Sitting in the relatively quiet Moda Center Wednesday night, one couldn’t help but notice the difference.
A year ago, a Golden State Warriors-Portland Trail Blazers game was an event. A happening. And the buzz in the arena was always palpable.
But a year later, it’s not the same. Injuries have torn big parts of these teams away, leaving them nothing close to the way they were just a year ago. The Warriors, of course, were hit the worst – losing Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant, who departed via free agency after a playoff injury.
And as Portland closed out its 122-112 win over the Warriors in front of what was announced as a sellout crowd, you understood that all those empty seats were surely sold.
But a lot of people just chose not to show up and use them.
And a Moda game against the Warriors almost always featured a huge number of Golden State fans, wearing their jerseys, T-shirts or just blue and gold colors, screaming their lungs out for their team.
“I grew up a Golden State Warriors fan,” Damian Lillard said. “And my family didn’t have the most money. And we were able to get season tickets. It wasn’t a sold-out arena. Steph and Klay and Draymond have done a great thing and turned it into a real championship organization and a great organization. (And) Steve Kerr. And then they have had some bad things happen.
“Usually, when we played them here, it looked like a Golden State (home) game. And all of a sudden, there ain’t none of those people showing up to support the team. I mean, that was just weird to me.”
Portland had a 13-point lead late in the first quarter, two 10-point leads in the second quarter and a nine-point lead in the third, but Kerr’s Warriors wouldn’t quit. They worked the offensive boards for 27 second-chance points but Lillard and CJ McCollum combined for 61 points to go with Hassan Whiteside’s 23 rebounds and Carmelo Anthony’s 17 points to pull Portland to the win.
“An emotional rollercoaster ride,” McCollum called it. “I go out and approach it the same way, as if Steph and Klay are out there. Those guys play hard. They’re NBA players, quality guys who are still trying to prove themselves in the league.
“You’ve got to play the game. Not the record, not the schedule – not anything. You’ve got to play the game. And tonight, we did that for the most part and at times, they outplayed us.”
And they did it without Steph and Klay. Just as Portland did it without Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins and Rodney Hood.
And frankly, it was not the same without them.