#1 Warriors vs. #3 Trail Blazers-Warriors lead 1-0
With Kevin Durant sidelined with a strained calf and DeMarcus Cousins still out with that quad injury, Golden State has exactly two fewer all stars than they expected, heading into the Western Conference Finals. It would be really easy to see them dropping this series to the Trail Blazers, who are playing some inspired basketball, except for one thing. The Warriors have already won one NBA title with the starters they have now. Steph Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Andre Igoudala are all back, and playing as well as we’ve ever seen them play. Kevon Looney is becoming a far more solid all-around player before our eyes and they brought back experienced veteran Andrew Bogut to anchor interior defense and set screens like only a guy of his size can.
But here’s the real truth of the matter for these Warriors. With the absence of Durant, they’re forced to return to the formula that brought them to the pinnacle of the NBA. Tough and occasionally smothering defense coupled with borderline dizzying ball movement and fast transition buckets. When they first started with this formula, it was immediately successful against a league that had grown too heavy on isolation schemes for a few established stars. While the league has evolved to stay close to the Warriors, it became clear in game six against the Rockets that when the Golden State plays THIS brand of basketball, they can be impossible to keep up with. On paper, Houston should have pulled away in game five, when Durant got injured. Instead, a late game burst put them away. But at home, with Durant out and Steph Curry as cold as ice in the first half, the Rockets couldn’t gain traction. After halftime, the sleeping dragon awoke for thirty-three second half points and Houston was sent back to the drawing board yet again.
Portland has gotten exceptional performances out of first round hero Damian Lillard, but against the Nuggets in the semis, it was C.J. McCollum that carried the weight. He was at his best with the season on the line, producing a game-high 37 points to upend Denver in game seven on the road. Lillard was held to 13. By controlling the pace and outlasting Nicola Jokic and the Nuggets, Portland has redeemed themselves from an embarrassingly early exit in last year’s playoffs. But while McCollum and Lillard are an elite level backcourt duo, but there’s a sad truth lurking in this West Finals and it’s this. It sounds mean to say it, but even with all stars with K.D. and Boogie in the training room, none of these Trail Blazers would crack the starting five of the Warriors.
There’s a talent gap at the top here that is going to be really, really hard for the Trail Blazers to overcome. They depend on their backcourt to outscore opponents, but good luck doing that against the Splash Brothers when they’re getting more than enough touches to get themselves in rhythm. Enes Kanter is an experienced veteran, but he’s not going to move the needle. As
for the Blazers frontcourt? Their starters COMBINED for nine points in the game seven win. They simply aren’t a factor.
Golden State won game one 116-94 running away, with Curry hitting nine, count them, nine three-pointers. How completely did the Warriors break down their opponents? I’ll explain it this way. Every single player on the Warriors active roster saw the court in game one, and only one of them didn’t score points.
Translation: The Warriors used the end of game one of the Western Conference Finals as a practice session. Ouch.
Unless the Blazers can come up with a plan in a hurry, or the Warriors suffer even WORSE injury luck, this thing will be over before it even starts.
Image Source: AP Images