Moore: 4 Keys to Warriors-Blazers, My Series Pick
USA Today Sports. Pictured: Draymond Green, Enes Kanter
- Matt Moore breaks down four keys to the Western Conference Finals between the Golden State Warriors and Portland Trail Blazers, plus makes his series pick.
Let’s run through some of my final thoughts before Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals between the Warriors and Blazers, including keys to the series and my prediction.
1. The Blitz
The Blazers were outscored with Damian Lillard on the floor against Denver to the tune of -4.6 points per 100 possessions. Their 109 offensive rating is good, but well below what you want for your best player.
Denver committed to the same approach New Orleans took last year, blitzing Lillard with two players, playing at the level of the screen and forcing the ball out of his hand.
You’re looking for this:
You contain with the big and force Lillard to give the ball up. And it worked more often than not.
The Nuggets got the ball out of his hands more than a second faster than the Thunder — who stupidly tried to play him straight up — did. And when Dame tried to reject the screen, the Nuggets did a good job of bodying him and maintaining space:
Watch how Gary Harris cuts off the drive when Lillard tries to drive here:
That’s still a shot Lillard can hit, but it’s a step further back than he needed it and Nikola Jokic didn’t let him get downhill.
Now the counter to this, of course, is to split the double. But the Warriors are good enough to be able to show and then help and then pick off the passes to shooters:
So then the counter is to pass to the help man.
But that’s where Draymond Green comes in:
The question will be how the Warriors choose to guard Lillard.
The Warriors are good enough to want to keep to their principles and dare players to beat them. Do they respect Lillard enough to blitz him? When Klay Thompson guarded Lillard in the regular season, Lillard shot 37% from the field and took just 3.3 threes per game when Thompson was guarding him. Thompson can handle that assignment, but blitzing Curry forces other guys to make plays, and the Warriors’ help defense is much better than Denver’s.
If the Warriors screw around here, they could get in trouble.
2. The Triple Switch
The Nuggets’ biggest issue was that they couldn’t stop CJ McCollum. They played him well but just didn’t have the size or athleticism to prevent him from getting to his spots, and McCollum has proven to be an elite shot maker.
The Nuggets put the bigger Torrey Craig on Lillard to muscle and bother him (which worked), and they put Harris on McCollum, who did a good job but McCollum got his shots. That left Jamal Murray hidden on Moe Harkless, who couldn’t punish him, and when that didn’t work, the Blazers got the best Rodney Hood series of his career. (The Nuggets had a lot of guys with bad playoff careers going off. That’s how it goes sometimes.)
However, Hood is out with a knee hyperextension, so the Warriors can now put Thompson (a better defender than Craig) on Lillard and Andre Iguodala (a better defender than Harris) on McCollum, and hide Steph Curry on Harkless or Evan Turner.
Can the other Blazers get loose?
Portland’s big counter there was to crash the glass, which is their saving grace, especially with as much as the Warriors will go to smallball.
3. The Pressure Point
Green has been phenomenal defensively in the playoffs. But he remains the pressure point. The Warriors rely on him so much for weakside help and shutting down opponents on switches, which means that if you can beat him up and turn him into a liability, their whole defensive structure crumbles.
Luckily, the Blazers can rely on … Enes Kanter? Zach Collins?
Kanter is going to get a bunch of what I call “garbage buckets.” That makes it sound like they’re not the product of effort or skill, but that’s not it. They’re just kind of the leftovers. Desperate passes out in traffic that are deflected that he flips in. A short floater that drops juuuust enough. He takes full advantage of the focus the guards force. If Kanter can continuously finish over Green’s contest, that will help the Blazers a lot because they need to destroy the Warriors in the paint.
If Kanter gives them enough production to hurt Green, that helps Lillard a lot.
Without Kevin Durant, the Warriors’ pace goes way, way up. It’s a big reason I expect the over in Game 1, with both teams getting up and down the floor. The Nuggets tried to run in specific situations and had success, but the Blazers adjusted as the series went on. But the Warriors have way more explosiveness in transition.
Does Lillard push to try and get loose? Does he have the energy? Can the Warriors run Kanter off the floor? Does that help Collins, who is good in space?
A lot of this series could hinge on who controls the pace, even though both outcomes create problems for Portland. Push pace and the Warriors could overrun with offense. Slow it down and you’re working into the grinder of the Warriors’ half-court defense.
No good options.
SERIES PICK: Warriors in 5
Portland has had a magical, amazing, emotional playoff run that deserves our respect and admiration. But it’s over. This isn’t the Nuggets or the Thunder with Paul George on one shoulder.
Golden State has too much and gets Durant back if things get dicey.