SAN FRANCISCO – On a Monday night when nobody outside their locker room expected much of this particular group of Warriors against a Trail Blazers team coming off its deepest postseason run in 19 years, MVP chants were heard inside Chase Center.
And, no, the Bay Area had not switched allegiance from the wounded Warriors to Oakland native Damian Lillard, the four-time All-Star and undisputed leader of the Blazers.
This was for a Warriors rookie playing his seventh NBA game with the purpose, production and poise of someone who had played seven stellar seasons.
Eric Paschall was taken aback by the love showering down upon him as he stood at the free throw line late in the fourth quarter.
“That was a little crazy. I’m not going to lie,” Paschall said after scoring 34 points to lead the Warriors in upsetting Portland, 127-118. “Honestly, for a rookie, you’re hearing MVP (chants). That’s a ‘wow’ moment. I was more focused on the game because I realized we had a chance to win right now. To hear that, I just thank Dub Nation for believing in me.”
If Paschall continues to play as he has over the past couple games, the entire NBA is going to believe in him, with many personnel executives wondering how they missed on him, leaving him for the Warriors to take in the second round, No. 41 overall, in the June draft.
Closer to home, Paschall also will impress his father, Juan who makes a point of reminding him of one particular aspect of his game. That would be rebounding. After snagging five while scoring 25 points on Saturday, he attacked the glass for 13 against the Blazers.
“You know who’s going to be real proud of that? My dad,” Paschall said. “Y’all have no idea. My dad gets on me so much. ‘Rebound the ball! Rebound the ball!’ All through college and high school, so I know tonight he’s going to see that and be like, ‘You should get 13 a night, then.’ He’s going to be on me about that.”
Paschall, a 6-foot-6, 255-pound forward, surely benefitted from playing four seasons of college basketball. After his freshman year at Fordham, he transferred to Villanova and played well under coach Jay Wright but somehow remained under the radar.
“He was undersized,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “But these days, undersized guys at that (power forward) position, as long as you are really strong with that wingspan – we’ve seen it the last few years with Draymond Green – and we felt Eric had a chance to have a similar impact as a second-round pick.
“He came in and didn’t look like a rookie at all from the first day of practice. He looked like somebody who has been well-prepared for this.”
Paschall became the first Warriors rookie to produce at least 34 points and 13 rebounds in almost a quarter-century. Chris Webber posted a 36-13 game on Jan. 4, 1994 against the Kings.
Playing 40 minutes and finishing a team-high plus-11, Paschall was 11-of-19 from the field, including 4-of-6 from deep – his first NBA 3-pointers – and 8-of-8 from the line. His 17-point first quarter took everyone, except perhaps himself, by surprise.
“We watched film on him,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “But he shot the ball really well. I don’t know if he’s a shooter or not, but tonight he was.”
So impressive was Paschall that he received praise beyond the confines of the arena that may be more treasured than those MVP chants.
Informed that his game was acknowledged on Twitter by injured Warriors teammate Stephen Curry, Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell and San Francisco 49ers Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott, Paschall seemed in awe.
“I didn’t even know that,” he said. “Ronnie Lott? That’s a pretty big one. He was a hell of a player. Just to see Donovan, that’s my best friend. Me and him grew up together, damn near brothers. And Steph, his support is always great to have.
“It’s great to see (others) just seeing what I can do and giving me praise for it. I feel like I’ve been underrated my whole life. Just this opportunity is amazing. There’s not a lot of times when a rookie gets to play 40 minutes against the Trail Blazers, with Dame and CJ (McCollum).”
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The Warriors were underdogs prior to tipoff and they’ll be underdogs again Wednesday in Houston. With Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, D’Angelo Russell and Curry out injured, that will be their status in most of the games they play.
Which may be perfectly fine with Paschall. If he puts together many more games like this one, that underdog role might not be such a splendid fit.