OAKLAND – Golden State can attribute the defining moments of its Game 1 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers to the times when two lesser-known heroes were on the floor and at their best: JaVale McGee and Ian Clark.
The two combined for 18 points, seven rebounds and a combined +/- of +13. While their numbers are solid for two guys coming off of the bench, it was the way they affected the game that made their impact truly felt.
By the middle of the third quarter Sunday, it felt like a Tuesday night game in February against the Phoenix Suns inside Oracle Arena, not the first game of the NBA Playoffs for the number one seed in the Western Conference. Credit where credit is due, the Blazers’ wicked backcourt duo of C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard combined for 75 points despite seemingly always having a Warrior hand in their faces.
While we’re in a giving mood though, we should note a very important stretch of time for the Golden State Warriors. It came with 5:33 left in the third quarter, which actually feels strange to note when you consider that was when JaVale McGee entered the game for probable Defensive Player of the Year winner Draymond Green.
“It started with the energy of JaVale in the third quarter,” Draymond Green explained after the game.
McGee made his impact felt the moment he stepped on the court. 30 seconds in to his third quarter shift, he took a pass from a cutting Iguodala and turned it into a rim-shaking dunk. One minute later, he blocked a layup on one end, sprinted down court to snatch a sprinting defensive rebound and assisted a wide open Curry for three.
— KNBR (@KNBR) April 16, 2017
“The force he plays with, the speed with which he runs the floor, the blocked shots…he brings a different element to thee game. We’ve played center by committee all year long. We get something different from Zaza [Pachulia], JaVale and [David] West. JaVale did what he’s done all year for us and that’s give us a spark.”
When McGee left the court three minutes later to a standing ovation, he had the highest +/- in the game at +9. The Warriors would surrender their lead before the quarter ended at 88-88 and Curry headed to the bench for his customary breather to start the fourth quarter.
Enter Ian Clark.
The backup guard helped the Warriors begin the final quarter on a 15-2 run, scoring seven of his 12 points in the final quarter.
Points 8, 9 and 10 for Ian Clark (in only 11 minutes) pic.twitter.com/XYwNLqt2dm
— KNBR (@KNBR) April 16, 2017
It’s Game 1 and it’s the Warriors are supposed to win this series according to which team has the higher seed and who has more talent. No one is saying that Ian Clark and JaVale McGee have to play at this level for the entire series against Portland. For one, it can probably be assumed McCollum and Lillard won’t be able to sustain the level of play they did Sunday, considering they had 48 points at the half, the highest combined point total at the end of the first half of NBA Playoffs game.
However, McGee’s play above the rim and Ian Clark’s craftiness and quick-scoring abilities give the Warriors two more catalysts to set off the explosions their offense is capable of. It’s not right to classify a team that won 67 regular season games as streaky, but the Warriors are, and have always been a team that goes on long runs. It’s a symptom of playing great defense and having a handful of lights-out shooters. Normally, it’s a Draymond Green block combined with a Steph Curry three from the logo that sends the Oracle crowd into a frenzy and catapults the Dubs into a customary scoring streak. Furthermore, it’s immensely disheartening to a team when they go down double digits while Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant on the bench.
As any good head coach is wont to do, Terry Stots assured everyone after the game that his team was in high spirits and remained undeterred by the fact that they played so well and still couldn’t top Kerr’s Warriors.
One more game from the Warriors’ bench like Sunday, though, and it will most likely be a 2-0 Warriors lead heading to Portland.