8:30 PM EST, ABC – Line: Golden State -4, Over/Under: 212
After a miraculous comeback without the services of their brightest star, the Golden State Warriors travel to Portland for a pivotal Game Three with the Trail Blazers, which will decide just how much longer this series will continue. With a victory tonight, the Warriors (73-9, 1st in Pacific Division) will have take a commanding 3-0 lead in the Western Conference Semifinals, which would afford Head Coach Steve Kerr the luxury of further resting the ailing Stephen Curry. Curry, the reigning MVP and near shoe-in for this year’s award, has missed the entire series thus far rehabbing a sprained knee, but given the fact that his teammates have proven more than capable of keeping things moving without him, one has to wonder if Kerr will continue to sit him for the remainder of this series so that he will be 100% for an eventual date with the San Antonio Spurs or Oklahoma City Thunder in the following Round. Reports indicate that he will in fact be inactive for tonight’s game at the MODA Center, with his availability for Game Four a possibility, but again, if the Warriors take a 3-0 lead into Monday Night’s contest, Kerr could be tempted to keep him on the shelf. It goes without saying what the defending champions are missing without the sharpshooter; as good as he was a year ago, Curry has been better in 2016, leading the league in scoring at 30.1 points on 50.4% shooting from the field, including a blistering 45.4% from beyond the arc, along with 5.4 rebounds, 6.7 assists, and 2.1 assists. Furthermore, No. 30 also shattered his own NBA Record for three-point field goals, nailing a ridiculous 402 treys this season. However, the fact that this team has remained so damn formidable in his absence is a testament to their focus, for after eliminating Houston in five games in the First Round, they’ve been able to handle Portland with relative ease through two games. For example, after slamming the Blazers in a 118-106 victory in Game One, the home side took it on the chin early in Game Two as the visitors came out on fire, establishing a 34-21 lead through one quarter of play. Undaunted, the champs fought back, eventually erasing an eleven-point Fourth Quarter deficit to earn a 110-99 win. On the night, the Dubs shot 46.2% from the field, despite struggling from deep where they made just 8-of-24 three-pointers (33.3%), while assisting on twenty-one of their forty-two field goals. With their touch from beyond the arc betraying them throughout the contest, Kerr’s charges went to work in the Paint, where they dominated Portland, outscoring them 56-28 in that area. Draymond Green (17 points), Harrison Barnes (13 points), and Shaun Livingston (14 points), accounted for forty-four points, with the vast majority of their production occurring in the interior, while Andre Igoudala added another fifteen points off the Bench. While his teammates mercilessly exploited their opponent’s soft defense at the rim, Klay Thompson fought through a barrage of double-teams and some early poor shooting to post a game-high twenty-seven points on 7-of-20 shooting (35.0%), including 5-of-14 from downtown (35.7%), yet knocked down all eight of his free-throws, while adding three rebounds and assists apiece. The second-half of Golden State’s “Splash Bros”, Thompson has been a huge reason why this team is 4-1 without Curry in these Playoffs, averaging 32.0 points on 43.8% shooting from the field, including 42.9% from beyond the arc in this series
Meanwhile, it’s highly unlikely that the Trail Blazers (44-38, 2nd in Northwest Division) are panicking at this point, for after all they were in this very same predicament in the First Round against the Los Angeles Clippers, before stringing together four consecutive victories to advance to this point. However, circumstances were loomed large in that particular series, as both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin sustained serious enough injuries to sideline them for the remainder of the set. Let’s face it folks, facing the Clippers without the likes of Paul and Griffin is a very different situation than encountering them at full strength. With that said, Head Coach Terry Stotts’ charges took advantage of the situation and lo and behold find themselves in a similar predicament as the Warriors continue to play without the presence of the aforementioned Curry. But through two games thus far, there is one very clear truth that cannot be denied; the Blazers have quickly learned that Golden State is NOT Los Angeles. After getting pelted in Game One, the Blazers came out guns blazing (no pun intended) on Wednesday Night, shooting a white-hot 66.7% in the First Quarter en route to earning a thirteen-point lead after the first stanza, and eventually led by as many eleven points heading in to the Fourth Quarter. Stotts crafted a solid game plan designed to take away a number of their opponent’s strengths; the visiting side outdueled them from beyond the arc (plus-fifteen points), dished out more assists (twenty-two), held their own on the glass (51-52), and controlled the tempo with nineteen Fast Break Points to the home side’s eight. However, it would become painfully obvious that their perimeter defense was coming at the expense of warding off the interior, as the Warriors mercilessly exploited their weakness there. Turnovers were also a major factor in their eventual failure, as Portland committed seven teen turnovers to Golden State’s ten, which led to twenty-one points for the hosts. Finally, the Blazers will rue their wasted opportunities at the Charity Stripe, where they made 14-of-21 attempts (66.7%), while the opposition made all but a pair of their twenty free-throws (90.0%). The dynamic duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum accounted for forty-seven points on 17-of-39 shooting from the field (43.6%), which was a stark contrast to their struggles in Game One, where they combined for forty-two points on a significantly poorer 13-of-43 shooting (30.2%). Now the series transitions to the Pacific Northwest where this team was 28-13, and handed the Dubs one of their nine losses this season. Back on February 19th, Damian Lillard and Co. handed the defending champions a 137-105 defeat, in which Portland shot 53.6% from the field, including 17-of-30 from beyond the arc (56.7%), with Lillard scoring a career-high fifty-one points on 18-of-28 shooting, including a scorching 9-of-12 from three (75.0%). And on that day, Curry was active, scoring a team-best thirty-one points in a losing effort.