PORTLAND –- The Warriors trudged out of Moda Center early Saturday evening after losing a playoff game and, in the process, perhaps relearning a lesson.
They are champions because of four components: Stephen Curry, fierce defense, sweet ball movement and, at both ends, dazzling execution.
Curry was completely unavailable and none of the other three was present for the vast majority of a 120-108 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals.
“We’ll learn from it,” Klay Thompson said. “It was uncharacteristic of us, and luckily it’s the first team to win four so we have a chance to bounce back on Monday.”
After a decent first quarter, after which they held a 28-22 lead, the Warriors had just enough defensive lapses and far too many empty possessions to finish what they started against a team that thrives on rhythm. The Blazers shot 30.4 percent in the first quarter, found rhythm in the second quarter and never really lost it.
“That team, they had doubt,” forward Draymond Green said. “I could tell in the first quarter that they had doubt. And we didn’t take advantage of that. We let them get going, hit a couple shots, and now they’re feeling good about themselves.”
Portland owned the final three quarters, outscoring the Warriors 98-80. Aside from Thompson (35 points, 19 in the first quarter) and Green (team-high 37, also a career high for the playoffs), the Warriors couldn’t find enough scoring.
“I don’t think we moved the ball like we normally do, especially in the first half,” coach Steve Kerr said. “We were in a rush. Shots are going to go in or they’re not, but sometimes when there is a rhythm to the game and the ball is moving, shots are more likely to go in. I thought we just had too many quick shots early in the game. We never really got into our offensive flow.”
Warriors not named Green or Thompson or Leandro Barbosa (10 points off the bench) combined for 10-of-30 (33.3 percent) shooting from the field. Harrison Barnes played 33 minutes, shooting 2-of-8. Andre Iguodala played 30 minutes, shooting 0-of-5.
Despite a decent percentage overall (47.7) and low turnovers (12), the Warriors offense was utterly without balance.
“Our offense hurt our defense, because we weren’t very good offensively,” Green said.
“We got away from our game plan at times,” Thompson said, “especially on the offensive end. Too many one- or two-pass shots, we’ve got to wear these guys down with five or more passes and make those guys work out there playing big minutes. But we’ll make the adjustment.”
With their 2-0 lead in this best-of-seven series reduced to 2-1, the Warriors have plenty to study. Thompson played 38 minutes, posting one assist and one rebound. Green had a fabulous line –- 37 points, nine rebounds and eight assists -– but indeed was off his typical defensive standard.
Green was not alone in sloppy and sluggish defense. Guard Damian Lillard scored 40 points, leaving Thompson blaming himself. Small forward Al-Farouq Aminu scored 23 points, 16 more than opposite number Barnes Guard CJ McCollum finished with 22 and Allen Crabbe added 10 off the bench.
“I was awful defensively,” Green said. “When you look at Dame getting 40, that’s not going to beat us if we don’t let Aminu get 23 or Crabbe off the bench get 10. If we cover those guys, Dame’s 40 doesn’t beat us. CJ’s 22 really doesn’t beat us if we cover the other guys. A big part of that fell on me.”
No, it fell on everybody. And it fell with quite a thud. It left the Warriors looking within and, quite likely, wondering if Curry might return for Game 4 on Monday night. There is at least a possibility, and should he come back and shake off the rust, it will be very different Warriors team.
If Curry doesn’t return, it’ll be the same Warriors as took the court for Game 3, except they’ll be doing all they can play a very different game.