OAKLAND -- The relative ease with which the Warriors dispatched the Trail Blazers on Tuesday can be the most dangerous sort of Game 1 victory. It showcased the gap in the quality of the teams and the Warriors clearly are superior.
Rolling to a 116-94 victory without Kevin Durant suggests the Warriors have everything they need to sweep through the Western Conference finals for the second time in three seasons.
Yes, sweep. I said it.
But the Warriors being the Warriors, they’d better beware.
It’s unwise to assume they’ll have 10 days before Game 1 of the NBA Finals because this rout was, in part, kind of money that disintegrates immediately. It’s good for one night. By Thursday night, when they take the court for Game 2, it will have turned counterfeit.
“It’s only one game,” Shaun Livingston told NBC Sports Bay Area. “We know we’ll have to bring a certain mentality in Game 2. We can’t expect they’ll be the same team we saw tonight.”
The Warriors, after all, had nearly two full days of rest before taking advantage of a Portland team that dragged into the Bay Area Sunday night after a grueling seven-game series with the Denver Nuggets. If the Blazers looked fatigued, it’s because they were. They weren’t up the demands -- physical or mental -- required to outlast the Warriors in any Game 1 at Oracle Arena.
“Our defense was good, but I also thought we benefited from the schedule,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr conceded. “We were able to finish our last series on Friday and they had to go to a tough Game 7 in Denver and a quick turnaround. The schedule favored us. But I thought we took advantage of the situation and -- and got off to a good start.”
That’s all this was. A start. The defense posted solid numbers, limiting the Blazers to 36.1-percent shooting from the field, including 25 percent from beyond the arc. The Warriors held Portland’s explosive backcourt, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, to a combined 36 points and 11-of-31 shooting.
No doubt, though, that those horrid numbers were influenced by the fact that the Blazers came into the game practically bent over, breathing heavy, with their tongues hanging out.
That also may have been a factor in Stephen Curry destruction of Portland’s defense. Curry may have gotten more clean looks Tuesday than he did in the entire second-round series against Houston. It was enough to carry the Warriors’ offense -- with considerable assistance from the Portland offense, which gave them 31 points off 21 turnovers.
“Obviously it's a little bit difficult physically, you know, and a little bit emotional just because you're excited about being in the Western Conference finals,” Lillard said. “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.
“It's tough, but once we lace our shoes up and put our uniforms on, it's fair and square.”
Though the Warriors didn’t run away from the Blazers until the fourth quarter, the game never had the feel of one in which the defending champs were threatened. The Warriors never trailed after the first quarter and their biggest lead -- 22 points -- was reflected in the final score.
But Game 2 looms, and the Warriors not long ago learned a hard lesson about what can go wrong after practically coasting to victory in Game 1.
After roasting the Clippers by 17 in Game 1 at Oracle, the Warriors were knee-deep into a rout in Game 2, leading by 31 points in the third quarter -- only to relax and get overtaken by a team that wouldn’t quit.
The Warriors were extended to six games in that series, when they would like to have had more time off before clashing with the Rockets.
“Their backs already are against the wall,” Livingston said of the Blazers. “We can’t have letdowns. It’s got to be automatic. You should see in the first few minutes what the game is going to look like. If we’re not where we should be, Steve hopefully does a Popovich and calls a timeout right away. That might be what it takes to shift our focus.
“We know we need to come out ready. Take care of business here and protect our home court.”
A 1-0 series lead, in most instances, can’t be trusted. In this instance, it should be forgotten as quickly as possible because the Warriors can’t expect to see the same Blazers on Thursday that they faced on Tuesday.