With Rip City nearly reduced to rubble, the leader of the demolition lingered at midcourt to celebrate with his co-workers.
Draymond Green hugged Stephen Curry and then hi-fived Alfonzo McKinnie, Kevon Looney and Klay Thompson. Behind a virtuoso performance from their fiery do-it-all forward, the Golden State Warriors grabbed a commanding 3-0 in the Western Conference Finals, moving them one win away from a fifth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals.
“I don’t even know what to say about Draymond,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “He was like a wrecking ball, destroying everything in his path. The pace that he was generating was incredible. It just seemed like he never got tired.”
Game 3 in the Moda Center played out much the same way as Game 2 at Oracle Arena had two days earlier. The Blazers put together a brilliant first 24 minutes then the wrecking ball came crashing through in third quarter. The Warriors have a way of making double-digit leads crumble in an instant, the Blazers’ 18 point lead in Game 3 last longer than their 17 point lead in Game 2, but the final result was still the same.
In the decisive third quarter Saturday night, Green took two shots, drawing a shooting foul on one and finishing a transition layup on the other. But he changed the game with his force, creating 13 points off six assist and grabbing six rebounds while pushing the pace at every opportunity. He overwhelmed the Blazers and shifted the series likely for good.
Defensively, Green was seemingly everywhere. He would trap Damian Lillard above the three-point arc and then recover to disrupt the back end of the play to make life miserable for the Blazers if they could maneuver into the paint.
Even before the game-changing third quarter, Green kept the Warriors in striking range in the first half. Getting easy transition buckets by relentlessly pushing the ball after the Blazers would score. He kept the window open for a Golden State run, and then decided to just kick the front door down instead.
“He was the difference-maker,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “What he did, he kept them going, even though we had a lead in the first half, his energy, the way he was pushing the ball, kept them going, and you know, he has such an impact on the game on both ends.”
Curry and Thompson get the headlines for the Warriors and rightfully so. Curry’s long-range shooting threat has helped the Warriors leverage easy baskets all series long. But it’s Green’s decision making that has helped Golden State take advantage of a team so concentrated on a Splash Brothers onslaught. Trap Curry, and Green will happily make the right play out as he rolls to the rim. Fail to get over a screen, and Green will deliver a pass with impeccable timing to capitalize on the mistake.
“It’s an interesting challenge,” Blazers forward Moe Harkless said. “Because he so good playing with his teammates. He’s like the perfect fit for the guys around him.”
The Blazers have made their adjustments, and mostly they have been effective. They’ve ratcheted up the perimeter pressure on Curry and Thompson to take away the opens three-pointers Portland conceded in Game 1. Stotts inserted Meyers Leonard into the starting group in Game 3, a move that helped the Blazers get more space on offense and loosen up the Warriors defense with an additional long-range shooter and strong screen setter.
Those adjustments weren’t enough. In large part because Green is hard to scheme against. Daring a non-shooter to take unguarded jumpers can work, unless of course that non-shooter is driving the ball at full speed towards the rim, compromising a defense and finding his all-world teammates with uncanny timing. Avoiding an All-NBA defender on offense works, until he steps into passing lanes from the weakside or meets a drive in the paint with swarming ferocity.
The adjustments limited the easy splashes. They haven’t stop the wrecking ball. Green’s relentlessness has seemingly worn down the Blazers. Portland’s stars looked tired, Golden State looks to be rounding into title chasing rhythm.
“We just want to try to wear guys down over the course of 48 minutes,” Green said when asked if Golden State pressure had exhausted Lillard and Blazers teammates. “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.”
In the past, Green could be rattled. His biggest nemeses were the people with whistles, not those in opposing jerseys. Admittedly, Green said he “got to a point where I was doing more crying than playing.” His feud with the officials on hold, he can get back to making life miserable for his opponents. His multi-faceted brilliance has all but ended the Blazers seasons.
The Blazers have played back to back excellent first halves, they made subtle defensive adjustments and found a better solution in their starting lineup. Sometime this summer the Blazers may be able to appreciate what they accomplished during this run to West Finals. But that time isn’t now, because they’re seemingly out of moves and out answers. Their inevitable demolition is coming. They can’t avoid the wrecking ball.
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