Without Kevin Durant, Warriors get pivotal support to beat Blazers

OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Golden State Warriors clamped down on the Portland Trail Blazers 110-81 on Wednesday to take a 2-0 lead in their Western Conference first-round series, using a dominant defensive performance that belied their injury issues.

Yes, the Warriors were down just one of four All-Stars, but they were vulnerable going into this one. Not only was Kevin Durant out because of his strained left calf, but Golden State was also without the services of Shaun Livingston and Matt Barnes. Rookie second-rounder Patrick McCaw would have to start at guard. (He acquitted himself nicely, by the way.) While few teams are better equipped to handle the absence of three wings in their rotation, the Dubs were, as coach Steve Kerr put it pregame, "pretty thin."

Perhaps that's why Stephen Curry started out assertively hunting his own shot, going hero ball on a couple of early 3-point attempts. Usually Curry likes to set the table out of the gate, but given Golden State's holes, it was on him to self-generate some offense. He had an off night shooting, but his attack mode was generally beneficial, as illustrated by his plus-32 mark in 31 minutes of play.

"You've got to be aggressive," Curry said. "Obviously you're missing 25 points, 26 points [out of] the lineup. So the shot is available you kind of do it a different way. But tonight we didn't really get it going much or consistently throughout the game. We had some dry spots, but we won the game with our defense tonight."

Golden State got a solid start from center Zaza Pachulia (5-of-8, 10 points) and continued to punish the Blazers with their bigs. While center was supposed to be a weakness after this roster saw Andrew Bogut traded and lost Festus Ezeli to free agency, the Warriors' bigs have exceeded expectations this season. Game 2 was a showcase beyond Draymond Green's normally excellent play as a substitute center (a high-energy 12-rebound, 10-assist game).

JaVale McGee, for example, has allayed many a doubt while flat-out producing this season. Maligned for much of his career due to a lack of playing awareness, McGee was locked into this playoff game. He got cooking after a typical Golden State post-timeout roll-to-lob play, and just kept bullying the Blazers' small lineups. Not only was McGee on point with his finishes, but the nine-year veteran was a timely, disruptive defender on the other end.

When asked who has helped with his defense this season, McGee was succinct in his praise, highlighting the efforts of Golden State assistant coach and defensive mastermind Ron Adams: "Shout out to Ron Adams. He really harps on the pick-and-roll and defensive strategy, so shout out to Ron Adams."

In the second quarter, when Golden State's lead was whittled down to one, McGee was the unlikely savior (he finished the second quarter as the only Warriors player in the plus column). By the time the buzzer sounded for intermission, McGee had gone 6-of-6 for 13 points, with three blocks. He finished perfect, going 7-for-7 with 15 points in his 13 minutes.

David West was no slouch, either, as he continued to pass brilliantly, most especially to Ian Clark, with whom West has a special connection. He also augmented Golden State's perimeter defense, stepping up when needed to contain Portland's 3-point attack.

And boy, was it contained. Klay Thompson, witness in Game 1 to a Damian Lillard first-half scoring barrage, gave no country in Game 2 to Portland's star, or anyone for that matter. The Blazers shot 3-of-11 for six points with Thompson as primary defender, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Not only that, but every one of those 11 shots was contested. The best of these plays came in the third quarter, when Lillard drove and rose, possibly for a hammering finish. Thompson loaded up and rose with him, blocking Lillard with force as McGee flew over for backup. With Lillard splayed on the floor, the Warriors ran in the other direction, quickly finishing a stylish response. Curry whipped a pass over to Thompson and threw his fists in the air as Thompson's angle 3-pointer sailed to its target.

When asked whether he thought he'd ever see Thompson rise up for a block at rim, Green smiled, and said, "No." He added, "For him to go vertical and then just block the shot like that. It was a pretty monstrous block and you know, it was fitting that he got a 3 on the other end because that's what Klay is all about. He's about getting his shots up."

