Warriors

Warriors' defense on Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum has Blazers on brink

Warriors' defense on Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum has Blazers on brink

PORTLAND, Ore. -- As the Trail Blazers searched for a fourth-quarter spark Saturday night, CJ McCollum stepped to the free-throw line in an important spot.

The Blazers had just forced a turnover with 6:21 remaining in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals, giving the career 83.9 percent free-throw shooter a chance to halt the Warriors’ second-half run and energize the Moda Center crowd.

After he was fouled on a 3-point attempt, McCollum made his first foul shot, but he missed the next two.

“I was locked in as could be, focused as I could be,” McCollum said after the Blazers’ 110-99 loss to the Warriors. “ … There’s no excuses. It’s on me.”

McCollum chased that second miss, and helped force a Warriors turnover. He found himself open in the right corner for a 3-pointer, but he missed that one, too. That shot could’ve cut Golden State’s lead to one. He missed all but one of five free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter, and four of six shots from the field.

McCollum didn’t say he was fatigued postgame, but those misses arguably represented the culmination of the Warriors’ relentless defensive pressure on him and fellow Blazers star Damian Lillard.  

In all three games of the best-of-seven series, the Warriors have won by throwing wave after wave of defenders at Lillard and McCollum. They have blitzed both players on pick-and-rolls, and employed plenty of off-ball help when one of the two manages to get in isolation.

The result? Lillard and McCollum have shot a combined 35.2 percent from the field, and turned the ball over 22 times, and the Blazers now face elimination from the NBA playoffs.

“You know, you go up against a wall of defense, sometimes it’s three defenders,” Lillard said. “It’s tough because you’re not always going to get a quality look, and then when you do get a quality look and don’t make it, that just kind of makes it worse.”

Both Lillard (27.6 field-goal percentage) and McCollum (35.5 percent) have shot worse in the second half than the first over the course of the series. Lillard, who reportedly is playing through separated ribs, admitted that this series is “definitely tiring” even though he has felt “fine enough” to play 40 minutes a night.

After a grueling seven-game NBA playoff second-round series with the Denver Nuggets, Lillard and McCollum each have averaged more than 38 minutes per game against the Warriors. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are playing heavy minutes on the other side, but Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Golden State has made it a point to throw “fresh bodies in there” against the Blazers duo defensively.

Twelve Warriors saw the floor Saturday night, and Golden State won the war of attrition.

“We just want to try to wear guys down over the course of 48 minutes,” Green said. “It’s not necessarily that he’s going to start the game gassed, but if you can just wear him down over the course of 48 minutes, that makes those shots as the game goes on a little bit tougher.”

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The Warriors have contained Lillard and McCollum so far, and they are one win away from their fifth consecutive NBA Finals appearance. Still, Golden State knows it can't afford to relent against the duo. Kerr noted the Warriors fouled the two on a few 3-point attempts, and Green said Lillard is liable to get hot at any time.

In other words, that pressure isn’t going away. The Blazers will have to solve it if they’re going to make this a series, let alone make history and come back to advance to the Finals.

“That’s what elite defenses do,” McCollum said. “They make it difficult on you and try to get the other guys to beat you.”

NBA rumors: Warriors wouldn't have let Steph Curry play in Orlando

NBA rumors: Warriors wouldn't have let Steph Curry play in Orlando

The NBA reportedly is considering creating a second "bubble" in Chicago for the eight teams that were not included in the Orlando bubble as part of the league's expanded playoff format. Warriors general manager Bob Myers said Thursday that Golden State potentially would participate, despite coach Steve Kerr previously insisting that the Dubs would not be interested in such a setup.

It remains to be seen if the second bubble will actually take place, but even if it does, it sure seems like you won't be seeing Steph Curry play in it. ESPN's Jackie MacMullan reported he wouldn't have played in Orlando had the Warriors qualified, and it begs the question as to why Chicago would be any different.

"I was told unequivocally by people at Golden State," MacMullan said Thursday on the "Hoop Collective" podcast, "if Golden State came back (to play in Orlando) they weren't gonna let Steph Curry step foot on the floor."

"The reason they were worried about Steph Curry," MacMullan added, "was because they didn't feel that he had played enough to come back."

So, there you have it. The Warriors arguably would have very little to gain from participating in the Chicago bubble, and given that there is no championship at stake -- like there is in Orlando -- Golden State doesn't have much motivation to send its star veteran players, especially those that are returning from injury.

Curry played in precisely one of the Warriors' final 61 games before the season was paused due to the coronavirus pandemic after returning from a broken wrist. And if he isn't going to play, you can bet Klay Thompson -- who would be returning from a torn ACL -- won't either.

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Draymond Green previously said that he would have played in Orlando, but if the Splash Brothers are out, why would Golden State risk the health of the other remaining piece of its championship core?

The Warriors need to find a way to stay in basketball shape and continue developing chemistry over what is going to be an extremely long layoff before the start of next season. But if Curry, Thompson and Green aren't involved, then that kind of ruins the whole point.

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Warriors would gain little partaking in NBA's proposed 'second bubble'

Warriors would gain little partaking in NBA's proposed 'second bubble'

Insofar as the Warriors run a fairly democratic operation, with each player having a voice and the core veterans operating as advisers to head coach Steve Kerr, an invitation to become part of a proposed but not approved second NBA “bubble” presents a dilemma.

If mandated by the NBA, they’ll go, whether it’s Chicago or Las Vegas or another site. That the vets – Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson -- would not be expected to play makes the team’s participation cursory, if not downright pointless.

Yet general manager Bob Myers recently said the Warriors would be “team players” and, in the end, do whatever is best for the league.

“You have to take a step back and say, ‘We’re going to be good partners,’” he said in a phone conversation. “We’re going to do what’s best for the league in a difficult environment.”

Understand, the Warriors don’t want to be there -- and why should they? Their 2019-20 season is over, and there is no definitive start date for 2020-2021. They’d be scrimmaging, at potentially increased risk of the coronavirus (COVID-19), with the crew that absorbed most of the minutes last season.

[RUNNIN' PLAYS PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Which brings us to their real desire. They want to gather as a group before the next training camp, currently penciled in for November. Kerr told me a few weeks ago that he “wouldn’t mind” getting his team together for what amounts to a minicamp in the middle of an offseason extended by the pandemic.

Coaches want it, and so do the players. They all would like the experience of playing with each other, which didn’t exist last season. Thompson missed the entire season, and Curry played four games, only one with Andrew Wiggins, who came over in a February trade.

Ideally, that would occur at Chase Center, which has opened for individual activities with attendance limitations but remains suspended for full team activities.

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Should the day come when the current restrictions are relaxed, expect the Warriors to identify a week to get everyone inside. Get Thompson on the floor with Wiggins and others, scrimmaging together for the first time. Evaluate how Curry and Green have responded to the long layoff.

That would be productive, as well as their first blowout activity since early March.

Going into a second bubble, with a stripped-down squad, confined to a hotel for a week or two, is something the Warriors are willing to do. Willing, but hardly eager and barely engaged.