The Golden State Warriors and Draymond Green packed a punch on Saturday night. The Dubs continued their dominance in road arenas in the playoffs, extending their streak to 22 straight series winning at least one game on the road after a 110-99 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers. The defending champions are now up 3-0 in the series and are a game away from a fifth straight appearance in the NBA Finals.
Draymond led the charge.
Much like WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder did with Dominic Breazeale in Saturday’s title bout at the Barclays Center, Green uncorked the deadly one-two over a Blazers team that simply ran out of steam in the second half.”>Much as WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder did with Dominic Breazeale in Saturday’s title bout at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, Draymond Green — playing on the other side of the United States — was similarly forceful and ruthless. Green uncorked the deadly one-two on a Blazers team that simply ran out of steam in the second half.
These are 5 Clutch Points from Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals:
Escaping the curse
The Warriors had a tough task of winning on the road against a determined Blazers team that let one slip away in Game 2. Portland lost that game on Thursday after building a 17-point lead in Oracle Arena, only to see it all disappear by the third quarter. The Warriors had to survive the curse of Paul Pierce, who predicted a Warriors win ahead of the broadcast.
Not even the Warriors are affected by the Paul Pierce curse…they may truly be the greatest dynasty of the modern era pic.twitter.com/3oBqfS98OV
— Rich CouTTTinho (@TeamThirstTrap) May 19, 2019
It was that same Pierce who called the Eastern Conference semifinal series between the Boston Celtics and the Milwaukee Bucks “over” after the former won Game 1 in a blowout. The Bucks then came back to win four straight games and eliminate the Celtics from the playoffs.
Yet no curse would be strong enough to derail the Warriors, who came back from 18 this time around (13 by halftime). They put on a defensive masterclass in the third quarter and outscored the Blazers 29-13, heading to the fourth with a three-point lead.
Following the game, Pierce would tell SportsCenter’s Scott Van Pelt that the Blazers “look like a team that is mentally broken” and that they showed no fight down the stretch, which leads him to believe “the Warriors should go on to sweep this series.”
No pressure, though.
Draymond Green’s MVP-level play
Draymond Green has been playing his best basketball during this postseason run, and his last five quarters might have been the best of his entire life.
The Warriors’ versatile forward picked up where he left off in the fourth quarter of Game 2, when he begged coach Steve Kerr to leave him in for the remaining 7:42 of regulation after picking up his fifth foul. Green stayed in the game and did not foul out, spearheading the Dubs’ defensive stand down the stretch, quickly erasing a late eight-point deficit to pull off a 114-111 win.
Green’s play was remarkable from the start in Game 3 on Saturday night, constantly pushing the pace and fearlessly attacking a Portland defense that just couldn’t keep him under wraps. The former 2017 Defensive Player of the Year nitro-boosted that intensity in the third quarter, coming up with multiple stops and frenetically pushing the ball up the court, even after made baskets.
This particular play involved Green single-handedly beating the Blazers at the buzzer after a C.J. McCollum tip shot could have had the Blazers up 15 at the half.
Draymond gets it to go #BeforeTheLight pic.twitter.com/hppJT831XJ
— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) May 19, 2019
The effort continued in the third quarter, when the Warriors made their mark by limiting the Blazers to 13 points while scoring 29 of their own.
Green’s rampant pace was vital in transition, quickly turning defense into effective offense, catching Portland backpedaling and out of position.
Sooooooo many people said Draymond Green would never be the same player he was the past couple of seasons. Those people need to apologize pic.twitter.com/Wta8n6ZNjI
— Drew Shiller (@DrewShiller) May 19, 2019
Green finished with a line of 20 points, 13 rebounds, 12 assists, four steals and a blocked shot — easily his most complete game of this postseason stretch.
“That stat line is ridiculous… but it’s nothing new,” said Klay Thompson. “I’ve seen him do it for seven years. He’s filling out the box score and he’s like a secondary point guard out there. he relieves so much pressure off me and Steph, being able to play off the ball. His ability to make plays off the pick-and-roll is one of the best ever.”
As Green once said: “There are 82-game players and then there are 16-game players.”
He is undoubtedly a 16-game player. If this was the NBA Finals, he could easily walk away with the Finals MVP trophy, despite Stephen Curry’s average of 36.3 points per game.
Head coach Steve Kerr:
“I don’t even know what to say about Draymond,” said Kerr, who noted this might have been the best game he’s seen Green play. “He was like a wrecking ball out there, destroying everything in his path… it didn’t seem like he got tired.”
Where is Damian Lillard?
Much has been made about Damian Lillard’s lackadaisical play over the course of this series, but his struggles have been much more than a bad matchup or a poor streak. The Warriors are blitzing Lillard and backcourt partner CJ McCollum. They are doing it viciously, forcing the role players to beat them and living with the results.
