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All for naught: Blazers 'waste' good effort vs. 'bad' Warriors

TRIBUNE PHOTO: GEROME WRIGHT - The Golden State Warriors block a shot by the Trail Blazers' Mason Plumlee in Game 2 Tuesday night at Oakland.OAKLAND — The citizens of California have experienced a drought for several years now, resulting in billions of dollars in agricultural losses.

The Trail Blazers’ drought Tuesday night at Oracle Arena? Lasted only 12 minutes, but it was plenty costly, too.

Portland had Golden State on the ropes for three quarters, but the Warriors outscored the Blazers 34-12 in the final period to escape with a 110-99 victory and a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference semifinals.

“We were in control of the game for 3 1/2 quarters, but you have to play 48 minutes of excellent basketball to beat this team,” Portland’s Damian Lillard said. “We played 42. We let our body of work go to waste.”

After Lillard stroked in a 3-pointer to beat the clock at the end of the third quarter, the Blazers led 87-76. If an upset wasn’t in the making, it certainly seemed that way.

Portland still was on top 91-82 after an Allen Crabbe steal and breakaway dunk with nine minutes to play. The Blazers had only four baskets the rest of the way, and one of them was a short CJ McCollum jumper in the closing seconds with the issue decided.

The Warriors, meanwhile, cranked it up at both ends, sinking 11 of 18 shots from the field over the final 12 minutes and making it tough for the Blazers to get open shots.

“We turned around what was a pretty bad game for us,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said.

And a pretty good game for the Blazers, who survived two other dry spells — two points and no baskets in five minutes of the second quarter, three points and one basket in the first 4 1/2 minutes of the third quarter — to take a double-digit lead into the fourth quarter.

“We were getting after it on both ends,” said Portland’s Gerald Henderson, who scored 12 points in 27 minutes off the bench. “That’s how we have to play to win. The fourth quarter, we really struggled to score, and (the Warriors) were scoring. You’re not going to beat them if you can’t execute down the stretch. That was the game.”

It was role reversal from Game 1, when the Blazers fell behind by 20 points in the first quarter and never recovered, with Lillard and McCollum struggling to find the range from the field.

On Tuesday night, Portland jumped to a 19-5 lead as the Warriors started 2 for 13 from the field, with their top two guns — Klay Thompson and Draymond Green — firing blanks. The Blazers kept the pedal to the metal, sinking 14 of 21 shots en route to a 34-21 lead after one quarter.

The Blazers increased the margin to 45-28 in the second quarter, but the Warriors responded with an 18-4 run to draw within 49-46. The Blazers answered with an 8-0 spurt and suddenly were back on top 57-46. The difference was 59-51 at the half, Portland shooting .512 from the field, including 7 for 14 from 3-point range.

“Portland was phenomenal the first half,” Kerr said. The Blazers “played incredibly well and made every shot. They were moving the ball. They outworked us defensively, getting into us and running us off our cuts and our flow. But we hung in there.”

Lillard bombed in 17 points in the third quarter, including the 3-pointer as time expired to carry Portland into the final period with an 11-point bulge. Lillard was excited as he strutted to the Blazer bench, and so were his teammates. To that point, Thompson and Green were both 5 for 17 from the field, and the Warriors’ 43-2 home-court record was in jeopardy of taking a hit.

It didn’t last. Thompson scored 10 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter, including a pair of dagger 3's. Green took on his triple-threat persona and teamed with reserve center Festus Ezeli to key a Golden State defense that suddenly was suffocating.

“They picked it up, but I don’t know if we were as composed as we needed to be,” Henderson said. “In the first three quarters, we did a good job of attacking them, getting them on their heels, finding open guys. As they started to pick up their defense a little bit and pressure more, we didn’t do as good a job of getting that same shot.

“When they stepped up their pressure, it made it harder to make plays, to make good decisions, make all the right passes. That’s a growth thing for us.”

Lillard finished with 25 points, but went scoreless in the fourth quarter on 0-for-3 shooting.

The Warriors “got more aggressive defending the pick-and-rolls with both Damian and CJ,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “And Ezeli came in and had an effect on both ends of the court.”

Ezeli — a backup center who hadn’t played in the opener — played 13 minutes late in the third quarter and in the fourth quarter, scoring eight points on 4-for-4 shooting, grabbing six rebounds and clogging the middle defensively.

“He changed the whole game for us with his pick-and-roll defense,” Kerr offered.

Moe Harkless busted his tail defending Thompson, chasing him around screens and denying him many open shots.

