The Golden State Warriors had plenty of excuses to lose Saturday night’s Game 3 of their first-round series against the Portland Trail Blazers. The West’s No. 1 seed was without ill head coach Steve Kerr, injured superstar Kevin Durant, and rotation players Shaun Livingston and Matt Barnes. The Blazers had season-changing center Jusuf Nurkic back in the starting lineup after missing the first two games of the playoffs and the last two weeks of the regular season with a leg fracture. If that’s not enough, the first home game of usually benefits the team down 2-0, even when it’s a big underdog.
Yet it’s a mark of the Warriors’ quality that such matters and a double-digit second-half deficit cannot deter them from flipping the switch and orchestrating a big comeback. The Blazers got off to a very hot start at home and led 82-66 just before the midpoint of the third quarter, but the Warriors obliterated that lead in a matter of minutes and controlled the fourth en route to a 119-113 win. At 3-0, the series is now all but over. It’s just a matter of whether the Warriors finish a sweep in Monday’s Game 4 or let it get to a fifth game.
The game-winning stretch showcased Golden State at its best. After shooting just 41.3 percent from the field and dishing out a mere nine assists in the first half, the Warriors turned it on at both ends halfway through the third for a 19-1 run that changed the course of the game. The big plays came quickly — big shots from Klay Thompson, full-on orchestration from Curry, lobs for JaVale McGee, big defensive plays from virtually everyone, etc. With 2:00 left, Draymond Green found McGee for a dunk to give the Warriors their first lead since 3-2.
Portland found its footing and finished the period up 88-87, but the momentum seemed to belong entirely to Golden State. The Blazers maintained their one-point lead for the first few minutes of the fourth, but the reintroductions of Thompson at the 8:22 mark and Curry roughly a minute later spelled their doom. The latter Splash Brother was especially dominant, scoring 14 of his game-high 34 points in the final period to frustrate the Blazers. He also put the game away for good with a three-pointer in the final minute.
However, it’s too simple to say the Warriors finished off the Blazers because Curry dominated. Rather, it was a team effort in which he ended plenty of plays with buckets. The Warriors forced the willing Blazers into bad shots, grabbed numerous offensive rebounds to sustain possessions, and looked comfortable through it all. Missing a transformational superstar, two key reserves, and one of the league’s best head coaches wasn’t going to stop them. They’re experienced enough to know how to handle these situations and thrived.
The Blazers haven’t figured out how to excel in the same moments. As in Game 1, Damian Lillard (31 points) and C.J. McCollum (32 points) put up big numbers and paced the Portland attack in the first half. Excellent shooting from beyond the arc (8-of-13 in the first half) helped expand the margin, and the Blazers looked headed for a competent victory spurred along by the return of Nurkic, who labored through his 17 minutes in a valiant but limited effort.
The problem for the Blazers is a familiar one — when the shots aren’t going down, they look like they’re rushing through possessions in search of the first available shot. That approach isn’t a bad one for such talented players, but it also leads to disaster against a team as capable of game-shifting runs as the Warriors.
Portland can salvage some pride with a win in Game 4, but their eventual elimination is all but confirmed. Golden State just has too much, even with so many big names absent.
– – – – – – –