That strategy has worked wonders so far. In the last two games, the Blazers have seen two different role players step up: Seth Curry in Game 2 and Meyers Leonard in Game 3. However, neither man has been able to close out a win for Portland — nor have Lillard or McCollum.
“That’s what elite defenses do,” said McCollum after a 110-99 loss. “They take the ball out of your hands and make other guys beat you.”
Lillard scored only 19 points on a ghastly 5-of-18 shooting performance from the floor, 3-of-9 from the 3-point line. The Blazers’ star is playing 40 minutes per game, yet he’s averaging a postseason-worst 20.3 points on 32.9% shooting in this series, clearly prevented from being an impact player.
The Warriors have bottled up Lillard and sent multiple bodies at him, whether bigs such as Kevon Looney and Draymond Green are shading him into a trap, or lockdown perimeter defenders such as Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson are contesting his looks and making each isolation scenario much tougher than what he’s seen this entire postseason.
Coaching adjustments and leadership
Head coach Steve Kerr took yet another spin of the wheel, this time choosing to start Damian Jones at center with the hope of rewarding the big man for his commitment to recover from a pectoral tear he suffered in December.
Jones had played mere scrap minutes in Game 1, as well as a short stint in Game 2. Yet, his lone start of the postseason lasted all but three minutes and 17 seconds. He picked up three quick fouls and never took the court again in Game 3.
This is yet another one of Kerr’s ways to keep a joyous vibe in the locker room by giving guys opportunities, but he might have taken it a bit too far in the second quarter. Kerr started his usual second unit led by Klay Thompson and a support group of Quinn Cook, Shaun Livingston, Jonas Jerebko and Jordan Bell. That unit stayed on for nearly half the quarter, except for Bell, who was substituted for Andrew Bogut after mixing up some defensive rotations.
The Warriors were outscored by 11 points during that stretch and once again trailed the Blazers heading into the second half.
This was Kerr’s way to save some legs and have his guys fresh the rest of the way, but it was quite an ambitious gamble considering the stakes. It’s a luxury that only Kerr and Gregg Popovich can afford, knowing the championship blood coursing through the veins of his players and what they’re able to put together on the court.
The man at the helm was bailed out by an otherworldly defensive effort in the second half, as the Warriors limited the Blazers to only 33 points.
Bad coaching? Perhaps — but it’s only a bad move if the team loses, and Kerr has once again won big by gambling early and betting on the mental fortitude and championship mettle of his players.
The greatest example of this reality took place in the third quarter. Jordan Bell blew a wide-open dunk by trying to tear the rim (a rookie mistake by a second-year player), quickly making his way to SportsCenter’s Not-Top-10 and Shaqtin’ A Fool.
Oh no, Jordan 🙃 #SCNotTop10 pic.twitter.com/4vQon6mbYZ
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 19, 2019
Yet Kerr didn’t pull him out of the game (as it would likely have shattered his confidence). Draymond Green was quick to reassure him he’d be fine after a brief timeout. Bell would respond by making up for that blunder with a two-handed transition dunk.
Draymond to Jordan Bell: "It's okay. You missed a shot. All of us have, nobody's perfect." pic.twitter.com/jkdZJwZYjl
— Dime (@DimeUPROXX) May 19, 2019
It’s the little things that count throughout playoff runs, and this team has yet to miss a beat.
Andre Iguodala’s health
Andre Iguodala hit the locker room early in the first quarter, infamously flipping the bird as a cameraman followed him intently.
Andre Iguodala flips off the camera as he walks into the Warriors locker room… pic.twitter.com/FcOMPZXNnW
— Drew Shiller (@DrewShiller) May 19, 2019
He would return to play during the second quarter, but would not return in the second half, as Jordan Bell got the call in his place.
Following the game, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said on SportsCenter he doubted that Iguodala would appear in Game 4. It was believed to be a recurring Achilles problem which had been bothering him through the postseason.
The Warriors called it a left calf issue, according to Anthony Slater of The Athletic. The 2015 Finals MVP is set for an MRI on Sunday.
The defending champions have already put the Blazers in an inescapable 3-0 hole after Saturday’s 110-99 victory and are likely to play it careful with this injury to one of their main defensive cogs.
The Warriors have managed Iguodala’s minutes and health all season long and they won’t stop now — not with the stakes this high. This would bring an opportunity for another capable player such as Alfonzo McKinnie to earn extended minutes in Game 4.
Portland has been blown out in Game 1 and has blown two double-digit leads in consecutive games, showing little to no fight in this series. Golden State will use that mental edge to wrap up the series on Monday and rest as many bodies as possible with a real test ahead in the NBA Finals.