After a comeback victory in Game 1, the Golden State Warriors eviscerated the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 2 with a masterful defensive performance. However, they traveled to Portland for a Game 3 that by all rights should have been a trap game. The Warriors had lost their last six consecutive Game 3's, and Kevin Durant was ruled out for the contest. To add to the potential issues for Golden State, Steve Kerr missed the game due to illness.
The Warriors seemed to be ready to roll over in the first half of Game 3. Portland scored 37 points in the first quarter--their highest point total for a quarter this season. The Warriors were down 67-54 at halftime, and all the positive trends from their Game 2 win were conspicuously absent as the game started to get out of hand.
Then, the third quarter started, and the real Warriors seemed to take the floor. Golden State outscored Portland 33-21 in the third to cut their 13-point deficit down to one. They then controlled the game once Steph Curry came back in the fourth quarter, and wrapped up a 3-0 series lead. Although there were some troubling signs for Golden State early in this game, the Warriors showed their dominance with their strong second half. They may have been without two of their key pieces in Kerr and Durant (in addition to the absences of Shaun Livingston and Matt Barnes), but Golden State's other stars still carried them to yet another win.
Battle of the Centers
Jusuf Nurkic may have only scored four points in this game, but he had a clear positive impact on the game for the Trail Blazers. He didn't light up the scoring column, but he grabbed 11 rebounds and dished out four assists in just 17 minutes of playing time. He ended the night with a plus-minus of +8, the best number for any Portland player in this game and better than all but three Warriors.
Unlike Meyers Leonard or Noah Vonleh, the Warriors had to commit to Nurkic when he had the ball down low. Nurkic was not able to turn those post-ups into points (barring a solid move to the basket early in the first quarter), but his offensive gravity in the post created space behind the arc and opened the lane for cuts to the rim:
Nurkic was clearly still affected by his leg injury. He was barely able to jog up the floor and was struggling to jump more than a few inches on any play. Unfortunately, Nurkic will probably miss the rest of the playoffs:
Nurkic may have changed the flow of the game for Portland, but that injury may have been the reason why he did not play a single minute against the most dominant center in this game and the biggest X-factor in this series. JaVale McGee had a solid performance in Game 1, finishing with six points and five rebounds in just under ten minutes of playing time. He built on that game with a spectacular Game 2 performance. His box score line from that night is worth a few double-takes: 15 points on seven field goal attempts and one free throw attempt, five rebounds, and four blocks in 13 minutes of playing time, with a plus-minus of +19.
McGee followed up that fantastic performance with another brilliant showing in Game 3: 14 points on eight shots and two free throw attempts and four rebounds and a game-high plus-minus of +24 in only 16 minutes of playing time. Without Nurkic on the floor, the lane was open for McGee to soar to the rim for alley-oops:
It is hard to imagine that McGee could potentially play more minutes going forward. He will still occasionally get lost on defense, which will be more of a problem in the second round and beyond. Additionally, his asthma issues and general all-out sprinting during his minutes would make it tough for him to be effective in a larger role.
In his current role, however, he is a perfect fit for the Warriors. Teams have to stick to Golden State's perimeter players like glue, which gives McGee a highway-sized open lane to the basket on nearly every play. When that is coupled with the Warriors' terrific passing, there is nothing a team like Portland can do to stop McGee. This trend might not continue in the later rounds of the playoffs, but for now, JaVale is essentially unstoppable.
Draymond Green may have only scored two points after halftime, but his fingerprints were all over Golden State's run down the stretch of this game. Green finished the night with nine points, eight rebounds, seven assists, six blocks, and two steals. He might not have scored much in the third and fourth quarters, but all eight of his rebounds, five of his seven assists, and both of his steals came after the break.
The Trail Blazers may have lit up the scoreboard in the first half, but they only managed 46 after the break, mostly due to Draymond's unparalleled ability to switch onto anyone. He is possibly the best help defender in the league, and he messes up on defense about as frequently as the Chicago Bulls lose on TNT. He once again humiliated poor Noah Vonleh with a late game block on a dunk attempt:
Portland's forwards are overmatched in trying to deal with Draymond. That disparity was even more clear with Kevin Durant on the floor, but Draymond alone is enough to control this series. The matchups in the frontcourt are all going Golden State's way, but the real battle of this series has been between the team's guards.
After a rough showing in Game 2, Portland's star-studded backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum roared back in Game 3. McCollum scored 30 points on 23 shots including six of nine shooting from deep and played fantastic defense on Klay Thompson barring his requisite third quarter hot streak. McCollum's defensive growth this season has gone somewhat under the radar, but he has made a statement on that end of the floor in this series.
Portland may have won the shooting guard matchup, but Steph Curry won the point guard battle with a strong second half. After scoring 15 points on 14 shots in the first half, Curry responded with 19 points on 11 shots in the second half, including the dagger late in the fourth quarter:
Portland's only real chance at a victory in this series is dominating the backcourt battle. Even their Game 1 heroics were not enough to top the Warriors. The guard matchup in this game was effectively a draw, which is an untenable position for Portland given their disadvantages in the frontcourt. Even with the Warriors missing a former MVP, some key bench players, and their coach, Portland could not overcome Golden State once they turned on the gas in the second half.
Jusuf Nurkic showed tonight that this series could have been interesting if he was healthy. However, that appears as if that will not be the case--even though he played tonight, his minutes were limited and he now will miss at least the next game. While the Blazers have to be lauded for their efforts, this series will almost certainly end with Game 4 on Monday night.