C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard arrived in Oakland planning to steal home-court advantage from the Golden State Warriors. They played well enough in Game 1 to do it, too, combining for 48 first-half points alone and starring in a third quarter that featured 11 lead changes and ended with the scoreboard tied. But Draymond Green had his own plans for this series, and reminded a national audience of his supreme importance to basketball’s best team by spearheading a fourth quarter defensive charge that propelled Golden State to easy victory.
Green scored 19 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and dished 9 assists in the Warriors’ 121-109 win. A near-miss triple-double, though, doesn’t come close to accurately conveying his impact on Game 1. His 3 steals and 5 blocks don’t, either. The Defensive Player of the Year frontrunner was simply everywhere in the second half of Sunday’s game, living up to his reputation as the most disruptive off-ball defender in the league.
“I’m our ultimate helper at all times,” Green stated matter of factly after the game.
Obviously. But what’s also become increasingly clear over the past three seasons is that Green makes the Warriors go as much as any of his more-heralded, less-hated teammates. Kevin Durant had 32 points on 20 shots in Game 1, and Steph Curry added 29 points of his own. The former MVPs each had individual scoring runs in the second half that greatly contributed to Golden State’s victory. Their overall effect extends far beyond the box score, too.
It’s Green, though, who gives Steve Kerr’s team the two-way versatility that no competitor can come close to matching. How many players could block Noah Vonleh’s dunk in the same game they splashed three triples? How many big men could bring the ball up the floor and own the defensive glass at the same time?
Even Green’s many enemies are running out of ways to deny his greatness. In a game McCollum and Lillard went off for 41 and 35 points, respectively, and the game’s two most recent MVPs totaled 61 points between them, it was Green who was the best player on the floor.
If that continues going forward, it won’t just be the Blazers who have no chance to beat the Warriors, but the rest of the league, too.
- McCollum had 27 points on 11 of 15 shooting in the first half, frustrating Golden State with his uncanny ability to find open space. The Warriors’ defense poses problems for every star, but it’s utterly unique scorers like McCollum who have the best chance for consistent success against Kerr’s switch-heavy scheme.
CHRISTIAN JAMES WENT OFF! pic.twitter.com/25O2S1ugvc
— Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) April 16, 2017
- You can’t fault Vonleh for going up soft. Sometimes defense just beats offense, and that happens more often than not when the defender is Green.
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— GoldenStateWarriors (@warriors) April 16, 2017
- World, meet Pat Connaughton.
— The Render (@TheRenderNBA) April 16, 2017
- Pay attention, Dame. Don’t jump with Draymond!
— NBA (@NBA) April 16, 2017
- Spring is a great time of year for a walk in the East Bay.
— Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) April 16, 2017
- Green was feeling bouncy on Saturday, but only freaks like Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo could finish this dunk.
— LØØPSØØP (@vineydelnegro) April 16, 2017
- Kerr stayed true to his regular season rotation with respect to Golden State’s superstars. The Warriors opened the second quarter with both Durant and Curry on the bench, and neither returned until the seven-minute mark. Golden State didn’t lose any ground on the scoreboard while they were out, but expect Kerr to adjust here whenever series-specific circumstances warrant it. When the Warriors are truly challenged, there’s no reason why planned rest periods for Durant and Curry should overlap.
- Zaza Pachulia was his typically smart self and JaVale McGee certainly had his high-flying moments, but David West was arguably Golden State’s best center in Game 1. He was early to help on Lillard and McCollum when the Warriors were beat on the perimeter, and made several high-level passing reads out of the post that resulted in easy shot attempts for teammates. Count on West’s minutes to increase throughout the postseason if he continues this level of play.
- Thompson, at 6-foot-7, can shoot over McCollum any time he wants – a good thing because he’s one of the best shooters ever, but a bad thing because it encourages him to take contested jumpers. The Warriors’ sharpshooter should be a bit more judicious with his shot selection going forward than he was in Game 1, especially early in the clock. McCollum is naturally challenged defensively, but was consistently in Thompson’s hip on the catch today.
- Remember when Golden State struggled to manufacture good looks in crunch time against the Cleveland Cavaliers and Oklahoma City Thunder last spring? If Sunday was any indication, that won’t be an issue this time around. Durant put Portland away late with six straight points, four of which came via turnaround jumpers. Look for Kerr to continue going his direction when the Warriors want to burn clock or simply need a bucket.
- Something for Portland fans and those of all Golden State opponents to keep in mind over the next few weeks: The Warriors don’t post to shoot, but post to pass. Touches for Green, West and Pachulia on the block mean quick-hitting off-ball action is coming at the elbow. Even Durant’s first option down low is to draw attention, then find open teammates while defenders deal with a maze of screens and cuts.
- Ian Clark provided a major spark for Golden State, scoring 12 points in as many minutes and keeping the ball in front of him defensively. When the Warriors get that sort of extra oomph from their 10th man, the opposing team might as well be doomed.
TRAIL BLAZERS NOTES
- The most impressive aspect of the Blazers’ performance overall was their activity and engagement defensively. When Portland was beaten in the half court, it was more often to Golden State’s shot-making ability than any letdown by primary or help defenders. The Blazers’ hands were everywhere, they pressured the hell out of the ball and mostly communicated switches with ease. Their defensive effort, basically, was good enough for a win.
- Vonleh, confusingly, on several occasions failed to meet Curry at the arc after 1-5 ball screens – mistakes that resulted in two three-pointers and another triple disallowed by a Pachulia offensive foul. He was extremely patient and showed some nice court vision offensively, but defensive lapses like this one just can’t happen against the Warriors’ trio of sharpshooters.
- It was almost jarring to watch Turner and Harkless make consecutive three-pointers in the opening minutes of the third quarter. Portland just wasn’t getting that support from its ancillary players in the first half, which is the biggest reason sublime early performance by McCollum and Lillard only led to a tie at intermission. Golden State will likely play even further off Turner, Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu going forward after being helpless to stop their star teammates. Needless to say, those guys need to connect on open shots for the Blazers to have a chance in this series, and returns from Game 1 in that regard were mixed at best.
- Golden State trapped on several 1-5 ball screens in the second half, and Portland struggled to take advantage of that numbers game. Part of the onus falls on Lillard and McCollum to see plays developing behind the point of attack, but their teammates must do a better job of presenting themselves for passes on the roll and pop. It’ll be interesting to see if the Warriors implement more that hyper-aggressive strategy for this series’ duration.
- McCollum and Lillard can’t win by themselves, and the Blazers’ supporting cast can’t be counted on to produce winning numbers on a nightly basis. The presence of Jusuf Nurkic sure would make things easier for Portland offense. The good news: He was supposedly ruled out of Game 1 just hours before tipoff. The bad news: There’s still a chance he’ll be sidelined throughout the first round. Regardless, Sunday’s game was a reminder of just how much Nurkic means to his new team.
- One of the Blazers’ best lineups in Game 1 featured no traditional big man whatsoever. A unit of Lillard, McCollum, Turner, Harkless and Aminu fared better against the shape-shifting Warriors than anyone could have expected. Even if Nurkic is available down the line, expect Terry Stotts to give this look a try.