© Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports
Well, that was fun. Whether it’s a product of the Warriors still finding their identity or just a natural product of the NBA regular season with some added schedule and COVID-related wrinkles, most games this season have not been exceedingly entertaining.
There have been moments, like Stephen Curry’s predictably absurd shot-making, Draymond Green’s passing, and flashes from Kelly Oubre and James Wiseman, but it’s not often that these regular season games have had a tension for almost the full duration.
Wednesday night provided that. Aside from the Warriors’ 10-0 run to open the game, it was a yo-yo game, with constant swings on either side. There was the absurdity from Curry, persistent defense on both sides, a hot night from Carmelo Anthony, and Damian Lillard, silenced for most of the night, going scorched-earth in the waning minutes, when he had to.
A few Curry shots that just didn’t connect and some Lillard shots that did were the difference late, as Portland snatched a 108-106 win.
Defense can be fun, too
It would be a mistake to categorize this as a dominant defensive performance. But it followed the old, grossly overused Mark Jackson adage (as they all are), “good defense, just better offense.”
Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard were double-teamed relentlessly, with the Warriors having far more success employing that strategy… at least, until very late.
What you saw on Wednesday were two teams playing as hard as you’ll see in most of the regular season. There was efficient switching, aggressive trapping, and fighting for rebounds that you just don’t often see.
Maybe it’s the identities of these teams, with two of the league’s dominant point guards, and athletic wings surrounding them, that makes them such excellent foils for each other.
There was not much fast-breaking to be had, so the order of the day quickly became settling into defensive shots and closing out hard on shooters. The Warriors were 15-of-42 on threes and the Blazers 14-of-49.
For the ninth (Blazers) and 12th (Warriors) highest-scoring offenses, and two of the most effective three-point shooting teams (Blazers average 16.3 threes a game, second-most, and the Warriors average 13.9, seventh-most), it was about defensive effort.
The spirit of this game was typified late in the third quarter, when James Wiseman, who struggled against an Enes Kanter who finished with 14 rebounds and five on offense, boxed out well to grab a defensive rebound. Draymond Green was visibly yelling, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” to encourage Wiseman, and moments later, Stephen Curry was promptly hurried and forced into a turnover.
Curry’s stellar night highlighted by layup absurdity, but Lillard gets last laugh
There were 14 points from Andrew Wiggins, 12 points from Kent Bazemore, 10 from Damion Lee, nine from Kevon Looney, and six from Mychal Mulder… And 35 from Stephen Curry on 13-of-28 shooting (5-of-14 from three), 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals and 4 turnovers.
It was a night when Curry did things like this.
Just a standard layup pic.twitter.com/lkloIxFAFr
— KNBR (@KNBR) March 4, 2021
… And this
Yet another very normal Stephen Curry layup pic.twitter.com/bAwVXorFxr
— KNBR (@KNBR) March 4, 2021
But in the end, a couple Curry shots failed to sink, and Draymond Green was called for a charge on a would-be game-tying layup. On the other end, Lillard, who was held to 12 points prior to the waning minutes of the fourth, just erupted, hitting a game-winner.
DAMIAN LILLARD. GAME WINNER. pic.twitter.com/YppdRM04hY
— Legion Hoops (@LegionHoops) March 4, 2021
Another passive night from Wiggins
There was no Kelly Oubre, so someone was going to have to step up. That sure as hell wasn’t Andrew Wiggins, who had one of those typical nights of an empty 14 points. He was 6-of-15 and 2-of-5 from three with 5 rebounds and 3 assists.
No one was remotely efficient, even including Curry. Eric Paschall was 1-for-7, missing shots that Steve Kerr said he normally makes. As Kerr pointed out, Curry needs help.
“We need more scoring in general from anybody other than Steph.”
There was a spark from Kent Bazemore against his old team, with 12 points, 6 rebounds, an assist, steal and block, while also managing not to foul out despite tight, late defense. In a rare start, he was robbed of a revenge opportunity against the team that traded him to shed salary last year.