NBA Playoffs

Sweep? Doesn't matter -- it was a great season for the Trail Blazers

Sweep? Doesn't matter -- it was a great season for the Trail Blazers

It was a great season for the Portland Trail Blazers. Let’s get that out of the way right here and now. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you anything different.

It doesn’t really matter that the Golden State Warriors completed the sweep of the Trail Blazers with a 119-117 overtime win Monday night in the Moda Center.

In the big picture, it’s meaningless, really. The Blazers weren't going to win the championship, anyway. The Warriors were always going to be too much for them and perhaps everyone else in the league.

The Trail Blazers accomplished too much this season to allow the outcome of this series to spoil what they did.

This was a team that Las Vegas figured might win 42 games. It was a team that wasn’t supposed to make the playoffs and, after the devastating injury to Jusuf Nurkic certainly wasn’t expected to win many playoff games, let alone a series.

But the Blazers won enough to capture the third seed in the Western Conference, then knocked off Oklahoma City in five games and won a seventh game on the road to decide their series with the Denver Nuggets.

This was a big step for this team, which can now go into next season knowing they were in the NBA’s Final Four and played the defending champions tough in three of the four games.

“I think it’s more than just the playoff run,” Coach Terry Stotts said. “I think the fact that we had a very good regular season, the fact that we were able to win two series, we were competitive in this series, even though it was a sweep – we played competitively.

“But I think (next season) is a long way away from now. I think when that time comes, we’ll be able to reflect. I think it’s a little too early to look at how this series helps us right now. Right now, it kind of stings.”

Damian Lillard, the captain, was not at all reluctant to put this accomplishment in perspective.
“It’s the Western Conference finals,” he said. “The other night after our game, I was looking for another game on TV and I was like, there’s two series going on right now and we’re one of them. For me, we’ve shown what we’re capable of. We can get it done. And our route here was as hard as anybody’s.
“We played the Thunder, great team. We played Denver, great team. So it wasn’t like we just eased our way in. We earned this. We got here. I think we showed this is who we are.

“This is what we’ve capable of. It’s not like some random thing. We’re in the playoffs every year. We bounce back every year regardless of how it ends. And this year we pushed it even further. So I think we showed we have it in us.

“So now we take this experience and move forward again. Obviously, you don’t want to go out with a sweep. We could have easily won every game. We just didn’t. Just got to keep going.

“We’ve shown that what we’ve been believing in and what we hang our hats on, works. That has taken time. We’ve invested a lot in our culture and our togetherness and that stuff. We’ve proven that works.

“We just ran up on a high-powered team and we still played well enough to beat them, but it was just those small lapses, those stretches when you give a game away against a team like that.”

Monday’s Game 4 was a lot like the previous two games, Portland frittered away a 17-point lead in the face of a Warrior charge and missed a chance to win the game at the end of regulation when Lillard’s right-handed hook shot trickled over the rim and then had another game-winner at the end of overtime when his three-pointer from the right corner missed.

What separated this game from all the others in the series, though, was the emergence of Meyers Leonard, not only in the starting lineup for the second straight game, but as a major factor in the game.

Leonard played 40:11, scored 30 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to lead his team in both categories. He was 10-12 from the field in the first half with 25 points but got only four shots in the second half.

But for a man whom Stotts had buried on the Blazer bench for a good portion of his seven seasons with the team, it was a big coming-out party.

And it left serious questions about why he hasn’t been used more frequently by a team that often hungers for another outside shooter. Leonard hit 5 of his 8 three-point shots in the game.

“Again, he, the first half was outstanding,” Stotts said. “Twenty-five points and he was playing with a lot of confidence. He certainly had an impact on the game, much like Game 3. And again, he played well and I’m happy for him.”

I would say Leonard was outstanding for more than the first half, he just didn’t get the ball much after intermission and that wasn’t his fault. Stotts normally throws compliments Leonard’s way about as frequently as it snows here in July.

But Golden State Coach Steve Kerr was willing.

