When the Trail Blazers played Golden State in the last preseason game for both teams, Damian Lillard noticed something different about the Warriors defense: Getting to the rim was easier this season.
“It’s not the same,’’ Lillard said of the Warriors’ defense. “They are a great offensive team and I think they will still be a good defensive team, but it’s different than when (Andrew) Bogut is not back there. It’s just not the same.’’
Bogut is the former Warriors’ center who was traded to Dallas over the summer in a salary cap move that enabled the Warriors to sign Kevin Durant. The Warriors now play center with veteran Zaza Pachulia, or when they play small, Draymond Green.
Without Bogut, rim protection could turn out to be the chink in the Warriors’ armor this season, especially if the first three games are any indication. Golden State has been outscored in the paint in all three games and are allowing an average of 52 points in the paint, third most in the NBA behind the Lakers and Orlando.
Come Tuesday night, when the Blazers (2-1) play host to Golden State (2-1), Lillard said the Blazers should take notice of how teams have attacked Golden State by going inside, either on drives or post ups.
“Watching their game against New Orleans, watching their game against Phoenix -- both teams attacked the paint a lot,’’ Lillard said. “They were attacking rim, attacking the rim, and it kept both teams in the game, so we have to do the same thing.’’
When the Blazers built a 16-point lead in the first half against Golden State in that Oct. 21 preseason game, it was largely by attacking the rim. They were 9-of-19 in the paint in the first quarter, when they scored 18 of their 37 points in the paint.
Much of the early success was Lillard blowing by Stephen Curry for layins. Midway through the first quarter Lillard scored layins on three of four Blazers possessions, including one in which Curry fouled him.
“I feel confident in my ability to attack whoever, but in a lot of those plays, Draymond likes to help from the weakside … and I saw him sprinting to (Mason Plumlee) to deny, which meant nobody was in the paint. I was taking advantage of that.
“It’s different when you don’t have a guy like Andrew Bogut in that paint. He controlled that paint really well for them on the backside of that defense, so (in that preseason game) I felt good about getting to the rim.’’
In the next two quarters, before the benches were emptied in the fourth quarter, the Blazers scored only 16 combined points in the paint, while attempting a combined 14 shots – down from the 19 in the first quarter.
Not surprisingly, the Blazers were outscored in the second and third quarters, which Lillard said was part discipline and part credit to Golden State adjustments.
“We stopped getting to the rim, but part of that was them,’’ Lillard said. “Like I said, they are still going to be a good defensive team, they are a championship level team, so they will adjust. You are not going to be able to get to the lane all night. But we have to keep finding ways and being crafty about how we get there. It’s not always going to be a straight, drive by … but we have to keep attacking paint.’’
Last season, the Warriors allowed 45.1 points in the paint, which was the sixth most allowed in the NBA. This season, they have given up 50 to the Spurs, 62 to New Orleans and 44 to Phoenix. The Blazers through three games are averaging 46 points in the paint, tied for 12th most in the NBA.