The Golden State Warriors, fresh off the shock of losing their tenth game of the 2015-2016 NBA season contrived to drop yet another game to the Portland Trailblazers. Fortunately for Warriors fans, from the oldest of old school Philadelphia/San Francisco breed, to the Run-TMC era, to the Baron Davis generation, to the billionaire silicon valley tech-heads to Stephen Dawson, the defending champions were already two games to the good and went on to win the next two, closing out one of the season’s most surprise packages 4-1.
Game 1 took place in the continued absence of star guard, later announced as the NBA’s first ever unanimous MVP, Steph Curry. The Warriors leaned heavily on Klay Thompson, scoring 37, and Draymond Green’s 23/13/11 triple double to counter Damian Lillard’s 30 point night. Significantly, all Blazers starters finished in negative +/- figures whilst all Warriors starters had at least a +13. The Warriors went deep into their bench with James Michael McAdoo, he of less than half an hour’s worth of career playoff playing time, seeing minutes.
Game 2 saw Portland leap out to a 13 point first-quarter lead before Golden State roared back in the fourth, taking the period 34-12. Again Thompson (27 points) and Green (another triple-double) were key, though contributions from Festus Ezeli, Ian Clark and Andre Igoudala were also significant.
Ahead of game 3, there was much talk that Curry might return to the lineup. In his continued absence, Thompson and Green once again led the charge with 35 and 37 points respectively, but the “big two” strategy (the only other to score double figures was Leandro Barbosa) let the Warriors down this time. Led by Lillard’s 40 points, 23 from Al-Farouq Aminu and 22 from the suddenly revitalized CJ McCollum, the Blazers got themselves on the series scoreboard, behind a huge 2nd quarter.
Unfortunately for the Blazers, normal service resumed in game 4. Curry, coming off the bench to score 40 (adding 8 assists and 9 rebounds), pushed the Warriors over the edge in overtime, with the Warriors taking the extra period 21-14. Curry scored all but four of Golden State’s points in overtime, putting the Blazers on the verge of elimination, which duly followed in game 5, where even 28 from Lillard and 27 from McCollum couldn’t save Portland’s season.
The Warriors go on to face either the Spurs or the suddenly revitalized Thunder in the Western Conference Finals whilst the Blazers go home to think again. Portland can take great heart from a season where they replaced 4/5 of their starting lineup after the departures of key players like Wesley Matthews, Nicholas Batum, Robin Lopez and LaMarcus Aldridge from the roster that started the previous season. Under Terry Stotts, CJ McCollum has developed into an every-night player, averaging 20.8 PPG to complement Lillard’s 25.1. The roster is all under 30, with the exceptions of backups Brian Roberts and Chris Kaman and while they were fortunate to face the injury-stricken Clippers in the first round of the postseason, there seems no reason to argue that they wouldn’t have been contenders even against the full LA lineup.