“Meyers Leonard was fantastic,” Kerr said. “I thought the game softened up when Meyers Leonard started making threes. We had to make some adjustments and as soon as we did that, Damian’s eyes lit up. He started to see single coverage and he got going.”

The Warriors got their usual triple-double from Draymond Green, and it included a big three-pointer in overtime. Steph Curry also chalked up a triple-double that included 37 points and 13 rebounds.

The Trail Blazers have exit interviews scheduled for Tuesday and there will be full written and video coverage on this website.

And with that, a season that could almost qualify as magical, comes to an end.

Social media shows love for the Trail Blazers as special season comes to an end

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USA Today

Social media shows love for the Trail Blazers as special season comes to an end

Before the season started few experts picked the Blazers to make the playoffs. The Blazers proved them all wrong and ended up with the third best record in the Western Conference.

Once they made the playoffs, no one gave them a chance to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder. They silenced the doubters and beat OKC in five games.

In the semifinals, no one thought they could beat the No.2 Denver Nuggets. All Portland did was take them to seven games and knock them out of the playoffs on Denver's home court.

Then, in the Western Conference Finals for the first time in 19 years, no one gave them a chance to defeat the defending champs. Well, this time they were finally right. The Blazers magical ride came to end, but oh what an incredible ride it was!

Following the final buzzer of the season, fans took to social media show their love for their favorite team. 

 

What They’re Saying ahead of Game 4: There’s no quit in Damian Lillard

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USA Today Images

What They’re Saying ahead of Game 4: There’s no quit in Damian Lillard

The Portland Trail Blazers are down 0-3 to the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. No team has overcome such a deficit, but the Blazers aren’t out of the NBA Playoffs just yet. 

Portland will look to keep its season alive on Monday night, as they face off against the Warriors on home court in Game 4. Here’s a look at What They’re Saying ahead of the Blazers must-win game. 

Damian Lillard knows the odds of an 0-3 comeback aren't in Portland’s favor, but the Trail Blazers guard told Benjamin Hoffman of the New York Times he’s not giving up.

“You know, you look at the numbers and there’s a slim chance of you winning the series like that, but we’ve got a lot to play for. Obviously you never know when the first time it’s going to happen. We could be the first team to do it.”

On Skip and Shannon: UNDISPUTED, former NBA player Kendrick Perkins told moderator Jenny Taft that he felt the Blazers have overachieved in the NBA Playoffs, while the Warriors are focused on making a point.

“Portland has overachieved. They good where they at, making it to the Western Conference Finals. I think we’ve seen that after Game 7, Dame getting emotional…I think that this is more about Golden State proving to the world that they can win without Kevin Durant.”

If the Blazers do get swept on Monday night, there’s a lot basketball fans can still be thankful for in this series. The Curry brothers’ rivalry is on the list. For the Win’s Charles Curtis shared a thank you note to the Curry bros.

“There was that trash talk between Steph and Seth. There have been moments when they’ve stolen basketballs from each other or splashed a three in each other’s faces. But there’s also been the entertainment from their parents Dell and Sonya, who have worn half-Blazers and half-Warriors jerseys to root on both their kids.”

Shaun Powell of NBA.com says that while Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers are further in the postseason than they’ve been in 19 years, Lillard and McCollum will have to pull off a jaw-dropping performance to extend their season. 

“So what’s left of the Blazers? Unless there’s a premium performance coming from Lillard and McCollum in Game 4, their season is likely done after Monday night. With Green and Stephen Curry looking nostalgic, the Warriors have that 2015 feeling when they won a title without Durant. The Warriors also know they’ll get nine days’ rest with a sweep, as if they need any further motivation.

At this point, all the Blazers have is their pride, with none bigger than Lillard’s.”

Game 4 tips off on Monday at 6:00 p.m. at the Moda Center in Portland. 

Meyers Leonard on Game 4: "Have pride. Simple as that"

Meyers Leonard on Game 4: "Have pride. Simple as that"

For Meyers Leonard, it was a special opportunity Saturday night, a rare chance to start a playoff game.  And for Leonard, there haven’t been a lot of chances to start ANY games.

