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Blazers must solve 1 huge problem if they hope to make the NBA Finals

Blazers must solve 1 huge problem if they hope to make the NBA Finals

The Portland Trail Blazers will have to make some serious adjustments if they hope to come out of a crucial Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors.

If Game 1 was any suggestion, the Warriors had their way with their offense and the Blazers showed very little resistance, allowing the defending champions to go off for 17 threes as part of Tuesday’s 116-94 loss.

One common problem keeping them from stopping the backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson was how Portland played them like a standard backcourt, instead of an elite-shooting one, like they have proved to be for the last five seasons.

A lot of it comes down to the ample space the bigs like Enes Kanter and Zach Collins gave Curry, who finished with 36 points and made nine of his 15 3-point attempts in the game.

Let’s take a look at this play, where Collins quickly gets in position, but hangs around by the free-throw line one second too long and is slow to react to a Curry pull-up three.

Cash it.

Now it’s worth noting that this was Curry’s eighth 3-pointer in the game. So how did the other seven go down? Much like that one did.

This one is perhaps an even bigger mistake, as Kanter has time to clap his hands while the pick-and-roll is taking place — completely unaware that he should anticipate Curry getting past Damian Lillard with an incoming Kevon Looney screen.

Kanter and Collins have been caught on this very play multiple times — and allowing him to catch his rhythm is as big as a mistake as the Blazers can make if they hope to make this a series.

Anthony Slater of The Athletic, a Warriors beat writer, brought on this very question to coach Terry Stotts, who tried to outsmart him by arguing the Houston Rockets died a similar death in the past series.

Slater: “Houston had some success trapping Steph and really getting out on him, is this sustainable for you guys to keep dropping?”

Stotts: “Did they — I can’t remember, when he had 33 in the second half were they trapping him then?”

Slater: “Yeah.”

Stotts: “They were? And they scored 33 in the second half?”

Slater: “Yeah.”

Stotts: “Okay, we’ll look at that.”

Stotts’ idea is that trapping Curry would put the Blazers in a pick-your-poison scenario, either getting fulminated by a Curry three or surrendering a potential easy two by means of playing four-on-three after trapping Curry up high.

The coach might have won that battle by dropping the mic on Slater, but if he is to win the war that matters, he’d be smart to make adjustments.

The Blazers are already at a talent deficit, even with the Warriors missing two of their key starters in Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins — so Portland has two options:

Limit the bigs’ time on the floor and go small or watch Stephen Curry pick-and-roll Enes Kanter to absolute death through the rest of this series.

While Stotts can game plan to play Kanter or Collins higher on pick-and-roll plays instead of the fruitless drop coverage they’ve employed thus far, neither center has the lateral foot speed to keep up with a driving Curry, who has feasted in one-on-one matchups against slow-footed bigs throughout the series — just ask Ivica Zubac and Nene — they will attest to that.

Stotts won’t have a surefire answer to solve this Warriors riddle, they are simply too talented — but he stands a better chance by playing Al-Farouq Aminu at center or giving Kanter and Collins a quick hook and put them only in situations in which they can thrive.

Kanter’s rebounding is a huge part of the Blazers’ game plan, but Portland has suffered more due to his defensive woes than they’ve gained for his offensive boards and second-chance opportunities.

Aminu is just as capable of grabbing offensive boards — he’s a good shot-blocker and has the foot speed and length necessary to contest shots and keep up with Curry and Thompson in pick-and-roll scenarios — able to chase them off the 3-point line.

A lineup of Lillard, CJ McCollum, Evan Turner, Mo Harkless and Aminu would allow the Blazers to match the Warriors’ small lineup, as Andrew Bogut was merely a decoy for Steve Kerr in Game 1, playing for only eight minutes.

Terry Stotts will need to make his adjustments fast or risk going down 2-0 in the series against a team that is rapidly finding its groove.