The Golden State Warriors were expected to have an easy time in this series. In our series preview, my colleague Tyler Watts predicted a 4-1 Warriors series victory. The Warriors appeared to have a slight advantage in the backcourt with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson over Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. They appeared to have a massive advantage everywhere else, particularly with Jusuf Nurkic missing the first game. The opening game in Oracle seemed destined for a Warriors blowout.
Instead, Portland kept the game close for most of the night. The two teams were tied 88-88 heading into the fourth quarter. Then, the Warriors took over in the fourth quarter on both ends and ran away with a 121-109 victory.
Although the final margin shows a comfortable Warriors win, this game was neck-and-neck for all but the final 12 minutes. Five key trends shone through in this game that will influence the course of the series going forward. Ranked below in order of importance, these factors may not all reappear after tonight but all five could turn the outcome of this first round matchup.
#5: Damian Lillard (Slightly) Outplaying Steph Curry
Both star point guards came to play on the first night of this series. Steph Curry went 9-19 from the floor and finished with 29 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists. However, he also finished with 5 turnovers and 5 fouls. Those turnovers were costly in the early portion of the game and helped keep things close in the first half.
Lillard was slightly less efficient than Curry, but he finished with 34 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists. He also played with more control than Curry for most of the night, finishing with only 3 turnovers and 2 fouls.
The biggest difference between the two players was whatever happened in their respective locker rooms at halftime. Lillard finished the first half with 21 points in the first half on 6-11 shooting but scored only 13 points on 15 shots in the second half. Curry, on the other hand, scored only 13 points in the first half on 4-10 shooting but fared far better in the second half, scoring 16 points on nine shots.
Lillard might not be able to outplay Curry for the entire series. However, the Trail Blazers would be more than happy to have him balance Steph out. If Lillard can keep pace with Curry throughout the series, Portland might have a chance at claiming an upset after a disappointing opening game.
#4: The Bench Wars
Portland's starters actually outscored the Warriors' starters in this game 100-99. The margin of the game instead came from the Golden State bench outscoring Portland's 22-9, including a 13-2 run to open the fourth quarter without either Curry or Durant on the floor.
This lack of balance was even more obvious in the first half, as Portland managed to eke out just eight points from everyone not named Damian Lillard or C.J. McCollum. While neither team will rely on their bench for much given the shortened rotation in the playoffs, Portland will have to get better performances from those backups for Lillard and McCollum to have a chance at steering their squad to victory.
#3: C.J. McCollum (Massively) Outplaying Klay Thompson
The Trail Blazers should be happy that Damian Lillard managed to win his matchup tonight against Steph Curry. They should be ecstatic about how C.J. McCollum thoroughly dominated Klay Thompson on both ends of the floor, as he showed by shedding Thompson's coverage multiple times as he does here:
McCollum is known for his defense far more than his offense, but both parts of his game were on full display in Game One. McCollum put up 41 points on 28 shots and 8 rebounds while holding Thompson to just 15 points on 16 shots including a 1-6 showing from deep.
While the two trends below will probably be more important in determining the series as a whole, this matchup was certainly the most surprising result from this first game. McCollum cooled down slightly after a 27-point salvo in the first half, but his ability to score from anywhere on the floor was a thorn in the Warriors' side all night long. The balance of this matchup will almost certainly tip back towards Thompson somewhat as the series goes on, but this performance was more than a little troubling for the Warriors.
#2: Can Anyone Stop Kevin Durant?
The only thing that had a chance at stopping Kevin Durant from lighting it up in this series was rust. Luckily, he recovered from injury at just the right time and got some reps in before the start of the playoffs.
Those reps seem to have made a difference, as Durant led the Warriors in scoring with 32 points on only 20 shots. He also put up 10 boards and thoroughly outplayed whichever of Evan Turner or Maurice Harkless had the unenviable task of trying to keep him in check:
Durant did most of his damage in the mid-range, as he did on the play above. He attempted 10 shots from between five and 19 feet and made eight of them per NBA.com. His ability to convert on those looks was a huge issue for Portland's defense; those are the types of shots that they should be willing to live with, but they may change their tune on that if Durant continues to make almost all of them.
While the Trail Blazers won the backcourt battle in this first game, they were decimated in the battle between the forwards. Durant had a brilliant offensive game, but even that was not enough for him to outplay his main frontcourt partner.
#1: The Dominance of Draymond Green
The Warriors' fourth quarter run began on the defensive end. They held Portland to just two points in the first 5:23 of the quarter--a total that Draymond Green surpassed within the first 20 seconds. He broke the 88-88 tie with a 3-pointer, and Portland never sniffed the lead again.
Draymond finished the game with 19 points on just ten shots. He added 12 rebounds, nine assists, five blocks and three steals. One of those blocks was by far the biggest highlight of the game:
The box score stats were incredible but still failed to capture just how much Green controlled this game. He played spectacular defense all night long, even as his backcourt mates struggled to keep their opponents from scoring. He created more looks for his teammates than anyone else--his nine assists were more than double that of anyone else in the game.
Draymond Green will probably be the main reason that the Trail Blazers lose this series. Portland simply has no-one who can stop him on offense, and no-one who can score over him on defense. Green shut down his opposition while playing man defense, but he is also arguably the best help defender in the league. He would occasionally rotate over to help on C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard, especially after their scoring outbursts in the first half. The results were not pretty for the Trail Blazers:
Even if Jusuf Nurkic does return for Portland, he is not quick enough to keep up with Draymond on either end. Green's dominance, combined with Durant's scoring brilliance, led the Warriors to victory despite an incredible scoring display from Portland's backcourt. That is certainly a bad omen for anyone who hoped that the Trail Blazers might have a chance at taking a game from the Warriors.