OAKLAND, Calif. – After all the back-and-forth of Sunday’s Game 1 – the 22 lead changes, the verbal exchanges, and ultimately a 121-109 victory by Golden State – Trail Blazers guard CJ MCollum took solace in one thing:
The Trail Blazers have announced their presence in this series.
“We are right there,’’ McCollum told CSNNW. “They know we are coming.’’
Golden State seized a 1-0 lead on the Blazers in an entertaining and competitive opener on Easter, but for the Warriors it wasn’t without some uneasy moments and some issues that will linger into Wednesday’s Game 2.
Portland’s dynamic duo of McCollum (41 points) and Damian Lillard (34 points) had the Warriors scrambling defensively, and if not for a heroic defensive performance by Draymond Green and another uncanny dagger administered by Ian Clark, who knows what kind of David vs. Goliath storylines would be developing out of Game 1.
“If it was to me, it's the perfect way to win Game 1,’’ Golden State coach Steve Kerr said. “You get a real taste for what you’re up against. You take a really good punch from your opponent, you see how good they are, but you’re able to overcome everything and still get the win.’’
As both teams head to their bunkers to prepare for Wednesday’s Game 2, they do so with different questions. Golden State has to wonder if they can stop McCollum and Lillard, while Portland will be left wondering if its supporting cast is capable of getting them over the hump.
Kerr said the focus will be on preventing Lillard and McCollum from getting to areas they want.
“They made some tough shots, but they also got to their spots,’’ Kerr said. “We’re trying to keep them from getting into their comfort zones, and they seemed to get there with ease in the first half. We did a better job in the second half, but we have to understand that’s how this series is going to go. Hopefully, they don’t get 75 points between them in Game 2, but they might. That’s how good they are. So we’ve just got to keep trying to make it hard on them and do the best we can.’’
The Blazers, meanwhile, got little to no offensive help outside of Lillard and McCollum. Evan Turner, a surprise starter, had 12 points and hit 2-of-3 three-pointers, and Maurice Harkless had 11 points, but in total, the Blazers sans the starting backcourt shot 12-of-39 (30.8 percent).
Nobly, Lillard absorbed responsibility to get more of his teammates involved when looking ahead to the rest of the series.
“It’s a matter of us two making more plays – hitting guys on the weak side and giving them more opportunity,’’ Lillard said. “I think to beat the Warriors we’re going to have to maybe make that extra pass more often and be able to depend on guys more often to allow them to have that type of success.’’
If all of this sounds familiar, it’s because Portland went through a similar experience last season against Golden State in the playoffs. The Blazers led for 56.1 percent of the series, and held double-digit leads in the final four games, yet still lost 4-1.
Sunday was no different.
“I thought we had it,’’ Harkless said. “But then that 15-2 run …”
The Blazers were tied heading into the fourth quarter before the Warriors went on a game-clinching 15-2 run that was spearheaded by some momentum-changing blocks by Green and another near-perfect performance from Clark.
Green had three of his five blocks in the fourth quarter, the biggest a rejection of Lillard who was heading for a driving dunk to cut the lead to 107-101. Instead, Green sprinted from the weakside and met Lillard head on.
With Green orchestrating to the crowd for more noise, Golden State transitioned up the court and Kevin Durant provided the final crescendo with a perfect jump shot that put the Warriors up 109-99.
It was the latest example of how much Green means to the Warriors and probably the best snapshot of why Green is a leading candidate for the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award.
“He played a game that I’m not sure anybody else in the league is capable of, honestly,’’ Kerr said. “Who else can do what Draymond just did tonight? He’s so unique and so important to us. He was phenomenal.’’
While Portland will be searching for any of its role players to step to the forefront, Golden State knows if its playing Portland, that almost certainly means a big night from Clark, the fourth-year guard from Belmont.
Clark on Sunday hit 4-of-5 shots and finished with 12 points – seven of them coming in the decisive fourth quarter run. For the season, Clark averaged 4.5 points on 45 percent shooting and 36 percent three-point shooting, but in five games against the Blazers this season he is averaging 12.8 points while shooting a staggering 23-of-30 from the field and 9-of-13 from three-point range.
Portland figures to turn to Allen Crabbe or Al-Farouq Aminu for some help off the bench after both had forgettable performances. Crabbe, in his first game back since missing three games resting a sore left foot, went 1-for-5 and scored three points in 22 minutes while Aminu missed all five of his shots.
“I definitely wanted to provide a little more, but it’s Game 1,’’ Crabbe said. “I just need to find ways to get myself going early.’’
Blazers coach Terry Stotts, who shuffled his starting lineup by moving Noah Vonleh to center, inserting Turner to small forward and shifting Harkless to power forward, said its imperative the Blazers get more production outside of Lillard and McCollum.
“It’s going to take a team to beat them,’’ Stotts said. “Damian and CJ are talented scorers and they both had great offensive nights … but we need everybody. Guys have to be ready to make shots.’’
On Sunday, those shots in the game seldom fell.
But McCollum suggested a bigger shot might have been volleyed.
The Blazers are coming, he says, and the Warriors know it.