He didn’t get off the bench at all in 21 Portland games this season and was in the starting lineup only twice – with one of those being that final contest of the year when the Trail Blazers rested the starters and turned the game over to their young players, other than the 27-year-old Leonard.

He did not play in 10 of his team’s final 16 games of the regular season and then sat out five of the Trail Blazers’ last seven playoff games before going the entire fourth quarter of Game 2 against Golden State.

And it’s not as if he hasn’t been a solid playoff contributor during his career. In 24 playoff games, he’s shot 50.6 percent from the field and 45.2 percent from three-point range.

In 2014-15, as a 22-year-old, second-year player. Leonard hit 10 of 13 three-point field goals over a five-game playoff series vs. Memphis.

In the spotlight of a must-win game Saturday night, Leonard knocked down half of his 12 shots from the floor, three of seven from long distance and scored 16 points in a very consistent performance at both ends of the floor.

“I thought Meyers played great,” Damian Lillard said Sunday. “Meyers had a great game.”

No matter how infrequent his appearances, Leonard always keeps himself ready.

He wasn’t anxious to talk about the frustration and disappointment he has suffered during a career that has seen him spend more time on the bench than on the court. He doesn’t criticize his coaching staff or cause dissension over his situation, even though, at various times, his production has appeared to merit more minutes on the floor and Trail Blazer fans have demeaned him on the talk shows and social media because of his salary.

“What I'll say is, I'm thankful that Coach Stotts and the staff and my teammates, for that matter, had the belief in me and know that I can play,” he said Sunday prior to his team’s practice. “It's been up and down, and I approach every day the same as if I'm going to play.

“I try to prepare as best I can, and I used this quote last night, it's one that I really like. It's what the (Navy) Seals talk about: You don't really rise to the occasion, you fall back on training.

“I put a lot of work in, and I feel that I'm very dedicated to myself and to my team to improving and being ready to play when my number is called.  So, although the minutes have been up and down and it's, I guess, not consistent, my goal is to remain consistent when I'm counted on.

“In a pretty big game, obviously, it's been, whatever, 19 years since the Blazers have been in the Western Conference finals, I feel that I did a pretty darned good job being ready to play and trying to help us win.”

And, as always, Leonard is resolute about what his team must do to keep from making this series a 4-0 Warriors’ sweep Monday night.

“Have pride,” he said. “Simple as that. You know, we can easily just say, well, we're down 0-3, no one else has ever done it, why not just get to the summer?

“That's not who we are. That's not, certainly not our mindset. And we have a group of guys that really care and love to win, and so we're going to come out tomorrow night and we're going to fight and we're going to give them a really good effort.”

Something Leonard always does.

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Are all those games, all those minutes, catching up with the Trail Blazers?

Are all those games, all those minutes, catching up with the Trail Blazers?

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.

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Did the Warriors "steal" that game or did the Blazers just hand it to them?

Did the Warriors "steal" that game or did the Blazers just hand it to them?

OAKLAND – The first words out of Steve Kerr’s mouth in the post-game press conference Thursday night were, “We stole that game.”

You could certainly make the case that Portland should have defeated Kerr’s Golden State Warriors, but it’s not really a steal when someone leaves the keys in the car with the motor running, then opens the door and invites you behind the wheel.

Before losing 114-111 to the Warriors, the Trail Blazers held a 17-point lead in the first half. They led by 15 at halftime before a horrendous third quarter left them tied.

But they still built an eight-point lead when Meyers Leonard hit a three-point field goal with 4:28 left in the game. But Portland would hit just one more basket the remainder of the game, a Seth Curry three with 1:03 to go that lifted the Blazers into a one-point lead.

This was a game that was right there for the Trail Blazers to win and they didn’t. And it was just as much their fault as anything the Warriors did.

Portland got big contributions from its bench. Curry scored 16 points and went 3-3 from the field in the final quarter. Rodney Hood scored 12 and Leonard, who didn’t even play in Game One, played all 12 minutes of the fourth quarter and finished with seven points, six rebounds and two assists.

