PORTLAND -- So about that Golden State depth . . . yeah, yeah, we’re waiting.
Only Game 3 of this suddenly revivified series wasn’t just about that. In that way, the box score kind of lied.
Not about the raw data, of course. The Portland Trail Blazers out-everythinged the Warriors in Game 3 of this Western Conference Semifinal series, starting with the 120-108 score that cut Golden State’s series lead to 2-1.
But to do this in a more micro way, the Blazers outshot the Warriors, outdefended them, outdistributed them, outbenched them, and most noticeably of all, out-Lillarded them. The combination was far more than the Warriors could overcome as they did in Game 2, and now head coach Steve Kerr is organizing séances over Stephen Curry’s bum knee.
If it were only that simple, of course. Curry’s knee was not what cost Golden State this game. Portland has been the better team for six of the last eight quarters, all of them played without Curry, and this time they finished better, letting the first quarter be their worst rather than the fourth.
That is, until you hear Draymond Green tell it, in which case it could have been much worse for the Blazers before it got incalculably better. But we’ll get to that in a moment.
What they did was desperation – controlled, coordinated, aggressive desperation. They extended possessions with offensive rebounds and loose ball retrievals, and shifted the moment from the team with the swagger and caused it to (please do forgive this) stagger.
Damian Lillard’s 40 points (on 27 shots) and 10 assists (seven in the third quarter alone to five different teammates) are the thing that leaps highest off the box score. The second-highest thing is Draymond Green’s 37 points (on 23 shots), nine rebounds, eight assists and eight treys, though he dismissed those numbers as “cute” and took the blame for the loss by describing his defense, especially on Al-Farouq Aminu (23 in nine shots/10 rebounds) as “awful,” and then because that didn’t seem to meet his standard for overstatement, “horrendous.”
But the other telling stat line for Golden State was the other one – Klay Thompson’s 35 points on 28 shots, 18 of which came in the first quarter when he took eight of the team’s first nine shots, many of those hurried get-the-offense-going-for-the-kill-shot types, that actually served the opposite purpose. In his eagerness to put the Blazers on their heels in a quarter in which Portland shot a miserable 30 percent, Thompson actually stagnated the Golden State offense. The ball moved less, the players moved less, the general attack was arrhythmic and never really functioned as Warrior offenses typically do.
And in the last three quarters, the defense got worked for 100 points, thus eliminating any thought that the already damaged offense could save Golden State from the fate it so richly merited.
“Dame (Lillard) getting 40, that doesn’t beat us,” Green said. “But Aminu getting 23, and (Allen) Crabbe coming off the bench and getting 10, and Ed Davis (eight, plus 10 rebounds) . . . even C.J. (McCollum) doesn’t beat us if we don’t let the other guys get off.
“We just didn’t have the right intensity right from the start. If we’re getting the rebounds and the loose balls and making them work, we’re up 10, 12, 15 points in the first, and they’ve got doubt. Now they’re feeling good about themselves, and that’s my fault.”
Well, no it isn’t. Certainly not entirely. Thompson’s impatience was Thompson’s fault. Harrison Barnes’ cloak of invisibility at both ends was Barnes’ fault, Andrew Bogut’s five fouls in 11 minutes was Bogut’s fault . . . well, with a little help from the officiating crew of Mike Callahan, Pat Fraher and Bill Kennedy, perhaps.
“I thought they were excellent,” Kerr said with a puddle of sarcasm forming at the base of the microphone, especially when he asked if this was better than usual “excellence,” added, “Maybe even more so.”
“But we didn’t lose because of any of the calls,” Kerr said, shifting gears from the potentially whiny to the more matter-of-fact. “We got beast because they were better.”
[INSTANT REPLAY: Lillard leads Blazers past Warriors in Game 3]
And for whatever reasons the Blazers were better, they were better by a healthy margin. Head coach Terry Stotts played Lillard, McCollum and Aminu more than 40 minutes apiece because he needed them to be as they were for that long, and Crabbe (30 minutes) and Davis (29) were also well over their seasonal averages – simply because the situation demanded that they be.
Even Stotts adjusted his rotation, taking Moe Harkless out of it and using Davis and Gerald Henderson to change the Blazers’ general tenor. Expect this to be a theme in Game 4, if you’re prone to guessing what coaches do before they do them.
And the Warrior depth that has done so well hiding Curry’s absence was nowhere to be found, as nobody other Green, who blamed himself, and Thompson, who was too impatient for his own good, contributed much at all. In sum, the non-Green/non-Thompsons were outscored by the non-Lillard/non-McCollums, 58-36, and earned their 29-17 free throw disparity by simply being more intrepid in the attack.
Indeed, they earned every bit of this win by acknowledging to themselves that those who do not finish deserve to be finished. And those who want to finish had better be fully prepared to start.