OAKLAND – Because the Warriors and Trail Blazers have never met in the playoffs and have no traditional rivalry doesn’t mean there won’t be passion and fury when they face each other in the Western Conference semifinals.
They know each other well enough to bring the anger, which could be visible in Game 1 Sunday afternoon at Oracle Arena.
Should the Warriors need a jolt, all they have to do is flash back to Feb. 19, when they were pantsed in Portland, crawling out of Moda Center on the painful end of a 137-105 score, their most lopsided loss of the season.
Asked if video clips of that game might be required to plant a seed of inspiration, Warriors guard Klay Thompson indicated memory alone is enough.
“I don’t think we need to see it,” he said after practice Saturday. “We know what they’re capable of. They obviously have a very explosive backcourt. They have a lot of motion in their offense.
“We remember it well, so there’s no need to see it.”
The Warriors are deeper and more talented and have the home-court advantage. They’re the reigning NBA champs, and barely two weeks removed from posting the best season in league history. Failing to advance to the conference finals would be catastrophic failure for the Warriors – with or without Stephen Curry.
Yet Curry’s shadow will play a role in dictating this series. Warriors-Blazers in recent seasons has been defined by the gunslingers at guard, Klay Thompson and Curry for the Warriors, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum – who this season moved into the role vacated by Wesley Matthews – for Portland.
“You know their guards are going to make tough shots, just like ours are,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “So you can’t get discouraged when they do.”
This series will be no different than games of the past few seasons. The backcourts will set the tone and, more often than not, determine which team wins.
Here’s the wrinkle: Shaun Livingston, replacing Curry at point guard for at least the first several games, brings a different mentality and a near-opposite set of skills.
“It changes things dramatically,” coach Steve Kerr said.
Whereas Curry specializes in the 3-point shot but is willing to drive into the paint, Livingston generally plays inside the 3-point arc and on the block. He’s 6-foot-7, which gives him an edge on most defenders, particularly point guards. He’ll be quite the challenge for Lillard and McCollum, both of whom fall in that 6-foot-3 range.
On the other side, Lillard and McCollum are twin catalysts for the Portland offense. Lillard finished sixth (25.1 points per game) in scoring, while McCollum was No. 18 at 20.8. Only Curry (30.1) and Thompson (22.1) scored more among guard duos.
“They have a unique relationship on the court as far as both being able to play-make, both are good at catching and shooting,” Thompson said of Lillard and McCollum. “It’s fun to play against them. They’re fun to watch."
If the Warriors accomplish that mission, they’ll reach the Western Conference Finals for the second consecutive season.