9:00 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Warriors -7.5, Over/Under: 218
It’s funny how just one game can change the complexion of a Series, but that is exactly what’s happened as the Top-Seeded Golden State Warriors look to take a commanding 2-0 lead over the Third-Seeded Portland Trail Blazers in Game Two of the Western Conference Finals from ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California. After surviving a bonafide war against the Denver Nuggets in the previous Round of the Playoffs, the Trail Blazers (53-29, 3rd in Western Conference) entered their first Western Conference Final in two decades riding high, particularly given the injury circumstances facing their opponent (which we’ll get into later). On the whole, Portland has done a remarkable job all season of rallying back from that embarrassing sweep suffered at the hands of the New Orleans Pelicans, with Terry Stotts & Co. overcoming adversity en route to ascending to this level of the Postseason. Indeed, after last year’s calamity, there were many in the Basketball World openly questioning a litany of things regarding this team, from Stotts’ tenure as the Head Coach to the legitimacy of the partnership of All-Stars Damian Lillard (25.8 PTS, 44.4% FG, 36.9% 3FG, 4.6 REB, 6.9 AST, 1.1 STL, 23.7 PER) and C.J. McCollum (21.0 PTS, 45.9% FG, 37.5% 3FG, 4.0 REB, 3.0 AST, 0.9 STL, 17.0 PER), along with uncertainty following the unfortunate death of longtime Owner, Paul Allen. For all intents and purposes, this was a franchise at a crossroads. Rather than break up the band, the nucleus of this group was chosen to remain intact, and as a result, the Blazers are in a position where they could advance to their first NBA Finals since 1992. 32-13 since the turn of the New Year, Portland entered the Playoffs as one of the hotter teams in the Western Conference, stealing the Third Seed despite the season-ending injury to Starting Center, Jusuf Nurkic (15.6 PTS, 50.8% FG, 10.4 REB, 3.2 AST, 1.0 STL, 1.4 BLK, 23.4 PER), who suffered a gruesome broken leg back in late March. The towering Bosnian International figured to leave quite the void for a team that wasn’t renowned for their depth, though Management made a some very inspired moves that have ended up paying HUGE dividends in the Playoffs. First, General Manager Neil Olshey acquired former Cavaliers’ exiled wingman, Rodney Hood (9.6 PTS, 45.3% FG, 34.5% 3FG, 1.7 REB, 1.3 AST, 0.8 STL, 10.9 PER), followed by signing ex-Knicks’ Center, Enes Kanter (13.1 PTS, 57.7% FG, 8.6 REB, 1.4 AST, 0.6 STL, 0.4 BLK, 23.5 PER), after the Turk bought out the remainder of his contract with his former franchise. Both players have played large roles in the proceeds of late, with Hood providing valuable minutes off the Bench, even hitting the game-winner of the Blazers’ epic 140-137 victory over the Denver Nuggets in Game Three of the West Semifinals, while Kanter filling in admirably for the lost Nurkic, averaging 12.9 Points on 51.2% shooting from the field, along with 10.6 Rebounds, 1.3 Assists, 0.7 Steals, and 0.7 Blocks in this Postseason. Each came to play in their side’s recently completed Seven-Game Triumph over the Nuggets, a Series that was very much a war between the two teams. Hood made a habit of hitting of open shots, logging 14.7 Points on 57.6% shooting from the floor, including 11-of-22 from beyond the arc (50.0%), while Kanter posted an inspiring stat line consisting of 12.7 Points on 47.4% shooting, and 10.9 Rebounds, despite fighting through the effects of a sprained shoulder suffered in the previous Round of the Playoffs, and fasting throughout Ramadan, for he is devout Muslim. However, in spite of ALL of that, this Western Final has served as a splash of cold water to the face…
