If last night was one thing in particular, it was flawless. The All-Star hangover, punctuated by a longer than normal break, thrust the Blazers into a frenzy instead of an end of vacation malaise. They were sharp and crisp. They were energetic and single-minded. They would have beaten the ’72 Lakers, the ’84 Celtics, the ’96 Bulls. But it was the Warriors that made it unimaginably perfect.
Oakland native Damian Lillard scored a career high 51 points against the team he grew up watching and cheering for. As for the despised visitors, Klay Thompson was back in the city where he lived for over a decade with his father, former Blazer Mychal Thompson. The Rip City crowd yelled and cheered and screamed their lungs out in ecstasy at the annihilation but were probably unaware that the name Rip City was given to them by former NBA player Jim Barnett, who is part of the Warriors television broadcast crew. So on both sides, lines were blurred.
The Warriors are the ones that usual take a tie game and turn it into a blow out catastrophe but on this Friday night it was the Blazers who created an unstoppable hysteria of points. When it seemed like the game was going to be a back and forth struggle, the Blazers led by one. A little under two minutes left in the first quarter gave birth to a tsunami. How do you score 12 points in 97 seconds? Like this.
Two free throws. A Lillard driving layup. A Lillard triple. Another Lillard bomb. A Lillard jumper. 42 points in one quarter by the Blazers against a team with history in their sights, a team that had only lost 4 games. But if you peel away the glamour and the Bulls record and the Steph Curry off the bounce threes, the Warriors have been living a secret. You can score on them.
Last season, teams scored 99.9 points against the Warriors. This season it is 103.6.
The way you beat the Warriors is to score, particularly in the backcourt. What the Warriors usually do is stash Curry on a shooting guard and take their chances. Except the Blazers two guard is C.J. McCollum. That’s not going to work. It has to be noted that Lillard can’t guard Curry either. Neither are top level defenders. So these matchups will always come down to someone else or something else.
That something else were Warriors turnovers. They are one of the league’s worst in ball protection, ranked 26th. A quick guard tandem like Lillard and McCollum can turn the Warriors mistakes into easy points which the Blazers did in the 3rd quarter.
Curry turnover. McCollum floater. Iguodala turnover. Harkless layup. Green turnover. Harkless triple. Green turnover. Henderson layup.
A perfect night.
The Warriors are viewed like all champions are viewed (except the 2011 Dallas Mavericks). Perception being reality means the Warriors have an arrogance fugue infecting everything they do and last night was no different as they laughed repeatedly on the bench as they were getting their asses kicked. But the truth is, the Warriors didn’t play this game like they cared. They play the Clippers tonight who they simply can’t stand and L.A. ‘s other team will get the full Warriors effort. The Blazers didn’t. The question still remains: can the Blazers beat the Warriors when the Warriors are playing well? That it took 51 points from Lillard is celebratory but something to think about. The Blazers backcourt is special but they have to get production out of their frontcourt if they want to be viewed as legitimate playoff threats.
As to those playoffs. Seeds 6-9 are separated by 1.5 games, meaning a bad three or four games and you are out of the playoff hunt. The Blazers are doing their part, winners of 9 out of the last ten. If they do secure the 6th seed, Terry Stotts is a shoe-in for Coach of the Year. After LaMarcus Aldridge left, the Blazers were persona non grata. Now look at them.
Better yet, look at the schedule.
A lot will be decided when the Blazers begin a 6 game trip at the end of February. 5 out of the 6 teams are either in the playoffs or are on the cusp: Bulls, Pacers, Celtics, Raptors, Pistons. The Blazers come home to play the Wizards and then are back on the road to play the Warriors who will undoubtedly have revenge on their minds. Two games later the Blazers are on another holy hell trip: Thunder, Spurs, Pelicans and Mavericks. They come home and play the Mavs and then go to L.a. to play the Clippers. They go to Golden State again in April. At that point, the Warriors will be trying for the Bulls record. Will the Blazers be in or out the playoff hunt?
One thing is for sure. If the Blazers get out of their two monster road trips not bloodied, battered and beaten down, they’ll deserve the playoffs because they will have earned it. The hard way.
photo via llananba