Warriors vs. Blazers Angles: What KD’s Absence Means, Where Portland Goes from Here and Game 4 Plays
Photo credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Damian Lillard
Game 4: Golden State Warriors at Portland Trail Blazers Betting Odds
- Spread: Warriors -3
- Over/Under: 219
- Time: 9 p.m. ET
- TV Channel: ESPN
- Series Score: Warriors Lead 3-0
>> All odds as of 5:30 p.m. ET. Download The Action Network App to get real-time odds and live win probabilities on your bets.
In time, the inevitability of the Warriors has become routine. We’ve passed over how they win and supplanted it with “of course they win.” That’s where we stand entering Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals with the Dubs up 3-0.
This series is all but done. It’s a question of whether the Warriors do what the Warriors tend to do — screw around for a game and let the other team get one before focusing in and closing it out at Oracle.
But there’s a lot of subtext in where the Warriors are at, both in this current run and overall. Let’s hit it from several angles.
THE DURANT QUESTION
The Warriors have been down by 28 points combined in the past two games at the half. That’s simply wild given that they are 2-0 straight-up in those games. All this vibes with what we’ve come to learn about the Warriors with and without Kevin Durant, however.
With Durant, their floor is higher. The shots aren’t falling for the Splash Brothers? The energy isn’t there? More of a grind-it-out game? Easy. Give it to the 7-foot sniper and let him go to work, and he’ll carry you on defense just with his presence.
Their ceiling, though, is lower. The third quarter of Game 3 is kind of the perfect example of this. Trailing by 14 to start the half, the Warriors started pushing the pace relentlessly behind Draymond Green’s playmaking. When that starts happening, the relentlessness of Green, compounded by the spacing caused by Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, becomes an on-court storm.
We’ve outlined it before, but the Warriors play at a faster pace (relative to opponent pace) without Durant and take a significantly higher volume of 3s. They are fundamentally different without him.
The overall numbers for the Warriors with and without KD tell one story, and the numbers for Curry, Green and Thompson tell another:
Now some of this is certainly influenced by the opponent. The Clippers and Rockets were better defensive teams than Portland (without Jusuf Nurkic), and the Rockets were a better offensive team. There’s certainly some context needed. And the Warriors overall are still very slightly better with Durant (+9.0) than the Big 3 are without him (+8.9).
Still, look at that! The Big 3 are beating teams by 8.9 points per 100 possessions without Durant. That’s crazy! It’s a beatdown.
The reality with Durant is the same it has been since the day he popped on the Player’s Tribune three years ago: The Warriors are better with Kevin Durant, but they don’t need him. The Warriors’ best with Draymond, Klay and Curry is still better than what any team can throw at them.
Now vs. the Bucks? That might be different because the Bucks defense is good enough to prevent them from hitting that ceiling. Against the Raptors? It’s maybe 50/50. In a Finals matchup, they might need KD if the Warriors can’t find their rhythm vs. those teams. They also need the depth to be able to throw out bench units that can survive vs. Milwaukee or dominate Toronto’s woeful second unit.
But for all the wrist-slapping from those who think it’s an absurd question to wonder if Golden State is better without Durant: it’s not. I believe the Warriors are better with Durant because they manage to work around his isolation demands and their defense is bonkers with him because of what he provides in rim protection, individual defense and length.
But it’s absolutely a question worth asking, which leads to an even more interesting one for this summer: Should Kevin Durant re-sign with a team that doesn’t need him?
Game 4 presents a fascinating opportunity: Do the Warriors ease up and let this go five? Or do they end it outright?
Bear in mind the number of games their series have gone in the Kerr era, pre-Durant:
- 2015 Pelicans: 4
- 2015 Grizzlies: 6
- 2015 Rockets: 5
- 2015 Cavaliers: 5
- 2016 Rockets: 5
- 2016 Blazers: 5
- 2016 Thunder: 7
- 2016 Cavaliers: 7
That’s one sweep the entire time. In fact, in the Kerr era, the Warriors have had only five sweeps, with three coming in 2017 vs. a very similar Blazers team, a limited Jazz team and the Spurs without Kawhi Leonard. This Blazers team is playing better than that one did, but overall the rosters are similar without Jusuf Nurkic.
Conversely, that’s four “Gentleman’s Sweeps” pre-Durant, along with two more since. The Warriors also aren’t as good this year, with or without Durant. Their defense is significantly worse this season (1.7 points worse per 100 possessions) and has been worse every season of the Kerr era in the playoffs. Their bench is a mess, despite it surging vs. a Blazers second unit that’s somehow worse.
The sharpest angle I can find is that this Warriors team, without Durant to go off and have a 40-point night, isn’t good enough to win two on the road especially after the emotional high of Game 3’s comeback.
On the Blazers side, Portland is playing for “pride” at this point:
Asked @MeyersLeonard11 today about his mindset going into Game 4: "Have pride. Simple as that. We have a group of guys that really care and love to win. We're going to come out and we're going to fight and we're going to give them a really good effort." #RipCity @trailblazers
— Jay Allen (@PDXjay) May 19, 2019
That’s not a great sign, but it’s hard to blame them given the realities of being down 0-3. If Leonard said “we can still do this,” he’d get mocked for being unrealistic; the only way to approach it is to go one game at a time.
Still, you can tell that the Blazers know they can’t beat this team. Damian Lillard has a separated rib, and even if he didn’t the Warriors blitz continues to completely shut him down.
Lillard’s assists over 6.5 continue to be a worthwhile bet because of how hard the Warriors are making him pass and the actions that result from it.
Where the Blazers go from here, whether it ends in 4 or 5, is interesting. On the one hand, I was ready to pass this off as a really heartwarming season that didn’t actually mean much. They had the biggest shot in recent franchise history with “37 feet” vs. the Thunder and the Game 7 victory vs. the Nuggets on the road. They made some great memories, cemented Dame’s legacy forever in Portland and then got smacked by the Warriors as most Cinderella teams do.
However, watching this series play out, I’m actually of the mindset Portland is closer than you might think. Look at that first-half disparity. Up by an average of 14 points in the first half, you must have done something right. All this without Lillard having anything. If you can find a way to relieve that pressure on the blitz, things change substantially.
To be precise, while Jusuf Nurkic would certainly help as a roll man — he’s a good passer off the short roll — the Blazers need a playmaking 4 who is an upgrade from Al-Farouq Aminu (or for Aminu to make a huge stride there). Let me put it this way: If you take Draymond Green off the Warriors and put him on the Blazers, this series flips, and even with Kevin Durant back the Blazers are way more primed for a win.
Those players are very difficult to find, but it also clarifies what the Blazers need. They are good enough to make the Western Conference Finals without it, and if they add one more shooter on the wing (or if Rodney Hood develops into that role) and a guy to make the play off the screen when teams blitz Lillard, the Blazers are an entirely different team. You can absolutely say Green makes almost every team in the league better, but the Blazers specifically need one type of player to get them to the next level.
There’s value in that. I’m not as down on Portland’s future as I was coming into this series, believing then that this may be as good as it gets.
- Lillard over 6.5 assists off passes out of the blitz.
- Blazers over 108 points: Guys will shoot better with the pressure off, playing for fun and pride, and Andre Iguodala’s injury means more minutes for worse defenders.
- Combined under 219: Hedges against the opposite happening with Portland. This can also hit with a cold Warriors shooting night or foul trouble for Curry.
- Blazers +4: I grabbed it at its highest point; it’s not going to get back to this number again. There’s less value obviously at +3 but still not enough to think in a vacuum there’s good value on Golden State, especially with Iguodala questionable for this game.