“We’ve played against Kanter before, and there are certain looks you can get.” Though Stephen Curry was directly talking about the Portland Trail Blazers plodding center, Enes Kanter, he may as well have been discussing the series in general.
Game one of the 2019 Western Conference Finals was a 22 point drubbing that highlighted some of the same issues that have been at the center of Portland’s playoff exits over the past few years. Lacking defensive-minded wings and forced to play slow-footed bigs, the Blazers are particularly vulnerable to the high screens that free up Golden State’s shooters. The team has been knocked out twice by these Warriors (and once by the New Orleans Pelicans) over the last three years, only winning one game in elimination series during that span.
If that’s going to change, Portland will need to make some schematic adjustments — if they can.
DeMarcus Cousins is essentially out — footage of him jogging on the court Monday showed just how far away he is. Kevin Durant, recuperating from a calf strain, was officially ruled out on Wednesday, though as we said in our preview, his return is at least partially contingent on how well the Warriors can survive in this series without him. After one game, the answer so far is “just fine so far, thanks.”
In game one, Curry scored 36 points in 35 minutes on just 23 shot attempts.
Terry Stotts sounded flummoxed when asked about this, referring to Curry’s huge game 6 scoring explosion that put the Houston Rockets away in the second half. While the Splash Brother did indeed manage that performance against strong pressure, the alternative (no pressure on threes) seems… ill advised.
Some of the stomping may look worse because of the Blazers going minus 9 in the last three and a half minutes of the game, but the overall feel (at least for me) was that this game wasn’t ever truly in question. Coach Kerr, in his quiet way, essentially said as much during his postgame press conference:
“This series feels, it feels like it’s a series where we can play more people,” Kerr said after the game. “It’s a different matchup, and I think that what you saw tonight is what we’d like to get to every night if we can in terms of playing 10, 11 guys.”
After getting defensive in his post game conference, Coach Stotts did eventually relent, apologize and indicate that perhaps the Blazers would re-examine their defensive scheme against the high pick and rolls that are so central to Golden State’s attack:
What could change? Well, for one, Enes Kanter. As Curry pointed out, the big man is a well known liability. Some of this is forced because of the injury to Nurkic, but Portland is likely hesitant to pull his minutes down because Kanter offers strength in the one area where the Blazers have an actual advantage over the Warriors. To borrow from Nate Parham’s comment in our writers chat:
They do have one advantage: rebounding. The problem is that to exercise that advantage, they have to play a player who kills them elsewhere on the court … so even their advantage is a disadvantage.
Zack Collins figures to play a role in any change. After managing 18 minutes in game one though it’s unclear how much more of a role he can handle in this series.
The nuclear answer is going extremely small and using someone like Evan Turner or Mo Harkless, though again, this presents another set of problems. It’s a tough decision with no clear cut best response, but expect the Blazers to try something, anything, different. Because the looks they ceded to the Warriors sharp shooters in game one were patently ludicrous.
One blissful difference between these Blazers and the Houston Rockets: there will be no leaked memos with “potential points” or whining about the refs or salary cap. As Damian Lillard said post game
“It’s tough. But once we lace our shoes up and put our uniforms on, it’s fair and square. You have to go out there and handle your business.”
One change that may not require much adjustment: the Blazers shooting was pretty abysmal. They hit just 25% of their threes, and were 30 of 83 overall from the field — a lowly 36%. After coming off a tough seven game series, expect the Blazers to regroup. Their goal was almost certainly to win at least one game in Oakland; with more time for the team and coaching staff to prepare, I expect a tougher game two tonight.
This is my last game at the scenic Hawaiian beach bar, but so far we are undefeated here. I predict a Mai Tai to start the game and an ocean swim at halftime.
Warriors by 9.
Oh, and Durant will rest for game 3 if we win.
This one is pretty easy, every game will be at 6pm on ESPN
Game 2: Thu, May 16, Portland at Golden State
Game 3: Sat, May 18, Golden State at Portland
Game 4: Mon, May 20, Golden State at Portland
*Game 5: Wed, May 22, Portland at Golden State
*Game 6: Fri, May 24, Golden State at Portland
*Game 7: Sun, May 26, Portland at Golden State
* – If Necessary