If you put your hand to your ear, you’ll probably look like you’re deaf. Be that as it may, you’ll also hear the clear hiss of another deflating opponent of the Golden State Warriors.
The latest slow leak belongs to the Portland Trail Blazers, who were spotted the first three quarters Tuesday night – THE FIRST THREE QUARTERS – and still ended up on the face-end of a 110-99 punch in Game 2 of this already diminishing Western Conference Semifinal.
Now we say “already diminishing” knowing full well that the Blazers, going home for three days of re-education after being blown out 34-12 in the fourth quarter, fell behind the Los Angeles Clippers, 2-0, before rallying to win the next four games a series ago.
But that series was changed when the Clippers lost Chris Paul and Blake Griffin go injury. The Warriors are in position to gain Stephen Curry FROM injury, which, after a quick scrape and some Rustoleum, is only going to make them more formidable.
The takeaway from Game 2, though, is that the Warriors are taking on the personality of the team that still has Curry active and able rather than the one trying to adapt to his absence. This was a better version of Game 2 of the Houston series, in which the Rockets showed gumption and effort (yes, yes, I know) until the first two minutes of the fourth quarter and then got Warrior’d – by going hard to the basket and challenging the Rockets at their heart.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Warriors escape with Game 2 win over Blazers]
This game, though, was even more extreme because the Warriors were down by double digits for most of the first 39 minutes, and then outscored the Blazers 28-8 over the last nine minutes. The largely unused Festus Ezeli changed the game’s tone, Klay Thompson overcame a mediocre shooting performance by eradicating Portland’s Damian Lillard from the landscape, and . . .
. . . and, well, showing yet again that the Warriors are better at playing without their best player than almost any team ever. They don’t effervesce the way they do with Curry, but they do anaconda a game into submission, much as they did Tuesday night.
This, we have known about the Warriors throughout these giddy 18 months, but to show it with Curry playing less than half as many minutes as Marreese Speights reminds any folks who like to gin up drama that the Warriors without Curry are . . . well, a lot like the Warriors with Curry.
You see, Curry has always been known as the sport’s leading game-disruptor, but what else would you call the last nine minutes Tuesday night? The Warriors smothered Portland on the defensive end and bent and battered the Blazers’ collective will on the offensive side. They did it more gradually (Curry can do these things in about five), but they did them just as surely and just as deflatingly.
Which brings us back to that hiss. Lillard and C.J. McCollum give the Blazers their best chance to revivify this series, but the rest of the Blazers have not risen as they did against Los Angeles because, well, because the Warriors have the one thing that is more difficult to combat than even Curry.
More players. No matter how many impact-capable players you have, they have more. It is why Curry has not been missed the way most teams miss their game-changers – unless you have a margin-of-victory fetish. There, the Warriors have won by 26.5 points per in the two Curry games and a paltry 16.5 without him.
Small sample size? Hey, isn’t everything this time of year? But these six wins are the regular season equivalent of 27, and all but one have served only to gild the Warriors’ reputation as the team that sucks the air right out of other teams’ tires.
Portland has three days to re-tread. This will be the sternest test yet of Terry Stotts and the Blazers’ pit crew, in a race they in which they may never see the lead.