The Golden State Warriors dug themselves out of an early rut, and extinguished the human torch that was Damian Lillard on their way to a 110-99 win over the Portland Trail Blazers in game two of the Western Conference Semifinals.
There was a stretch in the third quarter in which Damian Lillard threatened to burn the Oracle down with his hot shooting. When Dame has it going from deep you can see a wave of panic hit the opposing team, and the world champs were not immune to this last night. Lillard finished the third quarter with 17 points, including some Steph-like shots from three. He was 4-5 from beyond the arch.
One of my favorite things about the playoffs is watching a player on a less talented team go into full Hulk mode and bulldoze the more talented squad. The most classic example of this phemomena is when Allen Iverson carried a gang of bums to a Finals Victory over the 00-01′ Lakers, a team that was on its way to an assumed perfect record in the Playoffs. AI scored 48 of his teams 107 in Game One of those Finals, in a blaze of glory so bright almost any NBA fan can still recall it. This is the game that provided us with the infamous, step-over that I can only assume haunts Tyrone Lue to this day.
Even after Iverson’s heroics in game one of those Finals, there was never any doubt that the Lakers were going to somehow lose to the Sixers, and in fact LA ended up winning the next four games to take the hardware, but that’s not the point. For one game a six foot tall, basketball wunderkind was able to stare down the most dominant playoff team in NBA history, and in doing so achieve a kind of immortality that is usually reserved for champions.
Now, I’m not saying that Lillard’s third quarter performance is anywhere near as impressive as what Iverson did to the 00-01 Lakers, but for about ten minutes Agent Zero 2.0 had another all-time dominate basketball team dizzied. He had Draymond Green forcing up bad three point shots, and misguided passes. He had the Warriors crowd, which is absolutely still the best in the league, oohing and ahhing.
Unfortunately for Portland, Lillard’s pyrotechnics were not enough to put away the champs. This is where I have to give it up to Steve Kerr, he is able to find the right player for the right moment, and in the playoffs that is a priceless skill. To start the fourth quarter Kerr called on Festus Ezeli, who – after not playing a minute of game one – came off the bench to score eight points off of dunks, grab five rebounds and block a shot all in the final quarter.
The combination of Ezeli and Green completely changed the games narrative in the final period. What was a game being played mostly from 24 feet, now became a game won at the rim. This is what makes Golden State so incredible, you think of them as a jump shooting team, but when things aren’t going there way they are able to switch up their game plan and attack on a completely different front. Once Ezeli started to suck the defense into the paint, Klay Thompson was freed up to hit a couple of daggers threes.
The other big change in the fourth quarter was the intensity of Golden State’s defense. There was a visible difference in the way the Warriors defended the Trail Blazers late. The defensive rotations that were one step behind the rest of the game all of a sudden were on point. What were open shots earlier were now contested, and Portland shot 5-19 from the field including being 0-6 from three.
Golden State outscored Portland 34-12 in the fourth quarter. It was the kind of quarter so dominate it will no doubt stick with this young Trail Blazers team going into game three. Too add to the bad news for Portland, Steph Curry could be back in the lineup come Saturday. In fact the most intriguing story line left in this series is when the MVP will return to the court. The Warriors have proven to be the better team in this series, but they will need Curry back in MVP form for what lies ahead.