OAKLAND, Calif. – The Trail Blazers on Sunday once again showed they can play with the Golden State Warriors.
But just like last season, during a playoff series that lasted five games, the Blazers haven’t shown they can finish a promising performance.
Golden State broke away from an 88-88 tie by starting the fourth quarter on a 15-2 run that led to a 121-109 steamrolling in Game 1 of the best-of-seven opening playoff series.
Despite a playoff career-high 41 points from CJ McCollum and 34 points from Damian Lillard, Golden State opened defense of its back-to-back conference championships by riding the wave of some momentum-swinging plays by do-it-all forward Draymond Green.
Green started the fourth quarter run with a three-pointer, then electrified the sold out Oracle Arena crowd with spectacular defense. He recorded three of his five blocks in the fourth quarter, including one on a dunk attempt by Lillard. When Kevin Durant turned the block into a jumper, the Warriors led 109-99 with 4:40 and the Blazers never threatened.
Green finished with 19 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists, three steals and five blocks and was in the middle of much of the back-and-forth jawing that took place between the two teams.
The fourth-quarter flurry was reminiscent of last season’s second-round series, when Portland led for 56.1 percent of the series, but lost four of the five games.
Portland was dealt a blow before the game when center Jusuf Nurkic was ruled out after he hoped to return from a broken right leg suffered just more than two weeks ago.
With Nurkic out, coach Terry Stotts shuffled his starting lineup, using Noah Vonleh at center and inserting Evan Turner in at small forward, with Maurice Harkless moving to power forward.
The move worked well, as the first three quarters were nip-and-tuck. The game featured 22 lead changes and 15 ties.
It was tied at 88 heading into the fourth after Pat Connaughton hit a leaning mid-range shot while being fouled with 0.8 seconds left. He made the free throw, capping a wild, see-saw third quarter that saw 15 lead changes and four ties.
A first half that included lots of jawing, was tied at 56 at halftime as McCollum had 27 points on 11-of-15 shooting. McCollum walked to the locker room nodding confidently at the Warriors’ bench, symbolizing a first half of back-and-forth both physically and verbally between the two teams. Lillard and Green had words during a free throw after Lillard fell hard to the floor, and later Durant and Harkless had an extended verbal volley as the teams went to a timeout near the end of the first half.
Portland hung close in the first quarter as Lillard and McCollum combined to score 24 of the Blazers’ 27 points. The Blazers shot just 30.4 percent in the quarter, but were within 31-27 thanks in part to 10-of-13 free throw shooting.
Golden State was led by Kevin Durant, who had 32 points and 10 rebounds, and Stephen Curry, who had 29 points.
Next up: Game 2, Blazers at Golden State, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday (TNT)