Home cooking the recipe for Blazers
I was dead wrong about the outcome of Wednesday night's Game 2 of the Trail Blazers-Golden State series at Oracle Arena.
If Kevin Durant were ruled out of action due to a calf injury, I wrote, I liked Portland's chances.
The Warriors proved me wrong, taking out the Blazers in a 110-81 butt-kicking without the services of Durant or injured reserves Shaun Livingston and Matt Barnes.
It left many of Portland's fans, who were optimistic after their team's 121-109 loss in last Sunday's opener, wondering about their team's chances in Saturday night's Game 3 at Moda Center.
"They were probably disappointed," point guard Damian Lillard allowed after Friday's practice session. "You go from the Game-1 effort that we had to Game 2, and it's like, 'Oh man, maybe people are right. I hope that's not how it's going to be.'
"But when a team like that gets it going and (its players) start feeling good, it can happen."
So now we're left with the possibility that Durant, upgraded to "questionable" for Game 3, returns and presents another problem for a Portland team already beset with plenty of them.
Durant, who scored 32 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in the opener, went through Friday's workout with his teammates in Oakland and pronounced himself in improved condition.
"Felt good today," Durant told reporters. "It's getting better. We'll see how it feels (Saturday) morning."
He said coach Steve Kerr and the Warriors have had experience with players nursing calf injuries in the past.
"They don't want to risk re-injuring it, or I might be out for a long time," Durant said. "I understand. I'm trying to look at the big picture. But I definitely want to be out there."
Kerr said Durant was scheduled to go through an individual workout later Friday and then the shootaround on Saturday.
"Until he is 100 percent, we have to be cautious and make the right decision," the Golden State coach said. "If it were Game 7 of the finals, he'd play. We're not talking about anything that could damage his career. But it's something that could potentially get worse and knock him out for two weeks. Then it's not worth it.
"Kevin is frustrated, especially coming off the six weeks of inactivity (due to a late-season knee injury). He's dying to be out on the floor. It's driving him nuts, but he knows this is the right approach."
The Blazers' approach to Game 3 is simple. Win or else, though CJ McCollum wouldn't concede it's of the "must-win" variety.
"Must-win sounds so … I mean, every game is 'must-win' in the playoffs," Portland's shooting guard said. "Every game is a game we need. Now we're at home. We have to protect home court. We have to make sure we win."
The Blazers know the score.
"We have to get a win," Lillard said. "You don't want to go into Game 4 down 3-0. That's dangerous territory. We'll feel a lot better if we go into Game 4 down 2-1, looking to tie up the series.
"They say a series doesn't really start until somebody wins on the road. That hasn't happened yet."
The Blazers won Game 3 in both of their playoff series a year ago, against the Los Angeles Clippers and then the Warriors. They rallied from an 0-2 deficit to win four straight and polished off the Clippers, who lost both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin in Game 4. The Blazers, down 0-2 again against Golden State, won Game 3 and took the Warriors to overtime in Game 4 before falling.
The Blazers aren't giving up this time around, even after the Game-2 debacle in which the Warriors ran them out of Oracle Arena in the second half.
"You could lose by 100 in Game 2, and Game 3, the score's going to start off 0-0," Lillard said. "You don't get two wins for a blowout; you get one."
And the Blazers' hopes were buoyed by what happened around the league Thursday night. Memphis, down 0-2 and humbled in the first two games of its series with San Antonio, routed the Spurs at home in Game 3. Indiana, also trailing 0-2, seized a 26-point lead over Cleveland before LeBron James led a furious rally that turned into the greatest comeback in NBA playoff history.
"It just shows you're never out of it until it's over," Lillard said. "Teams take advantage of opportunities on their home floor. We have to do the same thing."
The Blazers have one of the best home-court advantages in the NBA, there's no arguing that. They went 25-16 at home during the regular season — 11-3 over the final 14 games.
McCollum was moved to write a piece for the "Players Tribune," trumpeting the Blazers' fan support.
"That's one of the reasons why we've had success since I've been here," McCollum said Friday. "The players who played before me (with the Blazers) can speak of the type of dedication our crowd shows. Our fans are loyal. I just wanted (to acknowledge) that."
But the Blazers aren't going up against any team. Even without Durant — and I get the impression he's going to play Saturday — they have Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson and Draymond Green and a 7-foot whirlwind off the bench, JaVale McGee, who has channeled the best of Shaquille O'Neal in his brief appearances in the first two games of the series.
Curry (15 for 37 from the field, 7 for 20 from 3-point range) and Thompson (12 for 33, 4 for 14) have had sub-par shooting performances in the first two games. Either one, or both, could bust out in Game 3.
Of course, the same can be said for Lillard and McCollum, who were terrific in the opener but decidedly off the mark, along with all of their teammates, in Game 2.
The Blazers could use a Kevin Duckworth-like (vs. San Antonio in Game 7 of the 1990 Western Conference semifinals) return to action from center Jusuf Nurkic, who has missed the last nine games with a non-displaced fracture of his right leg. Team officials list the "Bosnian Beast" — who shot with his teammates but didn't practice on Friday — as doubtful. Sounds as if he'll be in street clothes, watching Saturday's game on the bench.
It means the Blazers will need some offensive punch from their supporting cast. In the first two games, the best of the bunch has been small forward Moe Harkless, who has totaled 26 points on mediocre 10-for-27 shooting. Evan Turner (5 for 14, 17 points), Al-Farouq Aminu (4 for 12, nine points), Allen Crabbe (4 for 15, nine points) and Noah Vonleh (2 for 8, five points) have been mostly missing in action.
That can't happen again Saturday, or the Blazers can start making early vacation plans.
At the defensive end, Portland must find an answer for McGee, whose two-game series totals are as follows: 10 for 11 from the field, 21 points, 10 rebounds and six blocked shots in all of 23 minutes.
"He's gotten a couple of lobs on pick-and-rolls," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "He's gotten out into transition. He's scored off offensive rebounds. He's scored on a post play. One of the reasons why he's effective is that Steph and Klay draw a lot of attention, as does Durant. It allows him to do what he does very well.
"If we can control the ball better, whether one-on-one or pick-and-rolls, it allows us to keep a body on him."
I'm not counting the Blazers out Saturday night. They have a decent chance to win in the friendly confines of Moda Center.
"We have a special homecourt advantage because of the way our fans operate, but (players from) any team will say they have an advantage at home," Lillard said. "You sleep in your own bed. You're in your comfort zone. You're on your home floor. Your crowd will be behind you.
"On the road, when a team hits a few big shots, you have to call a timeout. Now, that's going to be on our side. It creates a certain level of confidence and puts a certain amount of stress on the visiting team."
True enough. But these are the Warriors, the best team in basketball over much of the past three seasons.
"They have a championship pedigree," Stotts said. "They have a championship confidence about them. They don't get rattled. They've been through the rigors of multiple playoff series in the last three years."
That doesn't mean the Blazers won't win Game 3.
All I'm saying is, they'd better.