When the Portland Trail Blazers were 11 games under .500 and tied for 10th in the Western Conference after losing seven of nine games in the month of February, the notion that the youngest team in the NBA would once again go on a late-season rally to qualify for the postseason seemed unlikely. While past teams had pulled off similar feats, including the 2015-16 team that ended the season with the 5th-best record in the West after a strong finish to the regular season, such a turnaround didn’t look likely for this iteration of the Trail Blazers. Unlike the season before, in which the Trail Blazers were losing close games and generally looked to be improving even when losing more often than not, the 2016-17 team would follow up a few quality performances with head-scratching blowout losses and never really gave one the sense they were building toward anything other than an early offseason.
But a late-season run, spurred by the play of Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and the mid-season addition of Jusuf Nurkić reserved Portland’s fortunes, even when there was little reason to believe that would be the case in the first two months of 2017. For going 17-6 from March to the end of the season, the Trail Blazers have earned the right to face the Golden State Warriors, the reigning Western Conference chances and favorites to win the NBA Championship again this season, in the one/eight matchup. The series also serves as a rematch of the second round of the 2016 Western Conference playoffs, which the Warriors would go on to win 4-1.
From the looks of it, most aren’t expecting the upcoming series vto play out much differently. No one, be they local or national, has picked the Trail Blazers to pull the upset, with many questioning if Portland can win even one game against a Warriors team that has fewer losses in the last three seasons than the Trail Blazers had this season alone. Golden State sweeping the season series with an average margin of victory in double digits and the mystery regarding Nurkić’s status for the series has certainly done nothing to drum up support for the underdog.
But few picked the Tail Blazers to advance last season in their matchup versus the Clippers, a series Portland that would tilt in Portland’s favor after injuries to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. The Trail Blazers are facing much longer odds this time around, as defeating the Warriors in the one/eight matchup would qualify as one of the biggest upsets in NBA history, but even a slim chance is better than no chance at all.
With that said, let’s take a closer look at the matchup between the Trail Blazers and Warriors, which tips off Sunday at 12:30 pm on ABC and Rip City Radio 620 AM.
FIRST ROUND SCHEDULE
PORTLAND-GOLDEN STATE FIRST ROUND SCHEDULE
TRAIL BLAZERS TALK WARRIORS
Damian Lillard on Stephen Curry
“He’s a two-time MVP, you know what he’s capable of on the offensive end of the floor. And the way they play really compliments his kind of game. With the weapons around him, that makes him even more dangerous. It’s going to be a tough challenge but the best way to handle that kind of challenge is attack that challenge right back. That’s the way it’s always been and that’s what it’s going to be.”
CJ McCollum on defending Golden State
“It’s not just Klay, they’ve got a very good team, they’ve got a lot of different guys. Iggy (Iguodala) guarded me a lot last year, obviously Steph (Curry) guarded me some, so it’s not just one-on-one matchups. They’ll mix and match, in transition, you’ll be matched up on different guys. Just got to be aggressive and that’s what I plan on doing, being aggressive.”
Maurice Harkless on Kevin Durant
“He’ll be a challenge. That team in general, a really good team obviously, a lot of different guys that can do a lot of different things. I think we’re ready for it and me personally, I feel like I’m ready for it. I’m always ready for a challenge so looking forward to it.”
Noah Vonleh on Draymond Green
“He’s a great player, a big focal point for their team. He’s a playmaker, so I’m just going to try to make it tough, get into him defensively. I’m really looking forward to that matchup. Draymond is one of the best power forwards in this league right now, so you always got to get up and get ready for that if you love this game. Looking forward to going up against him.”
Meyers Leonard on Zaza Pachulia
“A player that’s been around the league for a while, more talented on the offensive end than people give him credit for. I think he can knock down the midrange jumpshot, finish around the rim a little bit, crash the offensive glass. For them, I would think the majority of his touches, I suppose, are going to be on dump-offs or on offensive rebounds because obviously they have so many weapons with Steph, KD, Draymond on the down the list that are going to have the ball in their hands. He’s a good, smart position defender. Not necessarily a shot blocker, per se — I’m almost certain KD leads them in blocks. Tough-nose guy, just does whatever they ask him.”
