What is one thing the Warriors have, and the Blazers don’t, that makes them look good on a basketball court? If you said snazzy, sleeved alternates you’re half right. The correct answer is quality defense. The Blazers were smothered in Oakland last night while the Warriors scored at will.
Stephen Curry exploded for 39 points in 37 minutes, including seven 3 pointers. From a basketball standpoint it was incredible, but as a Blazer fan it was more than flustering. How could we give the number one 3 point shooter in the NBA room to do what he does best in transition? It seems only natural that we’d adopt a ‘fool me once’ mentality, but we left him to his own devices time and time again.
Perhaps that is unfair. More accurately, we were unable to stop him despite our best efforts. However, Curry was not the only one to exploit our defensive shortcomings. The Warriors shot 54% from the field, as a team, compared to the Blazers’ paltry 38.4%. It’s no surprise that Portland was outscored every quarter.
But here’s the important part – How did this happen?
- First of all, Golden State’s defense was absolutely suffocating. A year ago, I would not have believed that sentence could exist without oozing sarcasm. The double team on Lillard forced him into early passes that prevented him from taking deep shots or setting up the offense the way he wanted. In fact, Lillard attempted just half the amount of his usual threes and much of his scoring came from the charity stripe. It was very clear that after Lillard’s career high performance in their previous meeting, Golden State was not going to give him room to cough.
- Our interior defense fell apart. Meyers Leonard may be 7’1, but distributing 245lbs across that frame doesn’t add up to the most imposing figure when fighting for position. Combine that with a little inexperience and miscommunication and you have a recipe for disaster. I like the rookie a lot, and although it was his best statistical game thus far (22 points/10 rebounds) he has a distinct tendency to follow the play instead of stop it; extending for a block after the shooter has reached the hoop. This seems to stem from insufficient positioning. He never quite looks like he knows where he is supposed to be. Of course, this will change with time and (hopefully) additional weight to throw around. (Sidenote): I will not do Leonard the disservice of putting the onus on him alone. Claver and Freeland need to get it together as well. Victor and Joel’s play has been so expressly pedestrian that I like to hold Meyers to a different developmental standard. He is, after all, the future of the team.
- Second chance opportunities were a killer; both disallowing them and capitalizing on our own. In a game where every defensive stop counts, keeping Golden State off the glass should have been priority number 1. The Warriors outscored the Blazers in each frame, little by little wearing down their morale and remaining endurance. Every Warrior put-back was like a blow to the sternum for a team that was already sucking wind.
- Blazer pitfalls aside, Golden State played a phenomenal basketball game. Curry showcased why they call him ‘The Human Torch’ by playing on fire all night, Ezeli made his presence felt with a stunning block capped off with an even more impressive dunk off a lob from Jarrett Jack, and Landry mustered up a 25 point 10 rebound double-double despite early foul trouble. They were simply firing on all cylinders. The whole team was involved on some level and their depth outlasted our will.
I consider this game to be the official turning point, where it is now better for us to lose out and improve our lottery odds than it is to grasp at the ghost of 8th seed. Of course, tanking is not what I have in mind (I was raised to believe that if you don’t leave everything on the court you don’t deserve to play on it), but giving the well-worn starters a little break from here on out might be wise. The bench players desperately need development and it’s not worth the injury risk to keep grinding our cornerstones for 40 minutes a game. It would sure feel good to end the season on a high note though. Here’s hoping they get a little payback in Utah on Monday.