The Trail Blazers made 18 three-point field goals and Golden State hit just nine and that stat alone would decide about 90 percent of NBA games. In other words, the Blazers had 27 more points from long range than Golden State.

But the third quarter, when the Warriors forced five turnovers and turned them into a whopping 13 points, vaulted Golden State back in the game.

Then, in the deciding fourth quarter, Portland managed to make just 8 of its 23 shots, including only 5 of 14 from long range. And the Warriors outrebounded the Blazers 16-9 in the final quarter.

Damian Lillard went 2-6 in the fourth quarter and CJ McCollum was 0-6. They combined to go 1-9 from three over those 12 minutes, too.

And the Warriors gave Portland fits with the Steph Curry-Draymond Green pick-and-roll and allowed some layups.

And that went a long way toward the Warriors’ “steal” of Game 2 of the series.

Lillard had an opportunity for a game-tying three-point shot at the end but couldn’t get it off against Andre Iguodala, on what looked to be a steal but was officially called a blocked shot in the play-by-play.

“Honestly, we were out of timeouts,” Terry Stotts said. “Just it wasn’t – we just got to get a shot up. You know, get him the ball. It’s a tough situation to be in. We couldn’t necessarily run a play but I thought he did the best job he could as far as trying to get a three up.”

Lillard maintained he was fouled on the play.

“You know, I got the ball,” Lillard said. “I think they knew we needed a three. I think it was under 10 seconds by the time I got a catch, and a quick two – we didn’t have any timeouts left. I don’t think that would have done much for us.

“We knew we were going to go for the three, so I was just trying to get space to get a three up. I know it’s a tough position for the referees to be in to make a call at that point of the game. I tried to get a little bit of space the first time and he grabbed my arm and I lost the ball a little bit. I regained it and I was going to shoot it again.

“But he got his hand on the ball.

“For me, as the offensive player, I felt like it was contact. There was a lot of contact. But obviously, the ref is not going to decide the game or jump in at that point. You know, so they – good defensive play.”

Iguodala explained his side of the play:

“Well, you look at the time and situation, up three, so the one thing that you don’t want to do is give up a three. You actually can take risks outside the three-point line and be extra aggressive. The key is not to give that up. If the guy drives by you, then you still have the lead. When you look at it that way, it wasn’t that good of a play.

“I just take odds on what you want to do and if the odds are in your favor, then for something like that to happen outside the three-point line.”

McCollum has a philosophical way of looking at games like this one – a pretty unbiased summary in most cases.

“I think it’s just a make-or-miss league,” he said. “We got some good looks. I personally had some good looks. I had an open three I missed, and I had a floater I missed late.

“They played good defense, but I can live with the shots I missed every day of the week and I think, you know, offensively we had some pretty good possessions.

“We just didn’t finish them.”

And didn’t finish the game well, either.

They have two more chances, next up at Moda Center – Saturday and Monday.

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What They’re Saying: It's time for the Trail Blazers to get nasty with the Warriors

What They’re Saying: It's time for the Trail Blazers to get nasty with the Warriors

Well, it wasn’t the start the Portland Trail Blazers had hoped for in the Bay. In Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, the defending champion, Golden State Warriors, had their way with Portland in just about every way possible.

Now heading into Game 2, Portland looks to make key adjustments, including finding a way to defend the Warriors’ deadly three-point shooter, Steph Curry, who had nine threes in Game 1, seven of which were uncontested.

Let’s take a look at What They’re Saying about the Blazers and Warriors heading into the two teams’ second meeting in the Western Conference Finals.

Haley O'Shaughnessy of The Ringer says Blazers coach Terry Stotts needs to change an entire element of his defense mid-playoffs to have a chance against the Warriors.

“To have a chance against the Warriors, the Blazers need to employ traps and get more men to be on their ball handlers, not fewer. Stotts should understand that his preferred pick-and-roll defense doesn’t work against the Warriors. Lillard does; other Blazers do.”

Dieter Kurtenbach of The Mercury News also stressed the importance of defense in the Blazers- Warriors series. He said the Blazers are not as scrappy as the Clippers, as talented as the Bucks and Raptors, or as physical as the Rockets, to defend the Warriors.

