The Portland Trail Blazers led 32-31 after the first quarter of Thursday’s game, putting up an early fight against the Golden State Warriors despite all odds and expectations otherwise. Once Chauncey Billups was forced to go to his bench, though, the realities of an outwardly tanking team facing off against a surefire title contender quickly came to the fore.
Golden State dropped 39 second-quarter points, with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson running roughshod over the largely anonymous Blazers, who had three players make their Rip City debuts. Even if Keon Johnson, Drew Eubanks and Brandon Williams were more comfortable with their new team’s schemes and strategy, it’s safe to say the Warriors would’ve pulled away regardless.
“I thought they played hard and they played well,” Billups said of Portland’s newcomers, “you’re just playing against a juggernaut. They do a really good job of starting Steph and Klay against backups to increase their lead or get off to a good start in the second quarter. They always do a pretty good job of that. They kinda took off on us there, they had 39 points in that quarter, and that really hurt us. We could never really recover.”
Golden State led by 14 at intermission after blazing nets to 62.5% shooting in the second quarter, on its way to a blowout 132-95 victory. Anfernee Simons led the Blazers with 24 points on 7-of-14 from the field, while Williams and fellow recent additions Josh Hart and Justise Winslow also reached double-figures.
Portland was playing without not just Damian Lillard, but also Jusuf Nurkic, who the team announced on Wednesday would miss at least four weeks while dealing with plantar fasciitis in his left foot—its most brazen efforts at losing yet. All momentum suggests Lillard won’t return before season’s end, joining Nassir Little on the sidelines until 2022-23. No one would be surprised if Nurkic’s season is over, too.
Painful as a 37-point loss is for the Blazers, it comes in service of the bigger picture, one clearly envisioned by the front office, coaching staff and core players alike.
Thursday’s defeat pushes Portland to 25-35, a game-and-a-half ahead of the San Antonio Spurs for tenth place in the Western Conference. The Blazers only retain their first-round pick this summer if it lands in the lottery, all the incentive they need to fall out of play-in position over the last seven weeks of the regular season.
Undeterred by a blowout loss and his team’s frank focus on long-term priorities, though, Williams was beaming during his postgame press conference.
“It’s a dream come true,” he said of playing in Portland under Billups. “I couldn’t want it any other way.”