USA TODAY Sports’ Sam Amick discusses the Warriors’ Game 1 win over the Trail Blazers and what to look for as the series progresses.
USA TODAY Sports
OAKLAND — It wasn’t a fair fight, this opening game of the first round playoff series between the Golden State Warriors and the eighth-seeded Portland Trailblazers that ended with 121-109 win at Oracle Arena for the NBA’s latest super team.
But we knew that would be the case in early October, when Oakland’s own Damian Lillard wasn’t afraid to share his view of the controversial way in which the Warriors came to be. Two months after Kevin Durant decided to leave Oklahoma City behind and join the Warriors in free agency, and six months before the Warriors would run roughshod over the regular season with a league-best 67-15 mark, the always-candid Blazers star shared his perspective on the matter.
“I wouldn’t do it,” Lillard, whose Blazers had the NBA’s second-best record in the final 27 games of the regular season, said then of Durant’s choice in an interview with SiriusXM radio. “That’s just not who I am. … I might have too much pride for that or be too much of a competitor where I couldn’t bring myself to do it, but it also makes it more fun. You get to take a monster down, and that’s always fun.”
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In theory, anyways. In reality, this was anything but fun for Lillard & Co.
Despite the Blazers’ best attempts, with their special backcourt of Lillard and C.J. McCollum (75 points combined) outplaying the Warriors’ famed Splash Brothers for most of the afternoon (Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combined for 44 points) and the local angst growing when Portland led late in the third quarter, the Warriors unleashed their inner beast when it mattered most. They not only outscored Portland 33-21 while holding them to 7-of-24 shooting in the fourth quarter but also spent the first five minutes turning an 88-88 tie into a 13-point lead without the very superstars who sparked so much jealousy among their peers this season.
This was a Draymond Green-Klay Thompson-Andre Iguodala-Ian Clark-David West production that had the Warriors looking so worthy of their frontrunner status, one that took place with Curry and Durant on the bench and left Lillard & Co., looking so outmatched at the end. This was exactly what Warriors coach Steve Kerr had in mind when he decided after the third quarter that this unorthodox lineup was the way to win the shoot-out.
“That was the whole thought behind going with that lineup for Coach Kerr,” said Green, on fire on both ends of the floor (19 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists, five blocks and three steals). “He said ‘The defensive intensity that this lineup can bring, it can change the game for us.’
“We knew the offense was there — we had 88 points at the end of the third quarter. But the problem was that they had 88 points, so we knew we had to come out and get stops if we were ever going to pull away.”
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For all the focus on the Warriors’ flashy offensive ways, their elite defense has been a hallmark of their dominance these past three seasons. Durant coming to town aided that cause, too, giving the already-dangerous Warriors yet another elite scorer and allowing Green to focus on his one-of-a-kind defensive talents like never before.
Lillard bore that brunt of that midway through the fourth quarter.
With the Warriors up eight, Lillard launched toward the rim for a right-handed dunk attempt gone wrong. Green leapt off his left foot and met him at the apex, stuffing the shot with his outstretched right hand and leaving Lillard like a broken Easter egg on the hardwood.
“Draymond was amazing,” Kerr said. “He made some tremendous defensive plays. He made threes. He rebounded the ball. He had nine assists. He played a game that I’m not sure anyone else in the league is capable (of), honestly. He’s so unique, and so important to us. He’s phenomenal.”
As for that other guy, former MVP Durant who had about as quiet a 32-point, 10-rebound outing as you’ll ever find? Everything Lillard said so long ago about why the Warriors’ embarrassment of riches is just not fair proved true yet again.
“I mean, he makes up the difference for them,” Lillard said. “You try to hold Klay and Steph down, make them take tough shots, make the game harder for them. You’re in a close game, going back and forth, and then you’ve got Kevin Durant – a guy who has been an MVP in this league. That’s a hell of an option to have, especially in a game like tonight.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Sam Amick on Twitter @Sam_Amick.