There is just one question left after the Golden State Warriors disposed of the Portland Trail Blazers 110-99 in Moda Center Saturday night:
Are the Trail Blazers, trailing 3-0, going to waste the jet fuel for their charter aircraft to go to Oakland for a Game 5 of this seven-game series?
Not sure. But it’s going to take a better effort to extend this series than Portland gave in the second half of Game 3.
Halftime? That was the perfect name for what happened over the last two quarters. Portland scored 66 points in the first half and just 33 in the second. Half!
And it was a crazy night for the Trail Blazers, who got solid play off the bench and from surprise starter at center, Meyers Leonard.
The problem was the starting guards – and that doesn’t happen often to the Blazers. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum combined to go 7-23 from the floor and 3-13 from three in the second half, as their team shot 30.8 percent from the field and 25 percent from three after halftime.
For the game, the duo was 12-38 and 5-19 … AND just 13-20 from the foul line, the driving force behind their team’s 20-33 mess at the free-throw line. And they also combined for six turnovers, five by Lillard.
And after watching them play for the entire season, I must say I’ve never seen them as worn down as they looked Saturday.
“Everybody’s tired,” Lillard said. “It’s the third round of the playoffs after a long season. Last series I got a lot of attention and the same thing in this series. It takes a lot to deal with that and then go out there and chase guys around on the defensive end.
“But everybody’s putting that effort out. And I feel fine enough to go out there and play 40 minutes like I have been. But it’s definitely tiring.”
McCollum spoke about the blitzing the Warriors have done on Portland’s pick-and-rolls and their double-teaming.
“They’ve been up at the level of the screen and in iso situations they do a good job of loading up,” McCollum said. “So you never are really by yourself. The elbows, boxes. Sometimes they just send a second defender. They are very smart about how they structure their defense.
“But you know, we have to do a better job. That’s what elite defenses do. They make it difficult on you and try to get the other guys to beat you.”
And of course, the Blazers’ “other guys” are often not up to the task.
Leonard, who had been buried on the bench a good part of the season (and his career, for that matter), gave his team 31 solid minutes, hitting 6 of 12 and 3-7 from long range.
“He had a terrific first half, like the rest of the team,” Coach Terry Stotts said of Leonard. “I liked his spacing and the way he played in Game 2 in Golden State.
“You know, he can space the floor, and he and Dame and he and CJ have a good two-man game. Obviously, it’s designed to help our offense a little bit. It really looked good in the first half. Not so much the second half. But that wasn’t his fault.”
Of course, Jusuf Nurkic isn’t available, but I’ll never understand how a player can be deemed important enough to play the entire final quarter of Game 2 and then start Game 3 of the conference finals after not playing AT ALL in 21 games during the regular season and starting only twice. And, in fact, he did not play a single minute in Game 1 of this series, either.
A little more playing time along the way might have made him even more effective. But that’s the Meyers Leonard Story and it’s been a mystery long enough to convince a lot of people that Leonard can’t play. Until the conference finals, I guess.
Stotts was asked about his team’s second half.
“Our offense,” he said. “Our offense fell apart. We missed some shots. Took some tough shots. Didn’t move the ball as well. They were scoring so we were taking the ball out of the net and didn’t get anything in transition.
“I said at the beginning of the series, to beat Golden State you’ve got to be able to score. Scoring 33 in the second half is not going to do it.”
Draymond Green had a sensational game for the Warriors at both ends of the court and he made a telling remark at the end of his post-game media session.
The Warriors really bought into resting players this season and it may be the reason they looked so much like the fresher team Saturday night.
“You know,” Green said, “Steve (Kerr) and our entire organization has been on board, making sure our guys get as much rest as you possibly can through a rigorous season. It’s a rigorous schedule and especially right now with Kevin (Durant) out, those rest days during the year, they make a difference for us.
“So that’s been good and sometimes it may cost you a game or two during the regular season but it’s more important to be healthy at this time of the year. I understand that. We’re trying to play into late, mid-June every year. It’s good to be healthy so I think its making a difference for us.”
Portland’s final chance to extend the series comes Monday night at Moda. But by now, it’s firmly established which team is the best in the West.