Evan Turner on Golden State’s bench
“Obviously their length, because you’ve got Shaun Livingston coming off the bench, you’ve got a tough David West coming off the bench. Ian Clark, he’s hurt us a lot and JaVale McGee has been playing well and you’ve got Iguodala, so you have a lot of solid veteran experience guys who know how to play basketball, know to take advantage of mismatches. Their main ball handers in that second unit are at least 6-6 and very smart players. Sometimes when we’ve played them a couple times they’ve won them games. Like last time they played here, Iguodala, how he played, really won them games and stepped up and made big shots.”
Allen Crabbe on Golden State’s bench
“They’ve been with each other for a while and I feel like when you keep a team together for a while, team chemistry is second to none. I feel like that’s what helps these teams go far into the playoffs or winning championships. They kept the group together. You’ve got guys who are vets, Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala, guys who used to be the stars on their teams who are coming off the bench for the Warriors now. It’s guys like that that they have, just that team chemistry. Their team, in general, makes it hard to play against them sometimes. They don’t have the conventional power forward and then the five they have guys like Kevin Durant playing the five or Draymond Green playing the five so that can cause matchups problems. I feel with us though, we can match up with them well, too. We can go with a small lineup as well, we can put Chief (Aminu) at the five or Moe (Harkless) at the five if need be. I feel like we matchup pretty well with them.”
Jusuf Nurkić (non-displaced fracture in right fibula), status to be determined
Ed Davis (left shoulder), out for the remainder of the regular season/playoffs
Festus Ezeli (right knee), out for the remainder of the regular season/playoffs
To be determined
Points per game: Trail Blazers 107.9 (8th), Warriors 115.9 (1st)
Points against per game: Trail Blazers 108.5 (25th), Warriors 104.3 (11th)
Point differential: Trail Blazers -0.6 (18th), Warriors +11.6 (1st)
Field goal percentage: Trail Blazers 46 percent (14th), Warriors 50 percent (1st)
Opponent field goal percentage: Trail Blazers 46 percent (12th), Warriors 44 percent (1st)
Three-point field goal percentage: Trail Blazers 37 percent (6th), Warriors 38 percent (3th)
Adjusted field goal percentage: Trail Blazers 52 percent (11th), Warriors 56 percent (1st)
Rebounds per game: Trail Blazers 43.7 (13th), Warriors 44.1 (7th)
Offensive rebounds per game: Trail Blazers 10.1 (15th), Warriors 9.4 (19th)
Rebound differential: Trail Blazers -0.3 (19th), Warriors +0.9 (9th)
Assists per game: Portland 21.1 (23rd), Warriors 30.4 (1st)
Turnovers per game: Trail Blazers 13.1 (14th), Warriors 14.4 (22nd)
Pace: Trail Blazers 99.09 (14th), Warriors 102.24 (4th)
Offensive rating: Trail Blazers 107.8 (11th) Warriors 113.2 (1st)
Defensive rating: Trail Blazers 107.8 (21st), Clippers 101.1 (2nd)
Net rating: Trail Blazers +0.0 (15th), Warriors +12.2 (1st)
• October 21, 2016: Golden State Warriors 107, Portland Trail Blazers 96 (Preseason)
“For the most part, in the first half, it was a really good basketball game,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “The understatement is the game got away from us in the third quarter. They got hot, we didn’t necessarily execute that well offensively in the third quarter. We missed some looks that would have kind of kept it close, maybe change the momentum a little bit.”
With the loss, the Trail Blazers finish the preseason with a 4-3 record.
The Trail Blazers gave the Warriors a taste of their own medicine early in Friday night’s game, jumping out to a 22-6 lead after the first five minutes of play thanks to making 10 of their first 13 shots. But the Warriors would outscore the Blazers 31-10 in the final five minutes of the first to cut Portland’s lead to 37-32 by the start of the second quarter.
Portland managed to slow the bleeding in the second despite shooting just 37 percent from the field and 1-of-5 from three in the quarter. But the Warriors, specifically Durant, would put the screws to the road team in the third quarter. The 2015 MVP scored 14 of his 26 points to start the third after Curry, the 2016 MVP, put up 28 in the first half. The outburst, along with stifling defense that help Portland to just 16 points in the third quarter, would give the Warriors their largest lead of the night at 21.
“Similar to last year, (Golden State) can explode on you, they can get hot,” said Lillard. “Now having KD out there, when they go with that lineup with Draymond (Green) at the five and KG at the four, it’s a real problem because you’ve got five guys out there running around that can catch it from deep and get hot on you. They set screens well, they move well without the ball, so it’s tough to guard. I think when they started getting stops we stopped moving the ball like we were to begin the game and they took advantage of it. They got out in transition, they’re screening for each other, they hit a couple shots, then they started making tough ones and got away from us a little bit.”