One major difference from Game 1 to Game 2? The Warriors did not let Lillard or CJ McCollum get clean looks. According to ESPN Stats & Info, just one of their combined 34 field goal attempts in Game 2 was uncontested. In Game 1, they had 11 open looks out of 54 attempts.

The third quarter essentially ended the game. It started out with a Curry 3-pointer off a screen, followed by a laborious Pachulia layup, then a Curry pick-six-style fast break. By the time the 12 minutes had elapsed, the Warriors had rendered Portland's offense anemic, squeezing it into 12 points over that span.

The Warriors went into this expecting a battle, given their diminished state. Instead, they imposed their will. They did it starting a rookie second-rounder. They did it with Curry and Thompson combining to shoot 12-of-35. While it would be easy for the Warriors to fret over when Durant might return, it would be difficult to find fault with how they performed in his absence.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Playoff JaVale: McGee leads Durant-less Warriors in Game 2 blowout over Blazers

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Playoff JaVale is officially a thing.

On Sunday, our James Herbert wrote about JaVale McGee's contributions during the Warriors' Game 1 win over the Trail Blazers, but as Herbert noted, "McGee didn't win Golden State" the game. That honor belonged to Draymond Green.

On Wednesday, McGee won Golden State the game -- along with the Warriors' stifling defense, which limited the Blazers to 33.3 percent shooting.

In a 110-81 blowout, in which Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combined to shoot 12 of 35, McGee scored 15 points on 7-of-7 shooting. He blocked four shots and grabbed five boards. And he was on the court for only 13 minutes.
In the process, McGee tied a Warriors playoff record for the most made shots without a miss. He outscored Damian Lillard (12 points) and C.J. McCollum (11 points). Both Portland guards played 30 minutes.

The Blazers just couldn't stop him. McGee immediately made an impact off the bench. In his first short stint during the opening quarter, McGee almost immediately threw down a lob.

Seconds later, McGee finished his third lob, this one from Curry. All of that transpired in three minutes. McGee checked out of the game shortly after.

After the game, Blazers coach Terry Stotts explained why the Warriors' lobs are so difficult to defend. Spoiler: Curry and Thompson's ability to make 3s is a significant factor.

"It's a challenge because when you have a guy like Steph or Klay coming off, you've got to get up and guard them and not let the big get behind you if you're going to drop on them," Stotts said. "They do that very well."

Those successful lobs are even more impressive considering everybody knows they're coming.

"It's kind of like a bail out," Green said. "You get it in trouble, and he goes to the rim and goes to get it."
But McGee's impact went beyond throwing down lobs. His rim protection was excellent and so was his ability to defend the pick and roll. And then there was the time he chucked the ball off Lillard's face to give the Warriors possession.

After the Blazers cut the Warriors' lead from 16 points to one point in the second quarter, Steve Kerr went back to McGee again. Patrick McCaw drilled a 3 to push the lead back to four and then McGee took over.

On the next possession, he converted a three-point play. Then, he made a put back. Then, he guided/tipped in a lob. He was everywhere. At halftime, McGee was the Warriors' leading scorer with 13 points on 6-of-6 shooting despite being on the court for only eight minutes.

He wasn't the only Warriors big to contribute in a huge way. Zaza Pachulia, David West and McGee combined for 23 points on 11-of-12 shooting in the first half. The Blazers had no answer for them. As a result, they trailed by nine points despite their great start to the second quarter.

The third quarter, in which the Warriors expanded their lead to 25 points, was less about McGee and more about the Warriors' defense. The Warriors limited the Blazers to 12 points over the course of 12 minutes.

McGee still managed to utilize an effective post move to make his seventh and final field goal. He was spotted flying all over the court contesting 3s. With the game out of range, he didn't play in the fourth. The Blazers pulled their starters with 10 minutes remaining in the game.