“Maybe the Blazers change their defensive scheme. Maybe they don’t. But no matter if they start trapping, switching, or go with a small ball lineup to get Kanter and Collins off the court, the truth is that they are not a good enough defensive team to really stop the Warriors from doing what they want to do on that end of the court.”

https://twitter.com/dkurtenbach/status/1128857605139554304?s=20

Martin Rogers of USA Today says its time for the Trail Blazers to get nasty if they want to make it a series.

“If Portland can find a way to energize themselves and make things tougher for Golden State then maybe this becomes a series. If not, it could turn into a stroll. The Warriors, thankful to be past the ultra-aggressive Rockets, are handling Kevin Durant’s absence just fine and walking with smiles on their faces once more. Portland needs to find a way to remove those grins. Getting nastier, more intense and more defensively-aggressive is the best way to do it."

Before Game 1, a panel of ESPN writers gave their thoughts on what it would take for Portland to upset the Warriors. Royce Young said the Blazers would have to make the most of their matchup advantages to beat Golden State.

“The Warriors will likely deploy a trapping and blitzing approach to Lillard, so it will be on McCollum to cook against Thompson. And similar to the series against Denver, the Blazers have to find ways to make the most of their matchup advantages -- Hood against smaller defenders, Kanter on the offensive glass, Collins’ physicality. But at the core, it will be about Lillard and McCollum: Can they outplay Curry and Thompson?”

Tip off for Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals is set for 6:00 p.m. on Thursday at Oracle Arena in Oakland. 

Why did the Blazers play Steph Curry so soft at the 3-point line?

Why did the Blazers play Steph Curry so soft at the 3-point line?

Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals didn't go how the Portland Trail Blazers wanted. The Golden State Warriors got the best of them, and Portland’s defense puzzled fans as they watched Stephen Curry get open looks at the 3-point line with Enes Kanter sitting deep in the lane.

The Internet knives came out quickly for Terry Stotts, with the fervor boiling over to national media shows on Wednesday questioning just what on earth Portland’s coach was thinking giving Curry that much space. Stotts was questioned postgame about his decision to keep his big men soft — in what’s called ICE coverage — rather than blitz the pick-and-roll the way the Houston Rockets had done the series before vs. Golden State.

His response was sniping, saying he would, “Look into that.”

Stotts’ answer to the intrepid reporter wasn’t just about the fact that the Rockets lost while Curry scored 33 points against their blitz. It was that he and his staff of assistant coaches and video coordinators have spent more time than anyone in the media scouting how to stop the Warriors in the pick-and-roll. Put simply, Stotts had already looked into it.

But that begs the question: what was the plan, and how did it go wrong?

For starters, Synergy suggests that Curry’s FG% goes down whenever he takes a dribble off a pick-and-roll screen and takes a jumper or a runner. It goes way back up, near 60 percent, when he takes it to the basket. The Warriors star’s stats are also sky high when it comes to passing to cutters off the pick-and-roll, so Kanter’s soft coverage is partly explained simply by trying to limit him to the right areas of the floor.

Other teams have been able to force Curry into poor shooting nights by applying tough pressure over the top, despite having a big man lay back softer in the lane. Even the Blazers employed this tactic against Golden State during the regular season, with their roll man defender sitting as deep as the free-throw line.

The problem for Portland in Game 1 was that their guards often got caught up on picks, and didn’t apply nearly enough pressure on Curry. Whether that was due to fatigue or perhaps nagging injuries it’s not clear — Damian Lillard was seen grabbing at his hamstring at one point — but it was a serious issue.

Portland also seemed to make an error in how close to the timeline they picked up Curry. Blazers guards defended Curry near the halfcourt logo, but Kanter more or less stayed tethered near the free-throw line. The result was that Golden State’s forward initiated screens a step or two higher than they normally would have, which widened the gap between the Warriors star and Kanter.

