OAKLAND – When the Warriors advance to the Western Conference Finals, as surely they will, coaches and players and fans can point to a single postseason game as evidence they would not be denied.
That would be Tuesday night at Oracle Arena, Game 2 against Portland, when the Warriors won so much more than a mere playoff game.
They took over a conference semifinals series while spinning the Trail Blazers into a web of despair.
Their 110-99 comeback victory serves as a reminder that the Warriors not only can win when they seem deserving of defeat but also that their roster is indeed as deep as any we’ve seen in recent years – maybe since Red Auerbach’s Boston Celtics were running out a roster on which every other player was headed for the Hall of Fame.
[POOLE: Ezeli plays role of savior in Warriors' comeback win in Game 2]
The Warriors don’t have that kind of broad supremacy, but it might be hard to tell that to the Blazers, who go back Portland asking of themselves questions for which they have no chance of finding an answer at this stage of their development.
“To their credit, they were better than us for three quarters,” forward Draymond Green conceded.
Blazers coach Terry Stotts concocted a terrific defensive plan that contained Klay Thompson and Green, the Warriors who did most of the damage in Game 1. Through three quarters, Thompson had 17 points on 5-of-17 shooting. Green had 11 on 5-of-17 shooting.
With the Blazers leading by as much as 17, it was adding up to a Portland victory that would even the series.
“But we have another game,” Green said, “and I think we came out in that fourth quarter and got it done on the defensive end. When you look at the score: 34 points in the first quarter, 25, 28 and 12. I think that's the key to the game.”
Green and Thompson, combining for 16 points on 4-of-6 shooting from the field and 6-of-7 from the line, were productive and efficient in the fourth quarter. Their teammates were spectacular.
“There came a point where me and Klay were trying to do too much,” Green said. “When we settled down and trusted everybody else, that's when everything started to click for us.”
Festus Ezeli played nine minutes in the fourth, making all four of his shots, grabbing five rebounds and blocking a shot. Sixth man Andre Iguodala played 10 minutes, delivering four points, two rebounds and an assist. Shaun Livingston played 10 minutes, contributing six points, two assists and a blocked shot.
“Andre kept us in the game in the first half I thought when things weren't going well, and Klay stayed with it,” coach Steve Kerr said. “He had a rough start to the game, but really came up huge, and same with Shaun. Shaun was 1 for 7 at halftime, and made probably the biggest shot on of the game on that fadeaway with two minutes left to move (our lead) from five to seven.
“I could keep going, but we turned around what was a pretty bad game for us, and we had enough time to get back.”
The defense, missing for much of the game, arrived in the fourth quarter and squelched the Blazers, holding them to 5-of-19 shooting (26.3 percent). The Warriors outscored Portland 34-12 in the fourth, including 28-8 over the final 8:33.
“Our defense was so great there at the end,” Thompson said. “If we had that the rest of the playoffs, I think it's going to be great.”
The Warriors in many ways reversed the trend of Game 1, when they played nasty defense in the first quarter to set a tone that never really changed. This time, the Warriors saved that brand of defense for the final 12 minutes.
The Blazers didn’t know what hit them. They couldn’t have. They had so masterfully controlled Green and Thompson, plugging up two problem areas for their defense, so the Warriors unleashed the rest of the roster.
Harrison Barnes, Ian Clark, Leandro Barbosa, Iguodala and Ezeli shot a combined 20-of-29 (69.0 percent). They carried more than their weight to avoid defeat and bring heartbreak to the Pacific Northwest.
As for Steph Curry, the greatest offensive force in the league, he was on the bench the entire time in street clothes, sidelined with a sprained right knee. Superfluous.
“We're going to face some great opponents,” Thompson said. “We’re facing a really good team right now. But we really believe that it's going to be hard for a team to beat us four times if we're locked in and we're all playing selfless and just playing for each other.
“We've got such a deep team and so many great playmakers and guys that do different things and we've got great balance that we just come with that mental focus every night and we'll be in a great position to win.”