And so, the Warriors -- a team missing Kevin Durant, Shaun Livingston and Matt Barnes -- won a playoff game in three quarters. They're now up 2-0 in the series.

It's just not fair. The Warriors' weakness was supposed to be their bigs after they parted ways with Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli this summer. Instead, their bigs led them to a 29-point playoff win. Collectively, McGee, Pachulia, and West scored 33 points on 15-of-20 shooting.

If it wasn't already clear, the Blazers desperately need Jusuf Nurkic to return for Game 3. The Warriors can win without Durant. The Blazers can't win without Nurkic. They couldn't do it in Game 1, when Lillard and McCollum combined for 75 points. And they couldn't do it in Game 2, when Curry and Thompson combined for just 35.
As Kerr noted after the game, the Blazers are forced to play smaller lineups without Nurkic. That's an issue for them when McGee is on the court.

The only problem is that it's already too late for the Blazers. Even with Nurkic on the floor, the Blazers likely won't be able to beat the Warriors four times in five games. Barring a miracle, the Blazers are done.

So, let's focus on the bigger picture for a second: With Playoff McGee now a thing, it's not crazy to ponder if he should be getting more minutes than the 11.5 minutes he's averaged in the first two games.

It's not a crazy question, but the answer is clear: The Warriors should keep McGee's minutes right where they're at. He shouldn't supplant Pachulia as the starter. He shouldn't be racking up 20 or so minutes a game. The entire reason McGee is able to inject energy into the Warriors and play like a man possessed is because he exclusively sees the floor in short stints.

"With Steve, I know exactly how many minutes I'm going to get and when I'm going in," McGee said Tuesday. "So, I'm prepared -- there's no random minutes out there. It's easy for me to just say, 'I'm going to use these five minutes and exhaust myself until no return, because I'm coming out at the second quarter.'"

The Warriors should keep it that way. McGee obviously isn't a flawless player. Nobody is going to argue that. If McGee were to see the court in longer stretches, his flaws would likely be exposed -- especially when facing higher quality players like Nurkic. By limiting his minutes, the Warriors are able to maximize his energy (just listen to the Oracle crowd whenever he checks in) while also limiting the chances he has to make critical mistakes.

That's why he's valuable to a super team.

"When he can electrify the crowd with a huge block and the alley-oop dunks and things like that, it's just a different dynamic that we love to have," Curry said.

The Warriors and McGee have a perfect thing going right now. They shouldn't mess it up by getting greedy. McGee wasn't even supposed to make the roster back in the autumn. Now he's leading the best team on the planet to playoff wins.

Say it with me: Playoff JaVale is officially a thing.

Kevin Durant's Absence Showing Again Warriors Are Built to Defy Adversity

OAKLAND, Calif. — Klay Thompson had 41 career blocks in 65 career playoff games for the Golden State Warriors coming into Wednesday night's Game 2 against the Portland Trail Blazers. Far from the gaudy numbers you'd see from a rim protector planted in the paint, sure. It's just that, chances are, you're not going to walk out of any Warriors game with the repeating image of a killer Thompson rejection cascading through your mind.

Not so during Golden State's 110-81 dismantling here to take a commanding 2-0 series lead. As the Warriors were capping off a super-stingy third quarter wherein the Blazers could only muster 12 points and the game was put beyond any competitive reach, the Warriors 2-guard pulled off a sequence of events that crossed the Thompson spectrum, from the shocking (a point-of-release block at the rim) to the commonplace (a high-arching, catch-and-shoot transition three).

"That did feel good," Thompson said of the block, "and hopefully I get to do it again."

From end to end, the swing from defense to offense barely required 10 seconds of game clock, but it was efficiently indicative of how the Warriors had answered the call of Kevin Durant's absence.

"We had some dry spots," said Stephen Curry, who only scored 19 points on 18 shots, "but we won the game with our defense tonight."

