OAKLAND – You couldn’t blame Steve Kerr. It was just kind of a little slip, you know. He didn’t mean anything disparaging.
And he was probably correct, anyway.
Asked about how well his bench played during Tuesday night’s series-opening 116-94 win over the Trail Blazers, Kerr said, “And this series feels – feels like it’s a series where we can play more people.”
You really could, I think, take that statement to mean that the Trail Blazers weren’t going to make it as tough on Kerr’s Golden State Warriors as the Houston Rockets did in the previous series – when every possession seemed to hold great value. You could even assume he didn't believe the games would be close. But I know he didn't mean that -- although a good portion of the basketball public would probably believe that after what they saw Tuesday night.
Kerr was asked later about his statement.
“Yeah, as I said, we feel like this is a series where we can, and this is a strategy where we can use more bench players if we can, but we’ll see how it goes,” he said.
The way the Trail Blazers played, Kerr could have cleared his bench and put himself into the lineup. Portland Just wasn’t ready for this one.
There were glaring problems on offense and defense, although Coach Terry Stotts dismissed the defensive trouble, even though Golden State shot 50 percent from the floor and 51.5 percent from three.
“Well, to be honest, other than the fourth quarter, the game defensively was manageable,” Stotts said. “They got loose in the fourth quarter. But going into the fourth quarter down six, we were finding ways to hang in on a night when we were struggling offensively.
“Certainly they got loose. It’s a combination of how well they move without the ball and pick and rolls.”
Well, a lot of the time it was pick and rolls. Alarmingly so.
The Trail Blazers got Steph Curry going by covering the Warriors’ pick and roll as if Curry weren’t simply the best shooter in NBA history. Since the Golden State bigs most often setting the pick were either Andrew Bogut or Draymond Green – players who don’t make and don’t even take many threes – Portland center Enes Kanter played way off them.
But the problem with that was on the pick-and-roll plays, once Curry got around the pick, there was nobody there to occupy him because Kanter had dropped back.
Open threes for Curry = many quick points, and Curry had 33 by the end of the third quarter.
“Yeah, that was very poor execution, you know, defensively, on our part,” Damian Lillard said. “Just having our bigs back that far, understanding the team we’re playing against, they are not going to shoot mid-range jumpers and attack the rim.
“If they see an opportunity to shoot a three, they are going to take it. They shoot it at a high clip. We’ve got to bring our guys up and run them off the line, and tonight, we were, you know, they were setting solid screens and coming off shooting practice shots. You know, that’s the last thing we need if we want to have any chance to beat this team.”
CJ McCollum added, “pick-and-roll coverages were bad all night and they were rolling to the threes.”
On offense, there were almost too many problems to list. Yes, the turnovers hurt. The Trail Blazers had 21 of them, one-third by Lillard, and they cost Portland 31 points. And the guards didn’t shoot well, either.
Lillard and McCollum combined to go just 11-31 from the field and 3-10 from three-point range.
The Warriors made it look like last season’s New Orleans series with their coverage of Lillard. They blitzed his pick-and-rolls and they just outright double-teamed him in other situations. When he went to the basket, they fenced him in.
“They did a good job tonight defensively,” Lillard said. “And even when I was trying to find guys, they were getting deflections just because it was a crowd.
“They were making me play in a crowd. I thought they were successful at that in this first game.”
The Blazers captured 16 offensive rebounds but got only 14 second-chance points, going 4-17 with their second-chance shots.
The Warriors had 17 fast-break points and the Blazers had just two.
Lillard and McCollum combined for 36 points, the exact number Steph Curry scored and Klay Thompson added 26 to the Warriors’ backcourt total.
All in all, the Warriors had plenty of opportunity to empty their bench. The Blazers did, too.
Obviously, for different reasons.