A fair number of things went wrong for the top-seeded Golden State Warriors in their first-round series against the Portland Trail Blazers. Kevin Durant missed Games 2 and 3 with a left thigh strain, head coach Steve Kerr did not sit on the bench for Games 3 and 4 due to severe pain that could keep him out for the rest of the playoffs, and Stephen Curry only shot better than 40 percent from the field in two of four games. These are issues that would seriously hinder lesser teams — it’s hard to sustain the absence of a head coach, an injury to a superstar, and two iffy shooting games for another superstar without suffering some kind of dip in form.
However, the Warriors are not like other teams. They proved as much again in Monday’s Game 4 against the Blazers at the Moda Center, defeating the hosts 128-103 to finish off a sweep and become the first team to advance to the Western Conference Semifinals of the 2017 NBA Playoffs.
It took no longer than six minutes of the first quarter to cinch the result. Golden State scored the first 12 points of the game before Evan Turner made a three-pointer to get Portland off the schneid at the 8:21 mark. Yet that basket was just a brief interruption in the midst of pure dominance. A Stephen Curry turnover on the next possession appeared to give Maurice Harkless a chance at a lay-up, but Kevin Durant erased the shot with a highlight-reel block to set up a Curry three-pointer at the other end:
From there, the Warriors only continued to pour it on. A Klay Thompson three-pointer at the 6:01 mark made it 25-5 to create the night’s first 20-point lead, and the margin reached as many as 26 before the first-quarter buzzer. When it was all over, the Warriors led 45-19 and had set a new franchise playoff record for points in a first quarter and matched the franchise playoff best of eight three-pointers in a period. Meanwhile, the Blazers finished the first having shot 8-of-27 from the field (29.6 percent) and facing the final three quarters. Optimists may have imagined a comeback, but the Warriors had opened the night with a clear statement. The series was not heading to a fifth game.
Portland trimmed the deficit to as few as 18 in the second period, but Golden State always had an answer to ensure that it would remain well in front. The Warriors led 72-48 at the half and by as many as 33 in the third. Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala were the last core Warriors to stay in the game, and they were on the bench after just a few minutes of the fourth. Durant only had to play 20 minutes in his return to action, and no one played more than Green’s 33.
Such a thorough beatdown requires several players to look good, and many surely did. But none stood out more than Curry, who finished with 37 points (12-of-20 FG, 7-of-11 3FG, 6-of-7 FT), eight assists, seven rebounds, and two steals in 30 minutes. It was the kind of performance that has made Curry’s name as one of the sport’s premier offensive weapons and gave him his first back-to-back 30-point nights since early January.
The Blazers had some real lowlights on the other side of the blowout, including star C.J. McCollum’s second scoreless half of a terrific season. However, point guard Damian Lillard showed his heart and commitment to Portland to finish a season that occasionally saw him lose his luster in the eyes of many fans. Lillard stayed in the game through the bulk of the devastation and finally checked out for the first time with 6:12 remaining in the fourth quarter. His 34 points on 12-of-24 shooting didn’t get the Blazers back in the game, but Lillard offered an impressive performance nonetheless.
Regardless, it’s a disappointing finish to the season for Portland. The late-season injury to season-changing center Jusuf Nurkic created inescapable problems for a team lacking quality on the interior, and Golden State exploited them for much of this series. JaVale McGee became one of the best players in this matchup by his own efforts, but his overwhelming success points to how much the Blazers missed Nurkic. The player who struggled through a few minutes of Game 3 just couldn’t compare to the guy who transformed the lineup after the trade deadline.
On the other hand, the Warriors dominated through enough adversity in this series to suggest that a healthy Nurkic would only have made so much difference. The Warriors can absorb hits that no other team can, and they remain the NBA’s title favorite despite questions regarding Durant and Kerr’s long-term health.
The Warriors will not play again until May 1 or May 2 (depending on whether the Jazz and Clippers go six or seven games), and the next week could prove very important to determining their playoff fate. Durant and sidelined reserves Shaun Livingston and Matt Barnes will all get another week to rest and heal, which should make Golden State stronger. But Kerr has said that he doesn’t want to let the uncertainties about his health drag on for too long, and it seems likely that he will reach a decision on his playoff availability some time before the start of the next season. Assisant coach Mike Brown has filled in admirably in the last two games, and the Warriors have enough talent to win a title without Kerr on the sidelines. Whatever the case, Kerr’s choice could have a great effect on how they move through the next few rounds, for better or worse.
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