Picking against the Warriors is probably one of the four dumbest things I have done in my entire life. It wasn’t like it was a non-obvious error either. After watching Game 1, I immediately thought, “Wow, that was really stupid.” The Warriors were awake in the middle of the night. And they had all of their tools ready to go.
Golden State is now in a mode where it seems like they are unstoppable on all fronts. Kevin Durant has torched everyone this playoffs, and did the same to Houston until suffering a calf injury (WHICH WAS DEFINITELY NOT AN ACHILLES INJURY, REGGIE MILLER) in Game 5. With KD, the Warriors are probably unbeatable. Without KD, they might be the same. The Splash Brothers put on a classic display in Game 6, despite Stephen Curry’s zero point first half. Klay Thompson held down the fort until Curry found himself, and he did in the most outrageous, most Steph way ever. Thanks to another James Harden collapse/no-show, Golden State got out of the series in six, and shut everyone, including myself, up for a decently long time.
Does all of this praise lead to an overcorrection in my prediction against Portland? Possibly. But the Trail Blazers have their own sense of dominance in their favor right now as well. Despite letting Denver take them to seven games, the Trail Blazers are riding CJ McCollum, and yes Damian Lillard as well (Despite a brutal series against the Nuggets… more on that later), high right now. Those two, along with Enes Kanter doing stuff have Portland in the West Finals. Yeah, they’re actually out of the second round. And they’re really scary.
No.3 Portland Trail Blazers vs. No.1 Golden State Warriors
Kevin Durant’s injury is the biggest headline heading into this series and it absolutely should be. His loss affects Golden State and Portland equally. For Golden State, his loss doesn’t guarantee a win. For Portland, his absence makes winning possible.
The dilemma for Portland in this series is what to do with KD when he’s on the court. Their biggest issue over the years has been getting offense out of their wings, not defense. Al-Faruoq Aminu and Mo Harkless have been horrendous offensively in the playoffs, shooting poorly from three and from the field in general (We saw that continued Sunday). The two have been better defensively than offensively this postseason, but were both cooked relentlessly against Denver, sinking some of their defensive stats to a non-impressive level. That wasn’t very surprising though; we knew Portland was going to have troubles guarding Denver because, well, everybody does, and we knew that Denver wasn’t going to guard Portland effectively either. That series was going to be offense vs. offense and Denver got a lot more of it than I thought they would.
Golden State plays differently, and more importantly has a much different type of player than anyone on Denver in KD. A player like Durant is someone that we would assume Aminu and Harkless would be more fit to guard; a lengthy, athletic wing who can shoot and score rather than smaller guards running all over the place. But this is Kevin Durant, who not only is named Kevin Durant probably deserves an inappropriate word as his middle name after the postseason he’s put on. The Clippers never really had a chance at guarding him, so they’re a wash, but Houston’s Lebron/best player stopper in PJ Tucker didn’t have a chance either. If Tucker got cooked, Aminu and Harkless are in for a long series. Thankfully, there’s a good chance they’ll only have to deal with KD for 2-3 games, because even when he’s out, this is a tough matchup for Portland.
Shutting down the rest of Golden State down requires similar personnel and strategy as helping contain Durant does as well. The Denver series gave us a first hand look at what happens when you have to make the Trail Blazers work on defense. And Game 6 against Houston gave us a first hand look at what happens when KD isn’t on the court for Golden State. The doors can open for Curry, and Klay can turn into a super-sized version of what he already is. The ball moves. Guys move (ALL. THE. TIME.). They play fast. And it’s impossible to guard. It looks like what we watched in 2014-2015. It’s completely new and unstoppable. It’s what won the Warriors their first title.
It’s not going to be defense that Portland needs to be in games. It’s going to be offense. They’ve made that trade-off work all playoffs.
Golden State can’t play Portland’s guards the way Denver did. They don’t have the personnel, or really the skill.
The Nuggets usually had Gary Harris on CJ McCollum and blitzed and trapped Dame with whoever they had.
Notice how Mason Plumlee leaves Zach Collins, a decent stretch big, wide open and follows Gary Harris for the double team on Lillard? Denver did this all series with their variety of defenders, and it pestered Dame into bad and missed shots.
The Warriors are similar to the Nuggets, though they lack the depth. Their backcourt is one lockdown defender (Klay Thompson as Harris) and a not-so-lockdown defender (Stephen Curry as Murray). Golden State doesn’t have another real defensive guard to help possibly blitz Lillard with (Curry?), since Andre Iguodula is going to be tasked with stopping CJ.
The Warriors could just switch everything and take their chances with that; those odds are in their favor, especially with KD in the lineup. But if Dame returns to the form we saw in the first round and McCollum keeps this tear up, there may be no real effective option. Offense will be the defense.
That’s the case for both teams in this series. Both defenses could be legitimately screwed. For the first two games of the series, the ones in which Golden State will be without KD, Portland has to get Dame and CJ loose, because the Splash Brothers are going to be firing. CJ has shown that his own one-man show can be enough, and if the Warriors exhibit a lower effort performance, that’s probably a Portland W. What’s guaranteed after that? Maybe the Blazers shoot well when Golden State doesn’t?
When Portland won Sunday, I thought this could go seven games. Since then, it’s slowly trickled down to fewer and fewer games. Six feels right. It’s possible the Blazers get lucky and Golden State doesn’t try in a game in which KD plays in. Or maybe this crazy Enes Kanter run single-handily kills Golden State in a game. If KD is only out for two games, seven means doubting KD. I am not about to that to him or this Warriors team again.
Prediction: Golden State in 6