Like the Cleveland Cavaliers a day prior, the Golden State Warriors faced far more resistance than expected in their playoff opener. And just like Cleveland, Golden State did what champions do: battened down the hatches with the game on the line and got the job done.
Kevin Durant scored 32 points and Stephen Curry added 29, as the Warriors overcame sterling performances from CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard on their way to a 121-109 win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday at Oracle Arena.
Golden State's 16th win in its last 17 games came with a much higher degree of difficulty than the pregame 15-point spread predicted. The Blazers matched the Warriors shot for shot for the first three quarters, with the two teams going into the final 12 minutes tied at 88.
McCollum and Lillard did nearly all the heavy lifting early, scoring 48 of Portland's 56 first-half points. Portland's role players got into the mix in the third, and it seemed like the Blazers had a legitimate shot at pulling off a shocking upset.
Then the Warriors went Full Warriors and never looked back.
Golden State opened the fourth quarter on a 15-2 run with Curry and Durant on the bench, playing its best stretch of two-way basketball to get in the open court for easy buckets. Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Ian Clark led a three-man weave as Curry and Durant watched on, with the pair returning with more than six minutes remaining to seal the deal.
The Warriors' game-cinching run led to some understandable exhaling from those who expected an easy series:
Green was a two-way menace, fortifying Golden State's defense in critical moments and acting as a playmaking fulcrum on offense. He finished with 19 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists, narrowly missing out on his third playoff triple-double. Green also added five blocks and three steals in a strong defensive effort.
Cassidy Hubbarth of ESPN has her Defensive Player of the Year pick ready:
"He just played a game that no one else in the league is capable of," Durant told reporters after the game.
The difference in the game was ultimately turnovers—and specifically both teams' success rates when they got those chances. Golden State turned 14 Portland turnovers into 19 points. The Blazers were only able to score 10 off the Warriors' 16 gaffes.
The Blazers also got precious little scoring help from players outside of Lillard (34 points) and McCollum (41 points). Evan Turner (12 points, 10 rebounds) and Moe Harkless (11 points) were in double figures, but Portland got next to nothing from anyone else. Its bench finished with nine total points and shot 3-of-14 as a unit; McCollum and Shabazz Napier (who took one shot) were the only players who made at least half their shots.
Perhaps this game more than any is where the Blazers missed center Jusuf Nurkic, who remains out of the lineup with a fractured leg. Nurkic averaged 15.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists in 20 games after coming over in a deadline deal with the Denver Nuggets. He became a vital playmaker from the interior and high post while also adding solid defense near the rim.
Without Nurkic in the lineup, the Warriors never needed to worry about being at a size disadvantage. Zaza Pachulia and JaVale McGee played a combined 22 minutes, with the latter proving highly effective in his limited time. The Warriors have always been better playing without a traditional big, though, and Nurkic's absence allows them to do that whenever they want.
McGee and Clark were responsible for 18 of Golden State's 22 bench points. Thompson took mostly a background role aside from the early fourth-quarter run, finishing with 15 points.
The Warriors shot 53.1 percent from the field and missed just four of their 28 free throws.
Golden State will attempt to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series Wednesday night in Oakland.
Point spread via OddsShark.com.