After watching Game One of this Series, you’d be hard-pressed to recognize the Trail Blazers that came on like gangbusters after the All-Star Break, and were as impressive as anyone throughout the first two round of the Playoffs. Even after splitting their four meetings with the Warriors during the Regular Season, it appeared that they had never experienced competing against them before. The 94-116 defeat was an extremely disappointing result for a team whom many considered a significant underdog, with their only chance being to steal a gam or two earlier in this Series before their opponent returned to health. Defensively, Portland didn’t seem to have much of a plan to corral Golden State, allowing the hosts to shoot a blistering 50.0% from the field, including 17-of-33 from beyond the arc (51.5%), and permitting Thirty Assists. Compounding matters was the fact that they looked every bit of the side that just completed a grueling seven-game Series, with a Game Seven played at altitude to boot. Stotts’ troops couldn’t do much to throw the basketball into the ocean, netting just 36.1% of their attempts from the field, including a miserable 7-of-28 from downtown (25.0%), all the while committing a whopping Twenty-One Turnovers, which is akin to suicide when your playing the defending champions. And of course, the home side made them pay dearly for their mistakes, parlaying that litany of Turnovers into a staggering Thirty-One Points, which again, is a proverbial death sentence. Furthermore, the aforementioned dynamic duo of Lillard and McCollum had what we consider a very ROUGH night at ORACLE, combining for Thirty-Six Points on a dismal 11-of-31 shooting overall (35.5%), including 3-of-10 from Three (30.0%), while accounting for nearly half of their team’s Turnovers (10). Making matters worse, was the fact that this was a contest in which the Supporting Cast was fantastic, with Kanter posting totals of Ten Points, Sixteen Rebounds, Three Assists, and a Steal, while Maurice Harkless (7.7 PTS, 48.7% FG, 27.5% 3FG, 4.5 REB, 1.2 AST, 1.1 STL, 0.9 BLK, 13.2 PER) and the aforementioned Hood adding Seventeen Points apiece. We know it’s rhetorical, but Portland simply needs their Backcourt to play much better than what they received in Game One, for if the other guys continue to contribute like this (which is a major if), then they will have a chance to dethrone the Warriors, but if they can’t get over their sudden shooting woes, then this Series will be over as quickly as it began.
Meanwhile, just over two games after Kevin Durant strained his Right Calf Muscle, it appears that all is well with the Warriors (57-25, 1st in Western Conference), who look every bit as threatening as they have one game into the Western Conference Finals. We’ve said throughout this campaign, that the Warriors’ greatest enemy would be themselves, whether it came in the form of infighting, complacency, or injuries. At this stage, we can safely write off the first two, but that last one has become a MAJOR factor moving forward. The reigning Champions lost DeMarcus Cousins (16.3 PTS, 48.0% FG, 27.4% 3FG, 8.2 REB, 3.6 AST, 1.3 STL, 1.5 BLK, 21.4 PER) to a partially torn Right Quadriceps in Game Two of their First Round Series against the Los Angeles Clippers, robbing them of an All-Star caliber Center that figured to be quite the versatile weapon to be utilized in future Series. While the behemoth’s absence appeared to be simply a minor setback for this side, losing Durant (26.0 PTS, 52.1% FG, 35.3% 3FG, 6.4 REB, 5.9 AST, 0.7 STL, 1.1 BLK, 24.2 PER) to a strained Right Calf in the Second Half of Game Five of the Western Conference Semifinals was nothing short of alarming. In truth, Golden State should count themselves as very fortunate that the four-time NBA Scoring Champion didn’t tear his Achilles as it was surmised at the time, but now it appears that they’ve been granted the luxury of withholding him in reserve until he’s absolutely needed. The former MVP is to be reevaluated later today, with his status for the rest of this Series to be determined, though Steve Kerr has proclaimed that he will be taking every precaution. Of course, it certainly helps how his charges have performed without Durant. Surviving Game Five of the Western Semifinals after he departed to the Lockerroom late in the