The healthy, happy people of the San Francisco Bay Area don’t lag in fashion, or much of anything else, and on Sunday at the Oracle Arena, they enjoyed a T-shirt that proclaimed their team’s “Strength in Numbers.” For at least one more game, it will be in those multitudes that the Golden State Warriors must rely to advance in America’s professional basketball championships.
Amid the many, there has been a singular one at their core. Now, Steph Curry is out because of a sprained knee and a bad ankle, which lent more meaning to the slogan on the shirts. With Curry scheduled to miss at least one more game in the Warriors’ NBA Western Conference semifinal test against the Portland Trail Blazers, the pressure has increased on the Warriors’ legions, several of whom pulled more than enough weight Sunday to make up for Curry’s missing 180 pounds.
In looking for primary causes in Golden State’s 118-106 Game 1 victory over Portland, you can start with Curry’s backcourt partner, Klay Thompson. He nailed a couple of three-point shots before Rip City could pull the cords on its parachute. On his way to a 37-point game, Thompson finished the quarter with 18, and the Warriors pretty much had Game 1 laid out to dry on a beautiful afternoon by the bay.
Beforehand, somebody asked Warriors coach Steve Kerr about the previous night’s destruction of the Oklahoma City Thunder by the San Antonio Spurs. Did Kerr take notes out of the Gregg Popovich playbook about the importance of putting your foot on the other guys’ throat in the opening moments?
“No,” Kerr said, although you wouldn’t have known it by what transpired in the opening moments of his own game. “It would be great to say, ‘Let’s play like the Spurs did.’ It’s, unfortunately, not quite that simple.”
Then the game started, and 18 seconds into it, Thompson bombed from afar, and Portland didn’t get any closer. Next thing the Trail Blazers knew, the quarter was over and they were down by 20. It was almost as bad as the 23 points by which the Spurs throttled the Thunder in the first quarter of their game.
Now, for the sacrilege.
Nobody should ever minimize Curry’s value to the Warriors, but you can’t deny the significant matchup problem that Golden State presented to Portland even with the reigning and presumptive MVP seated sleekly on the bench in a snappy blue jacket over a black T-shirt and black leather pants.
Thompson, at 6-foot-7 and 205 pounds, physically dominated Portland’s talented guards. Neither Damian Lillard, who is 6-3, nor C.J. McCollum, at 6-4, could handle him.
Meanwhile, the replacement for the 6-3 Curry happened to be 6-7 Shaun Livingston, who, along with Thompson, gave both Lillard and McCollum something to think about every time they moved the ball into the offensive end. Like making a shot, for instance. Pestered by Livingston and Thompson and other pillars in Golden State’s numerical strength, Portland’s starting guards missed 22 of their first 27 shots.
“One of the strengths of our team is our length on the wings,” Kerr said afterward, “with Andre (Iguodala) and Shaun Livingston, and then we’ve got Harrison (Barnes) and Draymond (Green) switching out on those guys sometimes. I thought our guys did a good job just in terms of making everything difficult. There’s no guarantee it’s going to work again, but we just have to continue to try and challenge shots, the same thing we always do, the same thing everybody tries to do.”
Lillard, the championship human being out of Oakland and Weber State, finished with 30 points despite a chest cold that has been bothering him. But he only made three of his first 17 shots through three quarters, after which Portland was still down by 20.
On a weekend when the Bay Area football teams drafted three Michigan State players, an older East Lansing alumnus laid down a marker for the NorCal Spartans. Draymond Green, MSU class of ’12, contributed a triple double to the Warriors’ victory, and his 23 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists were strong numbers indeed. He also blocked three shots, as did Golden State center Andrew Bogut.
Green holds a bachelor’s degree in communications, and he used it to deliver something of a message to the Blazers when they reduced the Warriors’ lead to nine points late in the second quarter. In the final 103 seconds of the period, Green blocked McCollum on a layup, corralled rebounds on both ends of the floor, hit a shot of his own and threw a touchdown pass that Thompson laid into the net to help bump the lead up to 14 at halftime.
The advantage is Golden State’s, with the series resuming Tuesday in Oakland and Saturday in Portland, at which point the strongest of the Warriors’ numbers – Curry – is expected to return.