They say superstars set the tone, and they were right Saturday night in Portland. A breakout shooting night spurred by Damian Lillard and perpetuated by several Blazers role players allowed them to weather Golden State’s own strong shot-making and stay in the series, and gives Portland a shot to even things up Monday night before heading back to the Bay.
Lillard’s outburst was the headliner of the night, and began partly as a result of some uncharacteristically lax defense from the Warriors. Golden State dialed back their typical switching in pick-and-roll situations just a bit, perhaps to save some energy for guys like Draymond Green who already have large loads minus Steph Curry. However, they were sloppy in Lillard’s two-man action and yielded a few wide open looks as he slithered around high screens. The Dubs tightened up as the night wore on, but the damage was done – Lillard’s stroke was honed in, and he hit a few ridiculous looks late to help ice the final result.
His teammates took the cue, as well. C.J. McCollum rebounded from a rough first half to finish with 22 points to supplement Dame’s 40, and the trio of Al-Farouq Aminu, Allen Crabbe and Gerald Henderson combined to go 7-10 from deep (Aminu was a confident 4-5 from long range and didn’t miss a single field goal attempt until the game was mostly in hand in the fourth quarter).
The supporting cast was buoyed by a few nice adjustments from Portland coach Terry Stotts, items that could carry forward in the series. Stotts opened the second half with Henderson in place of Moe Harkless, who played just six and a half minutes on the night and may not see as much action from this point. He’s been ineffective chasing Warriors shooters defensively, particularly Klay Thompson (who was mostly picking on Harkless for his 18 first quarter points), and worse yet has been baited into fruitlessly attacking Andrew Bogut when the Warriors dare him to try and exploit the matchup. Aminu, Henderson and Crabbe were all much better options Saturday night, and likely will be for the remainder of the series.
He may have been aided by some foul trouble here, but Stotts’ move to a larger dose of Ed Davis over the largely ineffective Mason Plumlee also paid dividends in Game 3. Plumlee has been unable to discover his magic from Portland’s previous series against the Clippers, bothered by Golden State’s swarming defense on his catches and forcing ugly looks. He isn’t providing much more than Davis defensively, and certainly not enough to account for the gap in poise and finishing ability between the two. Davis has also had more success on the offensive glass, both against the Warriors specifically and overall this postseason. Stotts could consider starting Davis for Game 4, but at minimum should look to keep his minutes high even if Plumlee can stay out of foul trouble.
The Blazers withstood a pretty excellent shooting night from the Warriors Saturday, but are unlikely to do so again. Guys like Aminu can’t sustain shooting this hot, and the Warriors will do a better job early against Lillard Monday night. The outside chance that Curry could return for Game 4 is a consideration, but the Blazers need to be ready for a stiffer challenge whether or not he suits up.
Game 4 Prediction: Warriors win a close game
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