PORTLAND, Ore. -- Stephen Curry took the floor at the Moda Center on Saturday, but unfortunately for the Golden State Warriors, it wasn’t against the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 3. He matched up against a trio of Warriors assistants in a light run of 2-on-2 a few hours before the main event in an empty house.
Once the place was packed and the ball was tipped, Curry was over on the sidelines wearing a tan jacket, and the Trail Blazers were riding Damian Lillard and his 40 points to a 120-108 win, narrowing the Warriors’ lead in the series to 2-1. Game 4 is scheduled for Monday night in Portland.
“You don’t want to be down 0-3, especially not to this team,” Lillard said. “I just wanted to come out and be aggressive and leave it all out there. Our guys followed suit and we got it done.”
The potency of Klay Thompson on the perimeter and Draymond Green as the Warriors’ all-purpose playmaker and defender have been the entrées of choice on Golden State’s Steph-free menu over the past couple of weeks, and they helped themselves to a healthy serving in the first quarter. Thompson got loose early -- running Maurice Harkless ragged through pindowns from Green, past cross-screens from Andrew Bogut and off a curl from Harrison Barnes. Bucket, bucket, bucket. Thompson had 18 points in the first quarter, at the conclusion of which the Dubs led 28-22.
But that was the high-water mark for Golden State, as soon after the two teams took the floor for the second quarter, Lillard loaded up the time machine and transported the Moda Center back to Feb. 19, when the Trail Blazers ran the Warriors out of Portland with a 137-105 win, the worst loss of the season for Golden State.
“We didn’t keep that same edge [after the first quarter],” Thompson said. “We got away from our game plan at times, especially on the offensive end, too many one- or two-pass shots. We’ve got to wear these guys down with five more passes and make those guys work out there playing big minutes, but we’ll make the adjustment Monday.”
The Warriors came into Game 3 with a few defensive imperatives, namely to confront pick-and-rolls for Lillard and Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum more aggressively at the point of attack -- especially those set behind the 3-point arc. In the second quarter, Lillard hurt them on a couple of step-back jumpers and Al-Farouq Aminu got lost in transition for a wide-open 3-pointer, but Golden State performed all right on its to-do list.
The way the Warriors saw it, they began to lose the game on the margins. Green sensed the Warriors could’ve effectively wrapped up the series in the first quarter had they only paid sufficient attention to the smaller details they generally master.
“That team -- they had doubt,” Green said of the Trail Blazers. “You could just tell they were unsure about everything that they were doing in the first quarter. Then all of a sudden, like I said, you get a couple of offensive rebounds, hit a couple of shots, that's when the crowd gets into it. That's kind of what happened for them. I think right there in that first quarter, they felt like they were on the ropes and we didn't really take advantage of that.”
When the Warriors ratcheted up their defense on Lillard after intermission, he just pitched the ball out to the likes of Allen Crabbe, Gerald Henderson (who took over defensive duties on Thompson) and Aminu, who were a combined 6-for-6 from distance heading into the fourth quarter. Lillard assisted on 18 Trail Blazers points in the third quarter and scored another five of his own, as Portland extended their lead to 93-80 after three quarters.
“[Lillard] getting 40 -- that’s not going to beat us if we don't let Aminu get 23, Crabbe off the bench get 10," Green said. "If we cover those guys, Dame's 40 doesn't beat us. C.J. [McCollum]'s 22 really don't beat us if we cover the other guys. I think a big part of that fell on me."
It's a shame for Green, who put on an individual shooting display of his own in the third quarter. "Draymond from long range" can be a touchy subject in Warriors World, but with the Trail Blazers begging him to shoot from distance, Green politely obliged -- draining 5-of-6 3-point attempts in the third quarter and matching a career high for the game with eight total. He finished the game with 37 points, while Thompson added 35.
“All that’s cute,” Green said of his prolific offensive production. “I didn't do what I do for this team. I don't feel like I led my troops tonight, and I feel like I was horrendous on the defensive end."
When he was the Warriors' primary defender on Saturday, Green allowed 1.53 points per possession, according to ESPN Stats & Information research, which was his second-poorest performance of the season. Meanwhile, Trail Blazers played their usual brand of bend-don’t-break defense against the Warriors. But their real achievement on the night was attaching themselves to the Warriors in transition, even as the teams cross-matched defensively, something that typically makes the task harder. The Warriors managed only two fast-break points all night, and the game was largely confined to the half court.
All week long, the Trail Blazers' players and coaches professed their belief that they had played even with or better than the Warriors in six of the eight quarters down in Oakland. If not for a poor start in Game 1 and disastrous finish in Game 2, who knows how different the series would have unfolded? Game 3 was Portland’s ultimate proving ground, a full 48-minute test in front of its noisy home crowd.
"Now, they're feeling like they can do it,” Green said. “I know we know otherwise, so you can expect Game 4 to be a battle, at least from us."
With Curry growing stronger with each passing day, absent from the floor but ever-present in the minds of everyone on both sides, the Trail Blazers did something they couldn’t in Game 2: They finished their work. On Monday night in Game 4, the Warriors will look to undo it.
“We’ll be better,” Green said. “I’ll be better. We’ll win.”