For Blazers, Game 4 is for pride
A half-dozen members of the media met with Terry Stotts on Sunday afternoon at the Trail Blazers' Tualatin practice facility to talk about Monday night's Game 4 of the first-round playoff series with Golden State at Moda Center.
Even as Portland's fifth-year coach spoke about his players' resolve to beat the Warriors and extend the first-round playoff series, it felt a bit like The Last Supper.
The Blazers are on the short end of an 0-3 deficit as they head into what could be their final game of the 2016-17 season.
"We'll do whatever it takes to win Game 4," Stotts said. "It's about pride and all the cliches you want to talk about. It's about wanting to get back on that plane and play Game 5 (in Oakland). Our guys have shown throughout this season and in past seasons that they're up to that challenge and relish it."
They'll have to do it without center Jusuf Nurkic, who started Game 3 after missing the previous nine games with a non-displaced fracture of his right leg. Nurkic, who played 17 minutes Saturday night, has been ruled out of Game 4.
"He didn't do any further damage, (but) there was soreness, tenderness," Stotts said. "It wouldn't be wise to have him play through that."
The Warriors likely will be shorthanded again, too.
They have gone the entire series without injured reserves Shaun Livingston (finger) and Matt Barnes (ankle), and beat Portland 119-113 in Game 3 without star forward Kevin Durant, who is nursing a strained calf muscle. It would make sense that they won't risk playing any of the three, giving them more time to recuperate for either Wednesday night's Game 5 at Oracle Arena, or for the Western Conference semifinals.
Golden State was also without coach Steve Kerr, who stayed at his Portland hotel Saturday night due to an unspecified illness that will cause him to miss at least the rest of the series. Kerr — who underwent a pair of back surgeries that caused him to miss the first half of last season — has never fully recovered. I asked Kerr before Game 1 how he was feeling.
"Not much better than a year ago," he said.
Kerr was in noticeable pain in the second half of Game 2 Wednesday night in Oakland. Suffering from a migraine and generally feeling lousy, the decision was made for him to stay at the hotel during Saturday's game. Kerr will miss at least the rest of this series, hoping to recover well enough to coach in the next series should the Warriors advance.
In his stead for Game 3 was Mike Brown, the lead assistant who had been head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers. The Warriors operated seamlessly with Brown in charge.
"The culture here, the foundation Steve has laid … the players are smart, the coaches I have around me — that all puts you at ease," Brown said Sunday. "It turns into a real fluid situation. Everybody made it rather easy for me to make the adjustment."
The Blazers dominated through 2 1/2 quarters of Game 3, taking a 17-point lead late in the second quarter and a 67-54 advantage at halftime. Portland still led 82-66 midway through the third quarter when the Warriors took over, putting together a 19-1 run that produced an 85-83 lead.
"We did a lot of good things," Stotts said. "The score reflected that. (The Warriors) are very capable of putting runs on you. The 19-1 run was fueled by multiple things.
"We missed some good looks. We didn't execute a couple of times. We made a couple of defensive mistakes, and they made some shots. They pushed the tempo and got some easy baskets. But we were still ahead going into the fourth quarter, and it was a two-possession game to the end."
The Blazers have been hurt in all three games by JaVale McGee, Golden State's backup center. He has made 16 of 19 shots in the series and averaged 11.7 points and 4.7 rebounds in just 13 minutes per game. The 7-footer has scored off lobs in all three games and has protected the rim on defense.
"We've seen his impact defensively as much as on offense," Stotts said. "He has had a dynamic presence at both ends. You have to account for him at the offensive end, and the Warriors are an exceptional passing team. He's the beneficiary of that and is able to finish around the basket. He has size and length, but it's more his athleticism than anything. He gets out on pick-and-rolls, and he's a presence in the paint defensively."
With Nurkic out, Stotts said he will turn to 7-1 Meyers Leonard — who sat out Game 3 and has scored two points in 20 minutes in the series — for help off the bench.
"With Jusuf out, we're going to need Meyers' minutes," Stotts said.
There's not a whole lot the Blazers can do Monday night other than to play well for more consistent minutes.
"I don't know if there are a lot of adjustments (to be made)," Stotts said. "The keys to the game are the same as they've been. We have to limit their runs, limit their 3's — which we've done an OK job with — and their transition game. Our defensive keys have not changed.
"And we have to score. When we have a drought offensively, that impacts the game at both ends."
No team in NBA history has come back from an 0-3 deficit to win a best-of-seven series, making it a tall task for the Blazers, "especially against a team like Golden State," Portland point guard Damian Lillard said.
"It's never been done, but I'm not one to quit, and I'm very optimistic," said Lillard, who has averaged 25.7 points in the series, with a pair of 30-point-plus games. "You feel that frustration in letting (Game 3) slip. We blew the opportunity, but we still have games to play.
"With a sweep on the line, we've got to have some pride and try to go get this next one, and then go from there, one at a time."