OAKLAND — Without Kevin Durant, the Warriors rolled to a 116-94 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals on Tuesday. Here are three takeaways:
Warriors 11-man rotation holds its own and then some
The most important stretch of the game came at the beginning of the fourth quarter, when the Warriors trotted out a lineup consisting of Klay Thompson, Shaun Livingston, Jonas Jerebko, Quinn Cook, and Jordan Bell. It’s a lineup that would make even the most confident Warriors fan uneasy, especially in the Western Conference Finals.
But the group consisting of three players who had DNPs in the previous series didn’t just hold serve, they outplayed the Blazers reserves, turning a six point lead into a 12 point lead when Stephen Curry and Co returned with seven minutes remaining. The improbable group was nearly as impressive during their stretch at the beginning of the second quarter, going +3 in those minutes.
With Durant and DeMarcus Cousins sidelined for at least a portion of this series, Steve Kerr has to rely on an 11-man rotation, full of high variance players with limited postseason experience. Cook, Livingston, Bell, and Jerebko all finished the game +7. The group went 8-for-16 from the field and added 22 points. Taking advantage of that group is something Portland must do to stay competitive in this series. They didn’t do that on Tuesday.
Upon their re-entry, the Warriors starters took care of business, closing the game on a 23-13 run.
Two teams coming off massive wins leads to haphazard start, Blazers never recover
Both the Warriors and Blazers entered Tuesday’s Game 1 coming off two season-defining victories. Portland punched their ticket to the West Finals with an improbable come-from-behind victory vs. the Denver Nuggets on Sunday. Golden State advanced with a win just as impressive, beating the Rockets in Houston without Durant, overcoming a zero point Curry first half in the process.
The two wins meant Game 1 was primed for a letdown, and that’s exactly what happened in the first half. The Warriors were the sharper of the two thanks in large part to Curry, who put his mark on the first 24 minutes of the series with four first-half three pointers, and 19 points on 6-of-12 shooting.
— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) May 15, 2019
That should’ve been enough for a significant lead, considering the Blazers bricked their way to 32.6 percent shooting with 13 turnovers. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum were a combined 5-for-16, and both were -6 during their time on the court. But Portland found themselves down just nine points at the break, after going 14 for 14 from the free throw line.
Things didn’t get much better for the Blazers stars in the second half, Lillard finished with 19 points on 4-of-12 shooting, while McCollum finished with 17 on 7-of-19 from the field. When all was said an done, the Blazers shot 36.1 percent as a team and committed 21 turnovers that led to 31 Warriors points.
Curry kills Kanter in the pick-and-roll
The Blazers are going to have to tweak their 3-point defense unless they want Curry to torch them all series. The Clippers trapped him, the Rockets swarmed him, and the Blazers, well, they didn’t do much of anything. Curry finished with 36 points, and went 9-for-15 from downtown.
The primary victim was Enes Kanter, a player who has been defined by his defensive shortcomings for much of his career. The Warriors repeatedly targeted Kanter in the high pick-and-roll. More often than not, Kanter didn’t even get close to Curry, leading to a number of wide open 3-pointers one wouldn’t expect to get in the Western Conference Finals.
Once again, Enes Kanter was literally in the paint when Steph Curry hit the 3 pic.twitter.com/DKbOcYvooR
— Drew Shiller (@DrewShiller) May 15, 2019
Kanter’s value for the Blazers lies in his ability to rebound against the undersized Warriors. He did just that on Tuesday, snatching a game-high 16 boards. Despite that, the Blazers were outscored by 11 points in his 30 minutes on the floor.
If Kanter continues to get torched, the Blazers could look to start the younger and more athletic Zach Collins in his place. It seems, however, that Portland head coach Terry Stotts must make a tweak to the way his team is defending Curry, or he will put whoever is playing center in a one-on-one matchup they can’t win.