PORTLAND — The Portland Trail Blazers and their legion of fans in Rip City were hopeful that the return of Jusuf Nurkić would be enough to defeat the Golden State Warriors for the first time since the second round of the 2016 NBA Playoffs.
Unfortunately, it was not.
Though Nurkić played, albeit limited minutes, and the Trail Blazers led by as many as 17 points in the first half, they still were unable to best the Warriors, falling 119-113 in Game Three in front of a sellout crowd of 20,177 Saturday night at the Moda Center.
The Warriors, without both Kevin Durant and head coach Steve Kerr Saturday night, now lead the series 3-0 with Game Four scheduled to be played Monday night in Portland. No NBA team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven playoff series.
The Trail Blazers seemed to get an emotion lift both from Nurkić’s return and playing their first playoff game of the series in front of their home crowd. And that emotion turned into points, with the Trail Blazers putting up 37 in the first quarter, seven more then Golden State and the most a Portland team has scored in the first quarter of a playoff game since May 16, 1992.
Portland would shoot 57.7 percent in the first quarter, with Damian Lillard doing much of the heavy lifting, putting up 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the field and 3-of-4 shooting from three.
Both teams would slow in the second quarter, though the Trail Blazers would still manage to outscore Golden State 30-24 to take a 67-54 lead into the intermission.
But while Portland felt good about their first-half performance, they also had to know that a Warriors run in the second half was inevitable. But even though they surely knew it was coming, they were nevertheless unable to stop it, as the Warriors rattled off a 19-1 run in the third to turn a 16-point deficit into a two-point lead in roughly four minutes.
“They took it up another level,” said Stotts of the Warriors in the third. “They defended very well, created turnovers. Our offense kind of stagnated a little bit, they pushed it out in transition as well as they have so far in this series. I think they made three threes during the stretch. It’s what that do, they put a run on you. A 19 to 1 run, they just had a lot of momentum and it was transition, it was threes, it was good defense and we didn’t respond well enough.”
The Trail Blazers would manage to take a an 88-87 lead into the fourth and would take turns holding a slim advantage for the first half of the quarter. But it was only a matter of time before the Warriors, and specifically Stephen Curry, forged ahead, outscoring Portland 32-25 in the fourth to come away with the six-point victory.
“Even when they went on that run, we was still able to go into the fourth with the lead, but down the stretch to win games, you’ve got to defend and you’ve got to rebound,” said Lillard. “When we had our chances on the offensive end, it was either a turnover or didn’t get a great look. You’ve got to give credit to what they did defensively, they turned it up. Then on offensive, we had a good defensive possession and not come up with the ball. So we weren’t disciplined enough to close out and win the game.”
Portland was led by Damian Lillard, who finished with 31 points on 10-of-23 shooting from the field and 4-of-13 shooting from three, seven rebounds and four assists in just under 40 minutes. CJ McCollum finished with 32 points, also on 10-of-23 shooting, six rebounds and two steals in 39 minutes.
Evan Turner finished with 17 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two blocks in 40 minutes. Al-Farouq Aminu had easily his best game of the series thus far, coming a rebound short of a double-double with 14 points and nine rebounds in 32 minutes. Noah Vonleh, who came off the bench for the first time in the series to make way for Nurkić, finished with 10 points and seven rebounds in 25 minutes.
Nurkić played 16 minutes, 40 seconds in his return and finished with 11 rebounds, four assists and two points in his playoff debut.
“Obviously (Nurkić) had a big impact on the game,” said Stotts. “We got off to a good start. Obviously when he was on the floor he made a difference with his passing, his rebounding. He didn’t necessarily look to score but I thought he complemented everybody out there very well.”
Nurkić noted after the game that his leg felt progressively worse as the night went on and declined to stay if he thought he would play in Game Four.
The Warriors were led by Stephen Curry, who went 10-of-25 from the field for a game-high 34 points to go with eight assists and four rebounds in 39 minutes. Klay Thompson broke out of a shooting funk to put up 24 points on 8-of-21 shooting from the field and 4-of-9 shooting from three in over 40 minutes.
JaVale McGee was once again arguably Golden State’s most valuable player, finished with 14 points, four rebounds and a steal in 15 minutes. McGee was a game-best +24 during his time on the court. Andre Igoudala scored 12 of his 16 points in the second half while also added seven rebounds and three assists off the bench.
Next up, the Trail Blazers host the Warriors in their first and possibly final elimination game of the postseason.
“As I’m sure a lot of you guys know, I’m not one to quit and I’m very optimistic,” said Lillard. “Obviously this one hurt to drop this Game Three when we had it, we were in a good position to win the game, but you feel that frustration of letting one slip. Maybe we win this one and going into Game Four they’ve got something to think about and we blew the opportunity. At the end of the day, we’ve still got games to play. Right now, you’ve got to have some pride in having a sweep on the line and try to go get this next one on Monday and go from there a game at a time.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 7:30 pm on KGW, TNT and 620 AM.