Portland’s plan was no different than any other ICE coverage. The Blazers wanted to let Curry get a head of steam and make a decision to shoot from midrange, but that doesn’t work unless someone is putting pressure over the top. In Game 1, Portland just couldn’t cut it.

In Game 2 what we’ll need to see from the Blazers is better defensive play from the wings as they fight over screens. It also might be reasonable for Kanter to take a step up above the free-throw line, although his mobility in nagging injuries might limit how much higher we see him go. I’d expect to see Zach Collins continue to defend higher, as well as more pick-and-roll plays defended by Moe Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu.

If Portland can manage those two things, they could put more pressure on Curry and shorten the amount of space their beleaguered big man rotation has to cover.

Watch the full video breakdown above to see how the defense all works on film.

Dame and CJ: "What if you saw that same defense Steph saw Tuesday?"

Dame and CJ: "What if you saw that same defense Steph saw Tuesday?"

SAN FRANCISCO – Realizing that it was just a bit impertinent, I pondered asking a question Wednesday afternoon before the Trail Blazers began their practice.

And I went ahead and asked it.

“CJ, how would you like to have a game where the defense defended you in the pick and roll the same way your team defended Steph Curry last night?” I said.

He smiled one of his bigger smiles, thought about it a little while and shook his head.

And refused to answer. Couldn’t blame him.

Then I asked the same question of Damian Lillard.

“Hey man, we could have done a much better job,” Lillard said, speaking of the pick-and-roll coverage. “I think people need to look at how I’m being defended. I can’t even get a shot up sometimes. Maybe just look at that. I can’t get a shot up.”

Yes, there is that. If the likes of Damian Lillard, a first-team all-NBA player last season and obviously an elite player, has trouble getting up shots against blitzes and double-teams, why not attempt the same strategy against Curry and his Golden State Warriors?

And Golden State also has some players on the floor at times – Draymond Green, Andre Igoudala, Shaun Livingston, Andrew Bogut, Kevin Looney – who aren’t rushing to take three-point shots. Why not put the same pressure on them to score from distance that Portland’s Al-Farouq Aminu is feeling throughout the playoffs?

Certainly you might want to try anything except dropping the big man down in the lane and allowing Curry to come off the pick wide open for three-point-shots that he can seemingly make in his sleep. That was the ill-fated strategy Tuesday night and Curry had 33 points over the first three quarters.

Coach Terry Stotts said he would be making changes in his team’s pick-and-roll coverages and that almost goes without saying. He also acknowledged that lineup changes are always considered.

But seldom made, it seems.

Stotts has infrequently strayed from his long-time starters, even to open the second half. But in the most important two quarters of this season so far – the second half of Sunday’s Game 7 at Denver, he inserted Rodney Hood and Zach Collins at the forward positions to provide more offensive punch and spread the floor.

The rest, of course, is history. Portland rallied from a nine-point deficit to win the game. Stotts was asked about going with those players in Game 2 Thursday and called it a “loaded question.”

Probably was, I guess. But a fair one, just the same.

In the playoffs for the last few years, when teams have time to prepare for the Blazers much more than they do in the regular season, Lillard and McCollum have struggled to find court-spacers to make their lives easier. This video has been screened before.

And make no mistake, the Trail Blazers would profit from somehow getting Lillard more room to operate. Since the first game of the Denver series, the Portland captain is shooting just 37 percent from the field and 30 percent from long distance. He’s better than that, but he’s playing in a crowd and the Blazers haven’t done their best job of using personnel to help him get more comfortable.

Instead of Enes Kanter on those ball screens, for example, what about Meyers Leonard? Opponents would have to honor Leonard’s outside shooting ability and get back to him quickly after Lillard clears the screen.

And with Hood, Collins, Leonard or Seth Curry in the corners, the Portland guards would have more room to operate.

Or not, depending on how the Warriors would play it.

But the fact is, somebody would be shooting open threes and the hope is, it would be players who could make them on a consistent basis.

It’s a thought. Perhaps an impertinent one. But a thought.

Blazers have a lot of problems to fix after Game 1 -- on offense and defense

Blazers have a lot of problems to fix after Game 1 -- on offense and defense

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.