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.