By Art Spander
OAKLAND — If Steph were there ... Even Draymond Green, who had yet another triple-double, was moved to consider the impossible.
Yes, agreed Green, if Steph Curry had been in uniform, and not on the bench in that sharp, blue sport coat, the Warriors, Green’s Warriors, Steph’s Warriors, “could go toe-to-toe with anybody on offense and probably have the advantage.”
But it’s also understood that the NBA is a league in which success more often is determined not by who makes baskets than by who is unable to make baskets, determined on defense, as preached by Warriors coach Steve Kerr — and he’s hardly alone — andas displayed by the W’s on Sunday in the first game of the NBA Western Conference semifinals.
Again they didn’t have Curry, as was the case at the end of the first-round series against Houston. But again they did have pressure, smothering the Blazers, who made only five of their 21 shots in the first period, building up a lead that was as large as 20 and winning 118-106.
“Our offense, we had trouble scoring,” confirmed Portland coach Terry Stotts. “Their defense got into us.”
Their defense, the Warriors’ D, was Klay Thompson shadowing Damian Lillard, who scored 30 points but was a mediocre 8 for 26 shooting; it was Green blocking two shots and Andrew Bogut three; and it was Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston hindering passes with their extended reaches.
Yes, Thompson hit his shots, 14 of 28 (7 of 14 on threes), and had a game-high 37 points, needed in the absence of Curry. But it was at the other end of the court where Thompson impressed his coach.
“Not many guys could chase Damian Lillard around for 37 minutes,” said Kerr, “and score 37 points too. Klay is a tremendous two-way player, and this was a really amazing night for him just in terms of his all-around play, and obviously we got a lot of good performances from people. But that’s a big burden to have to play both ways like that.
“He was awesome.”
Thompson was an All-Star. Green, 23 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists, was an All-Star. Sometimes we forget because of that All-Star and MVP — and product endorser and NBA scoring leader — Steph Curry.
Yet a team is more than one man, even if it’s a man who can throw in 30-foot jumpers in the blink of an eye.
Curry, restricted by that bad right knee, said in a TV interview he would be surprised if he couldn’t return by game three of this series, next Sunday at Portland. Until then, or even then, the Warriors have to do what they’ve been doing, use all their skills.
“Defense is the key against these guys,” said Kerr, knowing full well “these guys” could mean any team in the league.
“They,” Kerr said of the Blazers, “are a tremendous offensive team. They have a great system. They are hard to guard, and they spread out so much with their shooting that there are a lot of open lanes.”
Those lanes were closed Sunday, just as stretches of Interstate 880 are so often. The Warriors chased and harassed. The Warriors stymied and baffled. “We score a lot of points,” Lillard said of himself and teammate C.J. McCollum. “We’ve got to be better offensively if we want to have a chance against this team.”
That doesn’t come easily against the Warriors, schooled in the idea of taking the other team’s mistakes and pushing the ball down the floor. “Our offense,” said Kerr, “comes off movement. We can’t stand around.”
Green rarely is seen standing or heard silent. He’s the voice of the Warriors, cheering, chanting, hollering. Still, it’s just as much a case of "do as I do" as it is "do as I say." Green leads by admonition. He leads by example.
“I don’t go out there saying, ‘I’ve got to do this, I’ve got to do more of that,’” said Green. “We all have to. Everybody’s got to be more involved on the offensive end. Steph brings so much more to the table that one guy isn’t going to be able to do what he does.
“I just told the guys that we’ve got to come out with a defensive mind-set, and that’s pretty much it. I think we can pretty much just stay solid and get good stuff on the offensive end, but against this team we’ve got to get it done on the defensive end. We’ll get what we need on offense. We did that tonight.”