The Golden State Warriors pulled off the unexpected to keep Sunday from being the most action-packed day of the NBA playoffs. Golden State lost Kevin Durant for the rest of the second round in the third quarter of Game 5 against the Houston Rockets, and the Warriors were expected to lose Game 6 after rallying to win Game 5 without Durant. It’s too bad that Steph Curry had other ideas. Curry lit up the Rockets in Game 6 to lead Golden State into the Western Conference Finals for the fifth straight season.
Portland pulled off an upset of its own to get to this point. The Trail Blazers were moderate underdogs coming into their series with Denver, and they were sizable underdogs to win Game 7 in the Mile High City. Despite the long odds, the Blazers were able to do the improbable and beat the Nuggets, with CJ McCollum hitting the dagger three to cap off an incredible night. Now, Portland is looking to make its first NBA Finals since Clyde Drexler took the Blazers to the 1992 title series.
Golden State is -550 to win this series and advance to the NBA Finals.
Regular Season Meetings
These two teams met four times in the regular season with each side winning two games. Golden State hammered Portland in Oakland in late November, but the Blazers returned the favor by nipping the Warriors by one point in overtime at Oracle Arena just after Christmas. Golden State went on the road to beat Portland by 10 two nights later, yet the Blazers got the last laugh by beating the Warriors by 22 in mid-February.
Portland Trail Blazers Analysis
It would be fair to compare Portland to the 2014-15 Warriors. That team was the first jump shooting team to win the NBA Championship in the modern era, but this Blazers team is possibly even more dependent on its guards.
The Blazers need Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum to have big nights to carry this team past Golden State. In the first round of the playoffs, it was Lillard doing the heavy lifting, and he iced the series with Oklahoma City. We saw McCollum take the spotlight as the last series went on though, finishing off the Nuggets by putting up 37 points while hitting 17 of his 29 field goals.
Portland’s top bench contributor throughout the postseason has been Rodney Hood. Hood has provided a spark off the bench, but he may miss one or two games at the beginning of the series. He left Game 7 with a knee injury after colliding with Torrey Craig, and he is considered a game time decision for Game 1 on Tuesday.
There isn’t a real interior presence on this team since Jusuf Nurkic was lost for the season at the end of March, but Enes Kanter has tried to fill the void. Kanter feasted on Oklahoma City in the first round of the playoffs, yet he was rather marginal as the last series wore on despite playing big minutes. With Golden State having its own frontcourt problems, Kanter can be an X-Factor, but he has not looked the same since reaggravating a left shoulder injury that has bothered him over the last few weeks.
Golden State Warriors Analysis
Three of Golden State’s best big men are banged up, and that’s the big story for the Warriors entering the series. Kevin Durant is the key, and his return would be the biggest boon. Durant has been the best player through Golden State throughout the playoffs. He has taken his game to another level, leading the Warriors while the perimeter shooting has been hit or miss. KD has been ruled out for Game 1, and he is very doubtful to play in Game 2.
The Warriors’ other two big men may return in this series to help out in the paint and mitigate the loss of Durant. DeMarcus Cousins was feared to be lost for the season after tearing his quadriceps, but he could come back as early as Tuesday night. Cousins was just getting rolling when he suffered the injury last month, and his athleticism would be huge for Golden State in this particular series. Reserve center Damian Jones could return as soon as Game 3.
Draymond Green has turned his play up a notch this postseason. Green was largely a non-factor during the regular season as his three-point shooting cratered, but he had a big impact in the last round. He has now grabbed 10 or more rebounds in six of his last seven games, and he even ran the offense for large stretches, dishing out more than eight assists per game in that series. Green does not have the range he used to, yet he still finds a way to contribute.
Then, there’s the Splash Brothers. Mark Jackson called the duo the greatest backcourt of all-time, and while that might be a stretch, it’s not much of one. Teams have to be able to hit the three in this era, and no tandem is better than Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. Curry is a bit under his regular season average in terms of shooting, but Thompson has stepped up in a big way. These two must be constantly hounded when they have the ball.
For the first time in a few years, I think Golden State is very undervalued entering a series. The Warriors are more than just Durant, and they showed that against Houston in the last round. Golden State has the advantage in the backcourt, and with Portland being unable to take advantage of the Warriors’ shortcomings in the frontcourt, I don’t see the Blazers putting up much of a fight. Golden State will win this one in five.