• November 1, 2016: Golden State Warriors 127, Portland Trail Blazers 104
The Portland Trail Blazers gave the Golden State Warriors all they could handle in the first half. Damian Lillard had it going on the offensive end, and while the rest of the team wasn’t exactly lighting it up from the field, Warriors guard and reigning MVP Stephen Curry had just five points after the first two quarters, which made for a relatively close game.
Then the third quarter happened.
Stephen Curry scored 23 of his 28 points in the third quarter, helping the Warriors outscore the Trail Blazers 41-20 on the way to a 127-104 blowout victory in front of a sellout crowd of 19,393 at the Moda Center Tuesday night.
“Well I liked the way we started the game,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “I thought we played with a lot of energy, we moved the ball, we made shots, we defended well and their bench, especially (Ian) Clark, came in and made a difference – a 17-2 run at the end of the first quarter. It kind of took the wind out of our sails, but Curry was great in the third quarter and they pulled away. It’s a good measuring stick. They’re an excellent team and they showed that tonight.”
The Trail Blazers are now 2-2 on the season and 1-1 at the Moda Center.
The first quarter had the feel of a game against the Warriors, with both teams running and gunning from the opening tip. Lillard would continue where he left off in Saturday night’s game, going 5-of-8 from the field and 2-of-4 from three for 13 first-quarter points.
Usually, Lillard hitting at that clip combined with the likes of Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant being held relatively in check would be a recipe for a great quarter for the home team. But Golden State reserve Ian Clark entered the game early and hit his first shot. Then his second. Then his third. By time the quarter was over, the 6-3 guard out of Belmont had 11 points in less than six minutes to lead the Warriors to a 34-25 first-quarter lead.
“(Clark) had a great preseason, so this didn’t shock me,” said Warriors head coach Steve Kerr. “He can play, he can shoot and we’ve got a lot of other guys that can shoot, so he’s going to have some openings. Defenses are not going to pay that much attention to him, so he can take advantage. He was great tonight.”
• December 17, 2016: Golden State Warriors 135, Portland Trail Blazers 90
Portland’s winter road trip of discontent continues.
The Trail Blazers, a team that has played seven of their last eight games on the road, were soundly defeated 135-90 by the Golden State Warriors in front of a sellout crowd of 19,596 Saturday night at Oracle Arena in Oakland. The margin of victory is Golden State’s largest ever versus the Trail Blazers.
“I’m very disappointed that we didn’t play well,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “It’s embarrassing to get beat by 45, you want to put up a better fight, you wanna play better. You want to play better against the best team in the league. That’s one of the things we did last year and when you’re playing the best team, you need to be on your best game, and we weren’t.”
With the loss, the Trail Blazers fall to 13-16 overall and 5-12 on the road this season. After starting the month by winning three-straight, Portland has dropped six of their last seven games and have failed to hold a lead in either of their last two contests.
While the Trail Blazers are hardly the first team to get embarrassed by the Warriors over the last two seasons, Saturday night’s game had the distinction of being a blowout before the end of the first half. The Warriors scored the first six points of the night and never looked back, using 57 percent shooting from the field and 50 percent shooting from three to build an 18-point lead in the first quarter.
Golden State’s offensive barrage would continue unabated in the second quarter, with the Trail Blazers showing no ability to slow neither the Warriors starters nor their reserves. Portland scored at a decent clip in the second quarter, shooting 41 percent from the field and 33 percent from three, but Warriors continued to shoot well north of 50 percent from the field, resulting in a first-half lead that grew to as many as 28.
If the game wasn’t effectively over by the end of the first half, it definitely was after Klay Thompson hit a three to put the Warriors up 30 with 8:12 to play in the third quarter. But the hits would keep on coming for the Trail Blazers, from Stephen Curry hitting a three-pointer at the third-quarter buzzer to give the Warriors a 108-72 lead or Golden State’s bench pushing their lead to 46 before the game mercifully came to an end.
“In the NBA season, you have hard times,” said Damian Lillard. “Right now we’re just having a hard time. I think, as a team, we’ve been in worse positions, we’ve got that fight in us. We’ve got to have it a lot more consistently. Tonight we played against a really good team and we didn’t come out with the kind of mindset, the type of edge that we needed to to give ourselves a chance. You have the kind of game we had tonight when you do that.”