Third Quarter, coupled with Draymond Green (7.4 PTS, 44.5% FG, 28.5% 3FG, 7.3 REB, 6.9 AST, 1.4 STL, 1.1 BLK, 12.9 PER) fouling out in the Fourth, proved their championship mettle, while Game Seven’s shocking 118-113 Series Clincher at Toyota Center further cemented their status as alpha dogs. Without Durant even in the state of Texas, the visiting Warriors overcame a scoreless First Half from Steph Curry (27.3 PTS, 47.2% FG, 43.7% 3FG, 5.3 REB, 5.2 AST, 1.3 STL, 0.4 BLK, 24.4 PER), along with some real haymakers from the hosts, to explode in the Fourth Quarter, where they overcame their hated rivals yet again. Kerr’s troops outscored the home side 36-26 in the final stanza, with Curry reminding everyone as to why he is the most lethal shooter that the sport has ever seen; the two-time NBA MVP let loose in a major way, scoring all of his Thirty-Three Points, including Twenty-One over the final Twelve Minutes of action, netting 9-of-20 attempts (45.0%), including 4-of-11 from long-range (36.4%). It was a virtuoso stand for a player who had struggled with foul trouble and poor shooting throughout the Series, as Houston was determined to wear him out via switches defensively. Klay Thompson (21.5 PTS, 46.7% FG, 40.2% 3FG, 3.8 REB, 2.4 AST, 1.1 STL, 0.6 BLK, 16.6 PER) kept his team afloat while Curry was in search of a rhythm throughout he First Half, scoring Twenty-Seven Points on 10-of-20 shooting from the field (50.0%), including a blistering 7-of-13 from downtown (53.8%). However, there was more to be found for the Warriors, who after being criticized for their perceived lack of depth without Durant in the Rotation, received a clutch Seventeen Points from longtime Sixth Man, Andre Iguodala (5.7 PTS, 50.0% FG, 33.3% 3FG, 3.7 REB, 3.2 AST, 0.9 STL, 0.8 BLK, 13.1 PER), including a crucial 5-of-8 shooting from beyond the arc (62.5%), along with Fourteen Points from Kevon Looney (6.3 PTS, 62.5% FG, 5.2 REB, 1.5 AST, 0.6 STL, 0.7 BLK, 17.3 PER) and Eleven from Shaun Livingston (4.0 PTS, 51.9% FG, 1.8 REB, 1.8 AST, 0.5 STL, 0.4 BLK, 11.7 PER), reminding us all that this team’s initial success was built upon not just the exploits of the Splash Brothers, but their stellar depth as well.
After that epic encounter, it sure felt that the toughest part of their trek to a fourth Larry O’Brien Trophy in five years was firmly in the rearview mirror, and Game One’s relatively easy 116-94 victory over the Trail Blazers did little to dispel that notion. Granted, this affair was fairly close throughout the first Three Quarters of action, with the hosts pulling away in the final stanza, outscoring the visiting side 39-23. As we stated earlier, the Warriors held some very strong advantages in this matchup, besting the visitors in Points off Turnovers (21-14), Fast Break Points (17-2), and most notably from beyond the arc, where they hammered Portland by Thirty Points. Curry’s Second Half explosion from Game Six of the Western Semifinals carried over in this one, folks, with the two-time MVP scoring a game-high Thirty-Six Points on 12-of-23 shooting from the field (52.2%), including a staggering 9-of-15 from downtown (60.0%), along with Six Rebounds, Seven Assists, and a Steal. Thompson chimed in with Twenty-Six Points on 10-of-24 shooting (41.1%), including 3-of-9 from long-range (33.3%), while Green filled out the stat sheet with Twelve Points, Ten Rebounds, Five Assists, Two Steals, and Three Blocks. The Splash Brothers benefitted greatly from their opponent granting them all kinds of space to snipe away from the perimeter, with Curry and Thompson constantly running off screens and making them pay. One would have to think that the Blazers will make the requisite adjustments in tonight’s contest, though that is certainly easier said than done when facing these guys. Furthermore, the Supporting Cast was very fleshed out in Tuesday’s affair, with seven different players scoring off the Bench, combining for Thirty-Six Points on 12-of-22 shooting from the field (54.5%), including 4-of-5 from distance (80.0%).