Before tipoff at Oracle Arena on Sunday, Stephen Curry got in some light stand-still shooting work, part of an intensive rehabilitation regimen aimed at getting him past the Grade 1 sprain of the medial collaterial ligament in his right knee and back on the court sooner than anticipated. Asked by ABC's Lisa Salters about the chances that he makes his return in next Saturday's Game 3, Curry sounded an optimistic note:
As exciting as the prospect of the reigning NBA Most Valuable Player returning is for Bay Area sports fans, though, his Golden State Warriors teammates seem intent on doing whatever's in their power to convince him not to rush back on their account.
Klay Thompson scored a career-playoff-high 37 points, Draymond Green notched the second triple-double of his postseason career, and Steve Kerr's club dominated on the glass and on the defensive end to beat the Portland Trail Blazers, 118-106, to take a 1-0 lead in their best-of-seven Western Conference semifinals series on Sunday.
Once again, Thompson assumed the primary offensive role for the Warriors in Curry's absence, and once again, he comfortably filled it, making 13 of his 24 field-goal attempts and seven of his 14 3-point tries. Thompson now has 21 3-point makes in his last three postseason games, which is a new NBA record for triples in a trio of games — finally, there's one 3-point record he can take from his Splash Brother — and as many as the Warriors' opponents have managed in total over the past three games.
He opened the floodgates early, outscoring the Blazers on his own in the first quarter, 18-17, flying around off the ball and curling off teammates' screens for feeds from Green and replacement starting point guard Shaun Livingston to put the overmatched Blazers behind the 8-ball — and down by 20 points — before the end of the first quarter. The Warriors' 37-17 advantage was the largest first-quarter lead in the postseason in the shot-clock era ... and, again, they're doing this without the MVP.
While torching the Blazers on one end, Thompson was also using his long arms and agility to make life tough on Portland star point guard Damian Lillard on the other in an effort that drew heaps of praise from his coach after the game.
"There's not many guys in the league who could chase Damian Lillard around for 37 minutes and score 37 points, too," Kerr said. "Klay is a tremendous two-way player, and that was a really amazing night for him in terms of just his all-around play. Obviously, we got a lot of really good performances from people, but that's a big burden to have to play both ways like that, and he was awesome."
After posting strong finishes to their first-round series against the Los Angeles Clippers, high-scoring guards Lillard and C.J. McCollum struggled mightily against a Warriors defense featuring lengthy perimeter defenders like Thompson, Livingston and Andre Iguodala, active help defense from Green and Harrison Barnes, and strong rim protection from center Andrew Bogut, who blocked three shots, snagged three steals and deterred a number of other shots on the interior.
Lillard finished with 30 points, but needed 26 shots to get there, and did the bulk of his damage in the fourth quarter, long after the Warriors had seized control of the game. McCollum added 12 points on 5-for-17 shooting for the Blazers, who never led, trailed by as many as 26 points, and shot just 40.2 percent for the game.
"We made it tough on Dame tonight, we made it tough on C.J.," Green said after the game. "Obviously, we know they're not going to continue to have games like this every night, but if we can make them take tough shots throughout the course of the series — they're so ball-dominant with those two guys, and rightfully so, they've been great all year — but if we can make it tough on them, we think they'll wear down throughout the course of the series."
Golden State has now allowed 225 points on 233 shots (36.1 percent shooting) in 10 quarters since Curry went down just before halftime of Game 4 against the Houston Rockets, outscoring the opposition by 72 points in those 120 minutes. Lest we forget, the league's most efficient regular-season offense came attached to the NBA's No. 4-ranked defense in points allowed per possession, and the Warriors have doubled down on trying to choke out opponents to stay afloat while Curry rehabs.
"When Steph's out there, we can go toe-to-toe with anybody with our offense and probably have the advantage," Green said after the game. "But when he's not out there, you've got to get it done on the defensive end."
They did just that on Sunday, according to Thompson, thanks to paint-patrolling guard dogs Green and Bogut, who made Portland drivers think twice before venturing into the lane and made them pay the price when they felt bold enough to do so:
"The whole year, Steph, our backcourt, we get a lot of attention, but people don't realize how good our frontcourt is," Thompson said. "It's the best defensive frontcourt in the NBA, and I've seen it a long time. With those two out there, it makes it tough for teams to finish at the rim, and both are great communicators out there. They make my job easy, and it's fun to play with these guys."
The Blazers bounced back after their rough first quarter, taking advantage of the Warriors' bench behind contributions from the likes of Ed Davis, Allen Crabbe and Al-Farouq Aminu, who — as he did against the Clips — got a steady diet of open looks from a Warriors defense trained much more on keeping Lillard and McCollum from getting on a roll. On the other end, the ball movement that had led to 10 assists on 15 Golden State baskets dried up, allowing Portland to get the lead down to nine in the final two minutes of the second quarter.
Green got Golden State going, though. With Stotts preferring super-small lineups featuring Aminu and Maurice Harkless at center to match up with Golden State's array of wings, Green attacked his way to three offensive rebounds and a 6-for-6 mark from the foul line while dishing three of the of Warriors' five second-quarter assists, energizing the team and helping keep Portland at arm's length just enough for a quintessential late-second burst to push the Warriors into half up by 14.
It was all part of a 23-points, 13-rebound, 11-assist, three-block, one-steal outing that led Bogut to call him "probably the best all-around player in the league at this point," drawing a nod of agreement from Thompson.
"I mean, you'll never hear me call myself that, but if they want to say it, I'll take it," a smiling Green said during his post-game press conference.
A 20-6 run put the Warriors up by 26 with just over four minutes remaining in the third, making the rest of the game largely academic ... except for some extracurricular activities between Warriors center Anderson Varejao and Blazers swingman Gerald Henderson, who began to broil beef late in the third after Varejao tripped Henderson following an away-from-the-ball collision in the paint, prompting double technical fouls:
The bad blood continue to boil, resulting in some trash talking while Henderson stood near a seated Varejao on the Golden State bench and another round of double-techs, sending the two men to an early shower with 15 seconds remaining in the third:
Like Henderson, the Blazers didn't go down without a fight on Sunday, continuing to compete even when it appeared they were drawing dead — unable to credibly defend Thompson with smaller guards, unable to handle Green's ability to overpower his counterparts when Portland tried to match smalls with the best small-ball team in the world, and unable to get their must-have scorers untracked against a defense that thrives on forcing even the very best offensive players in the game to play left-handed.
On the plus side, the Blazers have been in this situation before, and not too long ago.
"We got beat pretty soundly in Game 1 against the Clippers, and we made some adjustments and played a bit better, and we played better as the series went along," Blazers coach Terry Stotts said after the game. "We need to do the same thing. We'll watch the video and see what we can come up with for Game 2, but there's no question that we have to play better and learn from Game 1, like we did with the Clippers."
Just one problem with that: even without Steph, these aren't the Clippers, and they're definitely not the Clippers without Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.
"They're an elite team either way, and they showed that tonight," Lillard said.