“I thought I did a pretty good job for the most part,” Harkless said. “He hit some shots, but good players do that.”

Thompson’s frustration reached a boiling point when he drew a third-quarter technical.

“Harkless put his head on me,” Thompson said. “That along with missing a couple of open looks and the physicality of the game, and just the emotions got to me. I haven’t had a technical for a while; I guess it was good to break the seal.”

This one was a particularly disheartening loss for the Blazers, who could have returned to Portland for Game 3 with the series tied 1-1.

“Nights like this, it hurts to go back in the locker room,” Lillard said. “Nights like tonight suck.

“We had an opportunity to steal one on the road. Things were going our way. We were making shots. We played team ball. We played really hard defensively. We were playing a great game. We played hungry. We played physical. We were not fun to play against tonight, offensively or defensively.

“But we slipped in the fourth quarter. We started turning the ball over. Shots didn’t go in. We stopped trusting what we were doing to put ourselves in that position. Six minutes to go in a game like that, you’ve got to man up. You have to scratch and claw and do whatever is necessary. That’s where Golden State separated themselves. They became that championship team.”

That’s what the Blazers are trying to become. They’ll get another chance to take a first step Saturday, albeit probably having to face one Stephen Curry, the sure-to-be 2015-16 Most Valuable Player Award winner, who sat out the first two games of the series with a sore knee.

“We know we can play with these guys,” Harkless said. “We also know they’re not going to panic when they get behind. They’re going to keep playing. We can’t let them hang around. We have to finish them off.”

McCollum isn’t claiming any moral victories.

“There are no consolations in the playoffs,” said the Blazer guard, who scored 22 points on 9-for-19 shooting. “You win or you lose; it doesn’t matter how hard you competed, you win or you lose.

“We’re down 0-2 going home. We squandered a game I think we should have won tonight, and now we have to make up for it.”

The Blazers rallied from an 0-2 deficit to eliminate the Los Angeles Clippers in six games in the first round of the playoffs. And they’re 21-3 in their last 24 games at home.

“We have a lot of confidence going back to the Moda Center,” Stotts said. “It’s a great home-court advantage. We can build a little momentum with how we played tonight. Game 3 is pivotal. We did a nice job with the Clippers in Game 3. We’re going to need that same approach on Saturday.”

NOTES: Golden State won the points-in-the-paint battle 56-28 and owned the backboards 48-39, including a 33-21 edge in the second half. … Portland center Mason Plumlee grabbed 11 rebounds but had a rough game that included six of the Blazers’ 17 turnovers. … Portland’s Al-Farouq Aminu scored 13 of his 14 points in the first half. … Green finished with 17 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists and four blocked shots but was only 7 for 20 from the field, including 0 for 5 on 3-point attempts.

Kerr said before the game that Curry’s rehab process with his sore knee is going “pretty well.” Said Kerr: “He’s making the improvement we’re looking for, but he hasn’t been on the (practice) floor with the team. Hopefully that will come. I don’t know when, though. The training staff will just tell me each day.” Kerr said it is similar to Curry’s return from a sprained ankle in Golden State’s first-round playoff series with Houston. “We wanted him to get two days of practice in to test the ankle, which we did,” Kerr said. “This time, we’re going to want to do the same thing, see him get up and down the floor. Is he at risk of hurting it further? If not, and he’s at 80 or 90 percent and they say he can play, we’ll let him play.”

After reviewing the Game-1 incident between Henderson and Golden State’s Anderson Varajeo, the NBA announced Tuesday that Varejao's tripping act warranted a “flagrant 1’ foul. He will be given one point under the league's flagrant-foul point system. If a player accumulates five flagrant foul points during the playoffs, he gets a one-game suspension. Kerr on the play: “It didn’t look great. I thought Henderson threw the first blow, chucked him, and in response, Anderson kicked his leg out. The chuck Henderson gave him was not dirty, but (Varajeo) kind of got blindsided, and Anderson was reacting to getting jolted. To be honest, (the penalty) is probably fair.”

At Portland’s Tuesday’s shootaround, McCollum said the Warriors set a lot of illegal picks. Asked before the game about it, Stotts said, “There’s a little movement on screens. I think Andrew (Bogut) would probably admit to that."

Stotts, on Lillard not using feeling under the weather as an excuse for subpar play: “It’s his nature to fight through things. The great ones do. It’s an innate quality. Damian has shown that over and over again in his four years in the NBA. He doesn’t use excuses if he has a poor shooting night or in a slump. He’ll say, ‘I have to be better.’ That shows his leadership, his maturity and his will.”

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