At surface level, it would seem surprising that losing Durant—he was ruled out a couple of hours before the jump with a strained left calf muscle—would serve as a precursor to the defensive clinic Golden State put on at Oracle Arena. He's their best rim protector, and his presence allows Draymond Green to slide up to center when the "Death Lineup" comes calling. His spindly arms can make any attempt at interior passing feel like a foolish endeavor.

But a funny thing happened while Durant was laid up with a sprained left knee for five-and-a-half weeks after the All-Star break: The Warriors maintained their defensive intensity. Even accounting for some squish in their strength of schedule, Golden State was noticeably better on defense for the 19 games Durant was out than for the games that preceded his injury.

That they didn't regress but got better in that area exemplifies how this team is built for the long haul.

Even without sterling performances from their long-range gunners, even without a true backup point guard in Shaun Livingston (out with a sprained finger), the Warriors had enough reinforcements to not only post another victory but also do so convincingly.

Patrick McCaw stepped into Durant's starting role, and the rookie was everything Warriors coach Steve Kerr could've hoped for. As Portland made its move in the second quarter, McCaw drained a 27-footer to give his team a four-point lead.

After JaVale McGee's and-1 about 30 seconds later pushed the lead to seven, the Blazers never again drew that close, and the rout was on.

"The thing that I liked was the fact that he was unafraid," Kerr said of McCaw, who finished with nine points, five boards and no turnovers. "He's a rookie. He barely played in Game 1, and [when] KD comes back he's probably not going to play a whole lot. But the fact that he stayed prepared, stayed ready and really defended well, I thought his defense was excellent. We asked him to guard [Damian] Lillard and [CJ] McCollum a little bit, and he did a really nice job."

Indeed, after combining for 75 points in the more competitive Game 1 loss, the Blazers' high-octane backcourt could barely muster a wisp of a flame, scoring only 23 points on 34 shot attempts.

That's on McCaw. That's on Green, who had 12 boards and three blocks. And that's on Thompson, whose aforementioned swat on Lillard was this night's unofficial endpoint, the 15 minutes of game yet to be played a mere formality.

"We probably did a good job tonight getting the ball out of their hands more," Thompson said of shutting down Portland's potent duo. "We made adjustments from last game."

The Warriors have a four-time scoring champion out with a potentially nagging injury, yet they remain calm and adaptable.

It took them a few games, but they didn't let Durant's earlier absence sidetrack their season. They went back to basics on offense and defense. More pick-and-rolls at one end, better positional awareness on rebounds at the other. There are no switches to flip with this team because every department is already humming along.

McCaw most personified that. Slotted into starting his first career playoff game, he made a sizable impact from the get-go.

"Pat's one of those guys where he doesn't show that he's overly confident, because he'll never say anything," Green said, "but he's one of those guys that you don't have to instill confidence in. You feel like, Oh, it's the NBA. I'm here. I should be here, and I want to do what I do."

That confident, aggressive play was everything for McCaw—"I don't think Portland was expecting that coming from me," he said—and that's become sustenance for this Warriors team. Without Durant or Livingston or Matt Barnes (ankle), Golden State never seemed like it was shorthanded. Six different Warriors recorded at least one blocked shot.

Even the 6'7" McCaw got in on that party, swatting (who else?) Lillard in the middle of that third-quarter smackdown.

A few minutes later, Thompson followed with his own rejection, and the Blazers' fate was effectively sealed.

Kerr was noncommittal after the game about Durant's status for Game 3 but conceded that having a 2-0 lead relieves some sense of urgency from making that call. The Warriors might do well to give Durant games off until they lose one of these nights, meaning he might sit out until May and rest up for either Los Angeles or Utah.

Kerr likes to preach about how the Warriors are a team whose success starts on defense, that they're so lethal at scoring largely because they set the tone under the other basket.

This Game 2 drubbing of Portland may have represented the platonic ideal of that philosophy. Unless the Blazers disprove its accuracy—and fast—the Warriors will continue their inexorable march to the next round and beyond.

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