PORTLAND, Ore. — Draymond Green had one of the finest shooting nights of his career. Klay Thompson lit up the Trail Blazers — again. And it wasn’t enough. For once, the Warriors were the thinner team, and the less efficient, and the less emotional.
Portland did exactly what it had to do to make this NBA Western Conference semifinal series competitive, outgunning Golden State 120-108 at the Moda Center on Saturday evening and cutting the Warriors’ lead in the series to 2-1.
“They’re a great team,” Warriors backup center Festus Ezeli said afterward. “It’s not gonna be easy. And we expected them to come home and be pissed off and desperate.”
The Trail Blazers were exactly that. Oakland native Damian Lillard (career playoff-high 40 points and 10 assists), forward Al-Farouq Aminu (23 points and 10 rebounds) and guard C.J. McCollum (22 points) trumped Green and Thompson, giving their team some life and reminding everyone that Golden State can’t coast to the NBA championship with star player Stephen Curry languishing on the bench.
The Blazers became the first team to beat the Warriors twice this season, and give them some credit. Assign the Warriors some criticism, too. They were a bit stagnant on offense, and they let Portland get open for way too many shots on the other end. That was especially true during the crucial second quarter, which saw the Trail Blazers outscore the visitors 36-18.
“I don’t think we moved the ball like we normally do, especially in the first half,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “We were in a rush. Shots are going to go in or they’re not, but sometimes when there is a rhythm to the game and the ball is moving, shots are more likely to go in.”
The crisp passing we usually see from Kerr’s team just wasn’t there.
The Warriors’ defensive shortcomings were more noticeable. Lillard hit some tough shots, as he frequently does. But Aminu found himself wide open for corner 3s, which helps to explain why he hit his first eight shots and finished 8 of 9.
“I thought our defense was pretty good to start the game, but we couldn’t get a loose ball or rebound to save our lives, so we were forcing a lot of misses,” Kerr said. “… And then we kept fouling. I mean, that was really the difference in the game until the fourth quarter, was the free-throw disparity.”
Portland took 29 free throws and made 23. Golden State took 17 and made 10.
Things didn’t go south right away for the Warriors, though. They led 28-22 after one quarter, thanks mostly to Thompson’s torrid shooting. Green felt his team wasn’t playing with urgency, though, and should have led by 10 or 15.
“They had doubt. I could tell in the first quarter, they had doubt,” Green said of the Trail Blazers. “And we didn’t take advantage of that. They got going with a couple shots. Now they’re feeling good about themselves.
Things immediately went sour after that, as the Blazers started the second quarter on a 7-0 run and ended it on a 10-0 run to go up 58-46. By halftime, Thompson had 24 points and Lillard had exploded for 25.
“It wasn’t that much fun, because he was scoring at will,” Thompson said. “I mean, he had a great game, but a lot of that’s on me. I go up against Steph a lot, and you have to treat Lillard like Steph as far as being 30-35 feet away from the basket, make him put it on the floor or give it up. We let him get too many rhythm threes off the catch tonight and off-the-ball screens.”
Thompson finished with 35 points and is averaging 33 in the series. Lillard was even better Saturday. His eight 3-pointers set a Trail Blazers playoff record.
“You know, you kind of run out of superlatives, but he’s such a great competitor,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “I have a hard time ranking his different games and the things that he’s done over the time here, but there’s no question in my mind that he was going to come and have a really good game tonight in some manner.”
It was tough enough for the Warriors when Thompson and Lillard were trading buckets. Letting Aminu run wild was too much. The 25-year-old nomadic forward was virtually unstoppable, and much of his plunder came against Harrison Barnes, who had a dreadful night on both ends of the court. Barnes was 0 for 5 from the floor through the first three quarters, and finished with seven points.
Green, meanwhile, wound up with 37 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. His eight 3-pointers tied a Warriors playoff record. His 19-point third quarter was the highest in his career, regular season or postseason.
“That boy’s a tractor, man,” Ezeli said. “He tried to will us in the game, and he did for the most part. He needs other guys to step up as well.”
Green didn’t quite see it that way.
“Everybody will look and say, ‘You had 37, nine and eight. Two turnovers.’ And all that’s cute,” he said. “But I didn’t do what I do for this team. I don’t feel like I led my troops tonight. And I feel like I was horrendous on the defensive end.”
The off-kilter loss made Curry’s absence more dramatic. Kerr had confirmed before the game that Curry would not play Saturday. But the ailing superstar took an important step toward a return, taking part in a 2-on-2 session a few hours before tipoff.
“He came out of it fine,” Kerr said of Curry. “It’s his first actual basketball, kinda. Two-on-two with the coaching staff. But he’s doing fine.”
The appearance boosted hopes that Curry might return for Game 4, which is here Monday night. He hasn’t played since spraining his right knee against the Rockets on Apr. 24.
“It’s another good step, another good sign,” Kerr said. “So we’ll see how it goes (Sunday). We’ll have, not a five-on-five scrimmage, because the guys who play a lot (Saturday) night will need to rest. But more than likely we’ll do a three-on-three tomorrow, and we’ll see how he does.”
If the Warriors can’t tighten up their defense and return to patient passing, Curry won’t be a luxury. He’ll be a necessity.
You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or email@example.com.