It’s getting ugly, Rip City. Game 1 left the Portland Trail Blazers with a lot of confidence despite a 12-point loss. After all, CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard went OFF; the Golden State Warriors needed a ridiculous performance from its third-best player in Draymond Green; and entering Game 2, the Dubs were actually without Kevin Durant.
You heard that right: The Blazers entered the second contest with the same roster that put up 109 points, while Golden State was without its leading scorer and 32-point man Durant.
As it turned out, none of that mattered.
Following Game 2, it would be the responsible thing to take a deep breath, let 24 hours go by and analyze both this series and the two teams involved thoughtfully as we approach a Game 3 that will be played in our own neck of the woods…
But that’s not what we’re here for. Sometimes we need someone to just tell us the truth.
I’m happy to be that someone.
Brace yourselves, Blazers fans. Hot takes are coming.
Warriors Are Built For Adversity
This isn’t so much a hot take as it is an official realization of what we knew at the start of the regular season.
The. Warriors. Are. Deep.
Golden State played Game 2 not just without Durant, but it was sans Shaun Livingston and Matt Barnes as well. The squad that was top-two in both offensive and defensive efficiency this season was shorthanded and put together a much better, more consistent performance than it did at full strength the first go-round.
Let’s turn now to every Blazers fan everywhere:
Really?! … Like, Mike-Vick-Taking-Weed-Through-An-Airport-In-A-Water-Bottle Really? They really got better?!
Again: None of this is a huge surprise when we know how this team built its roster. It was the perfect combination of years of development meets star acquisition meets ring chaser. And to take it another step further, Stephen Curry proved during the regular season that he can tap back into MVP form without KD in the lineup.
But sheesh—the Thunder lost Durant and they’re down 0-2 against the Houston Rockets. Golden State loses the same guy and it plays even better against a Portland team that performed well for 75 percent of Game 1.
Warriors Defense Is Unreal (And Way Better Than Cleveland’s)
This is a micro analysis with a very macro-centric impact.
Let’s start with the former.
The Warriors saw the Blazers do serious damage in Game 1 because of the backcourt. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, who averaged the most points of any two-guard tandem all season (50.0), dropped a combined 75 points in Game 1. The contest was ultimately decided by double digits, but it was the two small-school products who gave Portland a fighting chance.
In Game 2? Not so much.
Wednesday night, the Blazers saw their star duo combine for just 23 points on an atrocious 9-of-34 shooting.
Since these are hot takes and all, let’s repeat that: The Blazers saw their star duo combine for just 23 points on an atrocious 9-of-34 shooting (That’s 26 percent for you math majors out there, and for those curious, they shot just 1-of-7 from the three-point line).
As good as Golden State’s defense is against Portland, there are legitimate questions already worth asking about how that’s going to translate in later rounds. But with the Dubs a near-lock to make the NBA Finals, we’re ready to take it one step further and ask how it’s going to compare to their inter-conference foe, the Cleveland Cavaliers.
So far this playoffs, the Cavs’ defense has looked as vulnerable as it did during the latter half of the regular season. Cleveland is 12th in terms of points allowed at this juncture, which puts it ahead of only the Oklahoma City Thunder, Blazers, Indiana Pacers and Atlanta Hawks.
Note: Not one of those teams has managed a single win thus far. Further note: Cleveland has the fourth-worst defensive efficiency in the postseason behind only the Pacers, Memphis Grizzlies and Thunder.
Again: Not one of those teams has a single win.
If the Warriors and Cavs meet in the finals, the Warriors have the clear edge.
Jusuf Nurkic Will Not Play
I made some bold predictions before the playoffs began. And you know what? I’ll own up to them.
In my own words: “… it’s easy to see how a Lillard-led crew can steal one on the road. … Not even a superteam can put “perfect” on its resume. And against the Blazers, that superlative will be removed almost certainly in Game 2.
Who let me write that?
One other thing I said, though, is that Nurkic is going to lay an egg. I still maintain that if he suits up at any point, he’ll be rendered useless against a Warriors squad that will take full advantage of the fact that he’s out of shape.
But at this point, does anybody really believe (Blazers management included) that the Bosnian Beast is going to help Portland win four out of five games against the greatest team ever assembled in NBA history?
This guy is sitting the rest of the way.
Portland Has No X-Factor
OSN’s Darby Marioth put together a compelling case for Evan Turner as the Blazers’ X-Factor for this first-round competition. Here’s the man himself:
“Whether it’s Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, or Kevin Durant who warm up, the Trail Blazers will have the option to throw Turner on any one of them. This becomes especially handy when a duo of Warriors start to catch fire, in which a combination of Turner and Maurice Harkless/Al-Farouq Aminu can be utilized.”
“With Turner on the floor alongside Lillard and McCollum, Golden State will have to find a new way to stop this high-powered offense – the one-man off-ball trap will no longer suffice.”
Nothing OSN’s own contributor said is wrong. Turner had every opportunity to be that X-Factor, and he even looked the part as a two-way impact player in Game 1.
If you’re an optimist, he still does.
But Game 2 proved otherwise. And Allen Crabbe, the league’s third-best three-point shooter in terms of efficiency (second, if you don’t include Pau Gasol, who only took 104 attempts), has only made 1-of-8 during the postseason.
It’s beyond impossible to picture a guy like Turner, Crabbe or Mo Harkless having a true impact on this series.
Sorry, Portland. Your are officially CJ & Dame Or Bust.
Portland Is Getting Swept
Depending on who you ask, there are either five or seven stages of grief. However, no matter who you ask, the final stage is acceptance.
If Portland fans are smart, they’ll skip anger, skip depression, skip anything that happens before the final stage.
The Blazers entered this series as a long shot. Vegas had them with the eighth-best odds to win the West (obviously, seeing as they were the eighth seed), and yet there was this glimmer of hope that just wouldn’t disappear when it came to Rip City optimists.
Although Portland is essentially knocked out of this series being down 0-2, this is the same situation it was in last year against the Warriors in Round 2. And it came back to force a fifth game in Oakland, ultimately losing the series 4-1.
But this isn’t the same series. This Warriors squad is a team (as we’ve already hit on), built to defy adversity. This isn’t a group down its best player and giving up 17-point leads in multiple games.
The Blazers are done, folks. Nurkic isn’t playing, Durant may not even be play, and quite frankly nobody is picking Portland to win a single game.
Call this pessimistic, call this realist…call this a hot take.
This is reality.
See you next season.