• January 4, 2017: Golden State Warriors 125, Portland Trail Blazers 117
If nothing else, the Trail Blazers comported themselves much better Wednesday night versus the Warriors than the last time they faced the defending Western Conference champions at Oracle Arena. But even though they would give the Warriors all they could handle for much of the night, the end result would be the same, with the Trail Blazers falling 125-117 in front of a sellout crowd of 19,596 in Oakland.
“I was really pleased with the way we competed,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “Obviously we played a much better game than we did the last time we were here. We withstood a lot of their runs, particularly in the first half and even in the second half. You hate to lose a game, but like I said, I liked the way we competed and made a good game of it.”
The loss moves the Trail Blazers to 15-22 overall and 6-15 on the road this season. The Warriors now own a five-game winning streak versus the Trail Blazers and have a chance to sweep the season series once again when the two teams meet in Portland for the fourth and final time on January 29.
Despite playing once again without Damian Lillard, who missed his fifth-consecutive game with a left ankle sprain, the Trail Blazers showed much more composure early in Wednesday’s game than they had in the first quarter of their 45-point blowout loss to the Warriors a few weeks back. Portland would go down by eight early, but bounced back using a 10-2 run to take a 28-26 lead after two Meyers Leonard free throws with 3:10 to play in the first quarter.
It also helped that CJ McCollum, who put up a career-high 43 points in Portland’s victory versus the Timberwolves in Minneapolis on Sunday night, shook off a 1-of-5 shooting start to put up 14 points in the first 12 minutes.
Golden State would finish the quarter on a 14-6 run, which featured back-to-back-to-back three-pointers for the home team, to take a 40-34 lead into the second quarter, which felt like a victory for the Trail Blazers considering they turned the ball over five times and gave up 15 fastbreak points.
That feeling dissipated quickly after the Warriors went up 13 early in the second quarter, which could have led even the most steadfast Blazer believer to wonder if another blowout was in store. But instead, the Trail Blazers responded with a 17-3 run, powered mostly by McCollum, to take all the momentum and a 71-63 lead with 50 seconds to play in the half.
“I think we got stops, that helped,” said McCollum of Portland’s success in the second quarter. “We got stops, we were able to get out and run in transition, a lot of guys were making shots, Mason (Plumlee) was active around the basket, Chief (Aminu), Moe (Harkless), (Allen Crabbe) had some good looks on the perimeter. We were just attacking.”
• January 29: Golden State Warriors 113, Portland Trail Blazers 111
It came down to the final shot, but Portland Trail Blazers’ (21-28) three-game win streak was snapped in a 113-111 defeat to the Golden State Warriors (41-7) Sunday night at a sold-out (19,393) Moda Center. CJ McCollum and Evan Turner led a double-digit fourth quarter comeback, but Turner’s three-point attempt at the buzzer would rim out and hand the home team the loss.
“We didn’t necessarily execute as well as we could have to get one of those two guys the ball, but Evan was the third option and we needed to get the ball inbounds because we didn’t have any timeouts,” Blazers head coach Terry Stotts said of the final play. “Certainly they made Dame [Lillard] and CJ a priority but Evan was able to get it.
“Evan had a good game.”
Added Turner: “I felt comfortable with the shot I took. I didn’t think too much of it. Went for the kill, and that was it.”
Though without reigning back-to-back NBA Most Valuable Player Stephen Curry, the Warriors picked up right where they left off Saturday night early, shooting 54% in the first quarter to jump out to a 33-24 lead behind Kevin Durant’s 11 first-quarter points. Golden State opened the second quarter on an 18-6 run, capitalizing on five Blazer turnovers to start the quarter and stretch their lead to 21 midway through the period. From there, CJ McCollum and Mason Plumlee regrouped to lead a 20-2 run highlighted by back-to-back Damian Lillard three pointers to close the first half and close the gap to 53-50 at the recess.
“We knew the kind of game that they play – the pace they play at, the kind of shots that they take, we knew that we would be able to get back in the game,” Lillard told media in the locker room after the game. “We just had to stay with it. We weren’t playing great at that point in the game and we started getting going and like we thought the entire team, we would make a way to get back into it. We got back into the game and we made a game of it.”