Portland Trail Blazers: 3 Takeaways From Game 1 Loss To Warriors

The Portland Trail Blazers held tough but ultimately fell to the Golden State Warriors. What were some keys to take away from their Game 1 loss?

After three quarters of Game 1, the eighth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers were tied at 88 with the top-seeded Golden State Warriors. But a big run at the beginning of the fourth helped Golden State pull away and defeat the Blazers 121-109.

The Warriors now lead this Western Conference first round matchup, 1-0.

Despite the loss, Blazers fans can still be optimistic that Portland can steal at least one win in this series. But in order to do it, there are a few keys the team should take into account for future games.

Lillard & McCollum Shine In The Spotlight

Portland’s leaders absolutely came out to play on Sunday afternoon.

Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum joined forces for a strong, efficient offensive performance. They combined to score 75 points on 51.9 percent (28-for-54) shooting from the field. Both players were so dominant early on, they accounted for 48 of the team’s 56 points at halftime.

McCollum had the bigger game, scoring a game — and playoff career-high — 41 points. He scored 27 of his points in the first half, tying a Blazers franchise playoff record. He dominated the middle and right side of the floor, scoring at will in a variety of ways.

The impressiveness of his offense was bolstered by his strong defensive effort. Officially, he had middling defensive ratings in the advanced box scores — 116.1 on NBA.com and 121 on Basketball-Reference.

However, he did a great job of sticking with his assignments and making a number of strong shot contests. For instance, he was partially responsible for Klay Thompson‘s 2-for-12 afternoon outside of the paint.

Lillard also had a great afternoon. He finished with 34 points, the third-most he’s ever scored in his 12 career games in his hometown of Oakland.

Lillard was his same aggressive self, putting up shots when the team needed it. However, with McCollum going, he was also willing to concede when necessary. Two of Lillard’s three assists went to McCollum.

It was good to see the team’s star player willing to let a teammate operate when they’re hot instead of forcing his own shots. At the same time, Lillard didn’t compromise his own aggressiveness, knowing that their offense couldn’t be a one-man show.

Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are one of the most dynamic duos in the NBA. These two are the engine that has kept Portland competitive with the Warriors in last year’s semifinals. Their motor will also help Portland stay competitive in this series.

Look for more strong performances out of these two the rest of the way.

The Rest Of The Blazers Must Contribute Offensively

Lillard and McCollum were men on fire in Game 1. However, the rest of the team couldn’t match their dominant production.

Outside of those two, Evan Turner (12 points) and Maurice Harkless (11 points) were the only other Blazers to reach double-digits in scoring. The Portland bench collectively scored only nine points.

The Warriors’ Ian Clark alone outclassed the Blazer backups, notching 12 of Golden State’s 22 bench points.

The lack of production from most the Blazers roster really came to a head in the fourth quarter. The Warriors began swarming Lillard and McCollum on-ball and denying them off-ball. This forced the rest of the team to create their own shots.

They were unable to do so. The Blazers outside of Lillard and McCollum went 2-for-12 from the field in the fourth quarter. As a result, the Warriors were able to go on a 15-2 run to open the quarter. That was the back-breaker in what was a close game.

Draymond Green expressed in his post-game interview with ESPN’s Lisa Salters that the Warriors will likely seek to contain Lillard and McCollum sooner than they did in Game 1. That means the rest of the team will need to step up and deliver when their star players are under duress.

Otherwise, the Blazers won’t be reaching the 109-point mark again as the series continues.

Portland Must Keep The Pace

According to Basketball-Reference, the pace of Game 1 clocked in at 100.1 possessions in 48 minutes. Getting into a track meet with Golden State is usually a dangerous proposition for most teams in the NBA. However, for Portland, it could be a benefit.

Teams that look to slow things down against Golden State normally use methodical half-court sets. Those sets include tons of pick-and-roll and off-ball movement that utilize screens from hulking big men.

On defense, those teams use their bigs to body the Warriors in the paint while their wings and guards pester shooters along the perimeter.

But Portland doesn’t have those big men. They’re either injured, like Jusuf Nurkic, Ed Davis and Festus Ezeli, or, like Meyers Leonard and Al-Farouq Aminu, they struggled mightily in Game 1.

However, Portland is still stocked with dynamic scorers and a number of nimble playmaking guards and wings. These types of players are adept to getting up and down the floor and scoring in bunches.

April 16, 2017; Oakland, CA, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) shoots the basketball against Golden State Warriors forward David West (3) during the second half in game one of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Trail Blazers 121-109. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Blazers are better served keeping these games up-tempo, even though that is a pace the Warriors are more comfortable in. Portland has a number of microwave shooters (Lillard, McCollum, Crabbe) that can get going if the game flow stays consistent.

Meanwhile, a slower pace would expose Portland’s lack of size against a Warriors’ roster that has bigger bodies at every position.

This is something that Terry Stotts seems to be considering. His Game 1 starting lineup had Evan Turner at small forward with Harkless at power forward. Additionally, Stotts rolled out a lineup late in the fourth quarter of Lillard, McCollum, Crabbe, Turner and Harkless.

If Nurkic continues to sit out, and Aminu and Leonard continue to struggle, there may be more of this lineup in the near future.

Terry Stotts has been great at making adjustments late in this season. We will see which ones he makes when the Blazers and Warriors face off in Game 2 on Wednesday.

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