Portland Needs to Blaze a New Path
With Kevin Durant out for game one against the Portland Trail Blazers, the Warriors needed to make a statement—and they did. The Splash Brothers combined for 62 points and their bench was a force as the Warriors cruised to a 22-point victory. Even in the moments when the score was close, it never really felt within reach for a bewildered and outmanned Blazers team. But as we’ve already learned from prior series in these playoffs, it’s never wise to overreact to a game one result (looking at you, Paul Pierce). Thursday night’s game is a fresh slate, another chance for the Blazers to snatch homecourt advantage, but it will take some serious tweaks. Here’s three adjustments Portland should make if they want to hang in this Western Conference Finals.
Smarter play from Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum
The Portland police have allegedly sent out a BOLO in attempts to find their dynamic backcourt, and they certainly need to find them before game two if the Blazers want to stand a chance. The star guards took turns providing gutsy, memorable performances in their prior series, particularly in close-out games, but were nowhere to be found in game one. Going against a Warriors defense blitzing and doubling them off screens, they never found a rhythm, combining for just 36 points on 11-31 shooting. Game two, they need to look to make the right pass early and decisively and trust their role players to finish those possessions. Dame and CJ should also be looking to be more active off the ball, coming off screens and trying to find easy spot-up shots, which would also wear down Curry and Klay. Doing the ‘you take an iso then I’ll take an iso’ is not going to cut it against a Warriors side that just beat the best team at it in the league in the Rockets. There are more ways to impact a game than with volume scoring, and they need to figure out how to do it quick.
Confidence from role players
If Dame and CJ cancel out Klay and Steph in theory, role players have a lot of potential to swing this series. Where the Warriors role guys shot 5-9 from deep, the Blazers’ shot a pitiful 4-17. That will likely be the key to these games: which non-stars step up. That being said, the Blazers need a lot more from Aminu and Harkless, particularly on the offensive end. They are great defenders but need to score to stay useful. The Warriors rushing Dame and CJ is leaving the other Blazers with good, clean looks at the basket, and they need to step into those opportunities with confidence. Look for Terry Stotts to empower his role players to step up to the moment and help out their star duo.
Better pick-‘n’-roll defensive
This was the most baffling thing about game one: the Blazers were intentionally dropping their centers on the pick-‘n’-roll, leaving Curry acres of space to shoot. Those are layups for the greatest shooter in history, and the Blazers need to make a change fast. The most effective blueprint for defending the Warriors has always been making anyone not named Klay and Steph beat you. Sure, Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green had impressive shooting numbers last series, but the statistics show that won’t continue. If the Blazers start trapping Curry and Klay off of ball screens and force the pass, then they’ll be forcing either Looney and Jerebko to make smart basketball plays or Iguodala and Green to make their shots. Both of those options are way, way better than letting the Splash Brothers jack up clean looks from deep.