OAKLAND -- The magic carpet ride for the Portland Trail Blazers came to an abrupt end on Wednesday night at Oracle Arena. After toying with the upstart Blazers for most of the night, the Warriors came out in the fourth quarter with their championship swagger and walked away with a 125-121 victory.
Truth is, the Warriors were supposed to win this series with ease, but Portland didn’t get the memo. The Blazers fought tooth and nail, making almost every game a challenge for a team that won 73 games during the regular season.
“They came to work, they got better, we got better, and we had success because of their character and their work ethic every day,” Stotts said following the game. “So I don’t have to wait long to understand how special this season was.”
[RATTO: Warriors prove greatness by having it tested more than ever]
With elimination on the line, the Trail Blazers did everything right and still couldn’t shake the Warriors off their tail. Portland shot an incredible 16-for-36 from long range, including two or more makes from Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Maurice Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu and Allen Crabbe. They created space and found the open man on countless occasions.
Did the Blazers expose the Warriors Achilles heel? If they hope to repeat as champs, Golden State is going to need to defend the arc better than they did on Wednesday night on their home floor.
Lillard was the best player on the court though the first half, dropping in 21 points on 5-of-12 shooting before the break. The two-time All-Star found the going got tougher in the second half as the Warriors coaching staff threw both Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala in his path. He managed to score just seven points on 2-of-12 shooting.
“We tried to stop fouling him and sending him to the free throw line,” Thompson said of Lillard. “When you play a great scorer like Dame, you don’t let him get into a good rhythm and that’s what he was in the first half.”
With Lillard struggling late, McCollum and Crabbe carried the scoring load. McCollum torched Golden State for 16 of his 27 points in the fourth. The third-year guard left it all on the floor, earning high praise from league MVP Stephen Curry.
“He was tough, he kept his foot on the gas pedal,” Curry said. “(He) made some tough shots and took advantage of some offensive rebounds and had the confidence to keep shooting and knock em down. He did what he could to keep his team in the game. He’s a talented player and that’s what you expect.”
Crabbe, a former second-round pick, lit up the Warriors for 20 points off the bench. The 24-year-old wing hit 5-of-7 from behind the arc in 33 minutes of action in the loss.
The Blazers were clearly disappointed following the game, but no one saw this type of season from a team that reset it’s roster in a serious way during the summer.
“We came into this season saying it’s a process,” Lillard said. “We had growing pains, but I think our team did a great job of just keeping our heads down and just continuing to work and staying together through the tough times early in the season.”
[POOLE: Instant Replay: Warriors down Blazers, on to conference finals]
Coach Stotts lost five rotational players, including four starters from a 51-win team and still managed to earn a fifth seed in the Western Conference playoffs. Gone were the likes of LaMarcus Aldridge, Wes Matthews, Robin Lopez, Nic Batum and Arron Afflalo.
Not only did Stotts have to work with a revamped roster, but he was forced to completely reinvent his team’s playing style.
“Terry just did a phenomenal job,” Steve Kerr said of his counterpart. “When you think about they lost four starters in the off-season, nobody expected them to do what they did.”
While Portland had enough to get past the injury plagued Los Angeles Clippers in round one, the Warriors are a completely different beast. Klay Thompson finished with a game-high 33 points on 13-for-17 shooting. Curry dropped in 22 of his 29 in the second half, including 14 in the fourth quarter.
Like most nights for the Trail Blazers, the game came down to the final minute. They gave a gritty performance that in the end wasn’t enough. But through an 82 game schedule and two rounds of playoff competition, Portland learned a lot about who they are as a team moving forward.
“Every team wants to have an identity,” Stotts said. “If our identity is that we compete every night, that’s a great place to start. ”
The Warriors move on to face either the Oklahoma City Thunder or the San Antonio Spurs. It’s their second straight trip to the Western Conference Finals and competition is only going to get stronger.
Portland heads home with their heads held high knowing that they just exceeded all expectations this season.