Klay Thompson drew the assignment of Lillard. Thompson struggled with his shot, especially in the first half, but still finished with 27 points despite hitting just 5 of 14 from behind the arc (and 7 of 20 overall). It is hard not to notice the job he did on Lillard though, even if Dame did really get cooking in the third period.
3) The Warriors pounded it inside and took care of the boards
Golden State won the battle of the boards 48-39, but they absolutely willed themselves to domination in the second half when it out-rebounded Portland 28-17. In addition to grabbing the caroms, the Warriors also scored 56 points in the paint, compared to Portland’s 28.
The Warriors by all accounts have a vastly superior frontcourt and Draymond Green was superb (even if he also struggled with his own shot). Green finished the game with 17 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists, four blocks and a steal. His poise in helping run the offense was also vital.
The Warriors were aggressive about pursuing the rim, and while als getting to the line to hit 18 of 20 free throws. For as good as the Blazers frontcourt has been thus far, the Warriors 3/4/5 trio got the better in this one. Harrison Barnes was key in keeping Golden State in it in the first half when he scored 11 points on 4 of 5 shooting including a couple energy dunks. Andre Iguodala also was huge off the bench, finishing with 15 points on an efficient 6 of 9 shooting.
Even Festus Ezeli got in on the act with eight points and six boards in just 13 minutes. He played the entire fourth quarter and came up with several key rebounds. That is part of the problem with the Warriors: They are so deep and even bit role players are capable of taking the stage without the team missing a blip. Ian Clark (five points) and Leandro Barbosa (seven points) played their small roles well, too, allowing Shaun Livingston to keep his minutes down (though he still played 33 in this one).
The Warriors are a tough team to knock out at Oracle, obviously. Golden State rallied behind a crowd desperately wanting to get loud the entire game. They were plenty loud in the Warriors 34-12 fourth quarter that ultimately ended up giving the Dubs a 2-0 series edge.
Game 3 will be Saturday at 8:30 EST on ABC.