OAKLAND -- Was it Game 1 jitters, or did fatigue play a role in the Portland Trail Blazers’ 116-94 loss to the Warriors on Tuesday night?
After battling the Denver Nuggets in the second round of the NBA playoffs and coming away with a Game 7 victory Sunday, the Blazers flew directly to Oakland to prepare for the Warriors. Two days later, they looked gassed -- and for good reason -- in Game 1 at Oracle Arena.
“Having played a tough emotional game two nights ago, that could play into it but I don’t think anybody will use that as an excuse,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said.
The postseason has been an emotional rollercoaster for Portland. Dramatic come-from-behind victories, buzzer-beating shots and an extremely emotional road finale in Denver looked like they had taken a toll on the Blazers.
“I mean, obviously it’s a difficult physically, you know, and a little bit emotional just because you’re excited about being in the Western Conference finals,” star point guard Damian Lillard told a packed media room following the loss. “You win seven games, got one on the road and you’re excited about that and you have to come straight here right from Denver and start prep and get ready for the best team in the league right now.”
With hardly any recovery time and not even a day to gameplan, Portland looked disorganized and sluggish at times.
The Blazers' starting backcourt of Lillard and CJ McCollum shot a combined 11-for-31 from the floor. Their bigs didn’t even show on high screens, while Steph Curry and Klay Thompson launched shots without challenge.
“Yeah, that was very poor execution, you know, defensively on our part,” Lillard added. “Just having our bigs back that far; understanding the team we are playing against, they are not going to shoot mid-range jumpers and try to attack the rim.”
The Warriors are a contrast in styles with the Nuggets. Denver ran its entire offense through All-Star center Nikola Jokic, and defending him requires a completely different strategy than defending two of the greatest perimeter shooters to ever play the game. With a month to prepare, Portland would still be in trouble.
“You can prepare, in terms of going over certain things and tendencies they like to do, but a lot of it is just basketball,” McCollum said. “They make good basketball plays. Moving without the ball, their role players are constantly setting screens, their bigs are constantly looking and guys that can’t shoot don’t shoot. That’s why they are so successful.”
Golden State has raised an NBA championship banner in two straight years and three of the last four. Not only are they extremely talented, they have a massive advantage in experience that will be difficult for any team to overcome.
Portland hasn’t been in this situation before, and it showed in Game 1. The Blazers shot just 36.1 percent from the floor. They turned the ball over 21 times. They allowed the Warriors to shoot 50 percent from the field and 51.5 percent from long range. You can’t beat the champs with these types of stats.
With just a day of recovery and still no trip home, the Blazers have to find a way to overcome some mental and physical obstacles if they hope to make a series out of this.
“We did this to ourselves,” McCollum added. “We went to a seven-game series, and that’s what happens. You got to travel, your back is against the wall a little bit and they were able to take care of business in six games, so they were able to get a little bit more rest. No excuses, we got to be ready to play on Thursday.”
As the old adage goes, a playoff series never truly begins until the road team wins a game. With just a day to make adjustments and recover, Portland is in a tough spot. The Blazers might need a huge boost from their home crowd over the weekend if they hope avoid a quick out.