SAN FRANCISCO — After losing116-94 to the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, the Portland Trail Blazers returned to work by holding practice Wednesday afternoon at UCSF Mission Bay in San Francisco. Some notes from practice…
• Of the various storylines surrounding Game 1, none got more attention than the Trail Blazers’ inability to slow Golden State’s starting backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. The “Splash Brothers” combined for well over half of Golden State’s 116 points Tuesday night, thanks in large part to Curry tying his career mark for made three-pointers in a playoff game with nine, and on just 15 attempts. A number of those attempts were wide open, a grievous sin to commit when playing against arguably the greatest shooter in NBA history, causing some to question whether Portland’s habit of dropping their center back while defending the pick-and-roll was the right decision.
After being somewhat resistant immediately following Game 1, Portland’s players and coaches did admit at practice on Wednesday that they probably needed to come with a different approach in Game 2, even if their pick-and-roll defense wasn’t the entirety of why they were unable to come away with a victory Tuesday night.
“I think there’s obviously some adjustments we’ll make in our pick-and-roll coverages, try not to get those guys get as many clean looks as they did,” said Damian Lillard. “But I think it’s easy to look at the game, look at the final score, losing by 20 and it seems like we just got blew out the water, but going into the fourth, it was a six-point game.”
Head coach Terry Stotts pointed to the same thing — that for all their faults, they were still within striking distance going into the fourth — though he did concede that they’ll need to at least try to change their standard approach to defending the most ubiquitous offensive action in basketball.
“(Stephen Curry) had 20 pick-and-rolls, he scored five times on them, but they were all threes,” said Stotts. “I think we have to rethink it. But we were down six going into the fourth quarter, and Steph had one basket in the fourth quarter. They scored 39 in the fourth quarter without him scoring in a pick-and-roll, so it goes beyond that. But yes, we have to revisit what we want to do on the pick-and-rolls.”
And they have some options, including using different lineups that would allow for more switching, hedging and/or trapping Golden State’s ball handlers, bringing their center higher up the floor on defense to limit available space and simply doing a better job of negotiating picks.
“Whatever we do, we have to do it better than we did last night,” said Moe Harkless. “I also think, or we’re going to, we talked about making adjustments. I think adjustments will be good but we have to go out there and we have to do it well at the same time.”
• When teams come up with their game plan for slowing down the Trail Blazers, the first, second and third priority is always figuring out a way to get the ball out of Damian Lillard’s hands. While the Thunder were foolish enough attempt single coverage on Lillard, and with disastrous results, teams like the Pelicans, Nugget and, now, the Warriors have opted to send multiple defenders at the 6-3 point guard out of Weber State early and often, and sometimes when he’s done little more than cross halfcourt.
“Coming in, I know that teams are going to try to make my life hard,” said Lillard. “Any opportunity that I do get is going to be tough to get it… But that just means I’ve got to do a much better job of making then pay when they give me that attention.”
While Lillard’s performance in Game 1 wasn’t up to his normal standards — he finished with 19 points on 4-of-12 shooting, six assists, four rebounds and seven turnovers — he has struggled a bit shooting the ball as of late. In his last five games, Lillard is shooting just 38 percent from the field and has made more than two three-pointers just once, leaving some to question if fatigue or injury has slowed the 2018 First-Team All-NBA honoree. That doesn’t seem to be the case, and it should be noted that Portland shot just 36 percent from the field and 25 percent from three a team in Game 1, though Lillard readily admits that he needs to do better on both sides of the ball if the Blazers are ever to steal a game in his hometown of Oakland.
“It’s obviously a group responsibility but I have the ball in my hands a lot,” said Lillard. “A lot of what we do, it’s not on my shoulders, but I’m responsible for a lot of our offensive possessions because Coach allows me to call the game, he trusts my instincts, trusts the plays that I made. When we coming in a series like this where you got to play good offense to have a chance to win, it’s more pressure on me to value possessions and create quality offense. I’ve just got to be better at it, I think it’s as simple as that. After watching film, I was encouraged by things that I could have done better to put our team in a better position.”
• While the Trail Blazers, just like every team lucky enough to still be playing at this point in the postseason, are a bit dinged up, only center Jusuf Nurkic (broken left leg) is on Portland’s injury report for Thursday’s Game 2.
Specifically, that means that Rodney Hood, who suffered a bone bruise in his left knee during Portland’s series-clinching victory in Game 7 versus the Nuggets on Sunday afternoon, will be available for Game 2. While his status for Game 1 wasn’t decided until less than an hour before tipoff and he noted before the game that he’s still experiencing a significant amount of pain, Hood was one of Portland’s most productive players, going 4-of-8 from the field, 2-of-5 from three and 7-of-7 from the free throw line for 17 points in 26 minutes.
“It’s tough but at this point it’s lay everything on the line,” said Hood. “If I’m a liability out there on either end, I think i’d be doing a disservice to my team and I probably wouldn’t play. But I’ve just got to battle through it. Everybody is bang up at this point, on both teams, Enes been fighting his shoulder thing since the first round. If I can go out there, jog around and do whatever I can to help, I’m gonna be out there.”
Kanter has been playing through a shoulder injury since the first round, and also has to deal with not being able to drink, eat or take medicine during daytime hours as he observes the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. But he too had a quality effort in Game 1, going 4-of-9 from the field for 10 points while grabbing a game-high 16 rebounds in 29 minutes.
Then there’s Damian Lillard, who was seen during ESPN’s broadcast of Game 1 grabbing at his hamstring, leaving some to wonder if the 6-3 point guard was being slowed by injury. Lillard admitted prior to practice on Wednesday that he was experiencing some discomfort, though he chalked it up to an errand collision rather than something more serious.
“Just a little bit sore,” said Lillard. “I haven’t seen the exact clip but I felt like I got kneed in my hamstring, I felt like there was some contact. I’m not sure what it was but it was just a little bit sore.”