It took three games but the Trail Blazers are finally on the board in their series against the Warriors. Damian Lillard had one of the best performances of his career to lead Portland to a 120-108 win. He had 40 points and 10 assists and always made plays at the right times to hold off Golden State's comeback attempts. Klay Thompson and Draymond Green combined for 72 in the losing effort.
Thompson started out the game on fire, dropping 18 points in the first quarter, and the Warriors led 28-22 after the first 12 minutes. Golden State was doing a good job of forcing Portland's role players into trying to score and create for themselves. Damian Lillard got his points but C.J. McCollum and everyone else was under control. It wasn't exactly the start the Blazers were hoping for, but they did enough to avoid falling into too big of a hole early. Still, things weren't looking good.
Then the second quarter happened. Thompson cooled off but Lillard remained scorching hot, going for 14 points in the period. The Blazers locked down on defense and the Warriors started to miss outside shots. Al-Farouq Aminu made the Warriors' defense pay for leaving him open, hitting two three-pointers and driving to the hoop for a big dunk.
After a hectic stretch, Portland had doubled Golden State in scoring, 36-18, in the frame. The Blazers led by 12 points at the half and seemed on their way to their first win of the series.
The Warriors never make it easy for teams to beat them and Game 3 was no exception. They looked for Draymond Green, who caught fire from beyond the arc and made the Blazers pay for leaving him open to defend Thompson. They doubled Lillard often, trying to get the ball out of his hands. They even tried to intentionally foul Ed Davis to get an extra possession. Nothing worked. Lillard continued to pick the defense apart and the role players made shots when they were left open. The lead was still in double digits going to the fourth quarter.
Golden State trailed by as many as 20 points before making one more run. They got as close as 11 points but could not complete the comeback. The defense simply didn't get as many stops as it needed. No one could miss for a stretch near the end. Trading buckets wasn't enough, but it was all Golden State could do late.
Once the fireworks stopped, the Blazers emerged victorious in a game they dominated since the second quarter. The series is now 2-1 Warriors.
3 things we learned from the Trail Blazers' dominant win
The Blazers' role players stepped up
One of the stories of the playoffs has been the Blazers' supporting cast. Damian Lillard is a star and C.J. McCollum is close to being one, but the rest of the roster consists of role players with limited skill sets. Opponents have been trying to force them to be the ones to do the scoring. When they can, Portland looks great on offense. When they can't, the Blazers lack the firepower to beat good teams.
On Saturday, the less heralded members of the team showed up to play. Al-Farouq Aminu was great on both ends and hit his open shots. Ed Davis and Allen Crabbe didn't provide much scoring but gave the defense a jolt of energy. They were huge in that second-quarter run and a big reason why the Blazers are now on the board after two losses. They all made a big enough impact to make up for a poor McCollum game.
The supporting cast will need to be ready to put on a similar performance in Game 4. If they do, the series could go back to Oakland tied.
The Warriors' role players didn't
Klay Thompson and Draymond Green had big games for the Warriors, like they were expected to with Stephen Curry out. They combined for 72 points. The rest of the starters, however, scored a combined 18 points. Golden State needs more from them, especially from Harrison Barnes, who finished with seven points on eight field goals. He's supposed to be a more polished scorer at this point in his career.
The bench players weren't much better. Andre Iguodala finished with with one point. The rest hit some shots but were on the court for the big Blazers run and made mistakes like fouling shooters. Depth is typically a strength of the Warriors, but with Livingston in the starting lineup, they clearly miss a steady hand and some playmaking.
Once Curry returns, the problem will take care of itself. If he's not available for Game 4, however, the Warriors could have trouble getting enough scoring to get a 3-1 lead in the series.
Damian Lillard gave the Warriors a taste of their own medicine
The Warriors haunt the dreams of opposing defenses by having a unique weapon in Stephen Curry. If defenders give him a sliver of space, he can pull up. If they crowd him, he can drive to the basket for acrobatic finishes. There's really no good way to guard him.
Damian Lillard is the player whose skill set most likely resembles Curry's and he showed the Warriors just how hard it is to defend someone like that. He hit three-pointers when defenders were a second too late and found his way to the rim when they chased him off the line. Golden State opted for sending doubles his way but he made the right pass almost all the time. He finished with 40 points and 10 assists and was the best player on the floor.
That's how it feels to defend Curry, Warriors. Now you understand how the rest of the NBA feels when they face him.
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