Green delivered a playoff triple-double (23 points, 13 boards, 11 assists) in his continued rebuke to those who might assume he’s merely a product of Stephen Curry, or whatever “system” might allow a man to do everything capably. Thompson scored 37 points (28 shots) in a similar means of proving. There was also another more subtle factor that helped swing Game 1.
“I just told the guys that we got to come out with a defensive mindset and that’s pretty much it,” Green said after the game. “I think we can pretty much just stay solid and get good stuff on the offensive end, but against this team, we just got to come out with a defensive mindset when Steph’s not out there.”
The Warriors are praised for their fast-paced, fan-friendly offense and, occasionally, given credit for their aggressive, switching defense. That general appraisal ignores certain qualities that inform their success. Specifically, the Warriors’ rim protection could be a defining difference in this series. On Sunday, it spoke to a vast difference: Portland was 7-of-24 within 3 feet of the rim, whereas Golden State was 9-of-18, and even better before the game got out of hand.
“When Steph’s out there, we can go toe-to-toe with anybody from offense and probably have the advantage,” Green said. “But when he’s not out there, you’ve got to get it done on the defensive end. So if it’s anything, just telling the guys, ‘Come out, don’t worry about any offense.'”
For all their talent, the Blazers are largely bereft of rim protection, relying on center Mason Plumlee to compensate in other ways. In contrast, Golden State has a rim-protection glut. The Blazers could have used someone like Festus Ezeli in this game, and the Warriors didn’t play him at all. Andrew Bogut, coming off a lengthy rest, was a force around the rim, most notably when he suddenly took the air out of an ambitious Plumlee dunk. On the other side, Golden State was enterprising with their drives against a weak Portland frontline, with Andre Iguodala and others forcing the action to the rim.
“Well, defense is the key against these guys,” coach Steve Kerr said after the game. “They are a tremendous offensive team. They have a great system. They are hard to guard, and they spread you out so much with their shooting that there’s a lot of open lanes.
“So any time we can close the paint and still close out and get out to shooters or block a shot, obviously that’s a huge help. But it’s going to be tough guarding these guys this whole series. They are really good.”
It’s not just Bogut’s rim protection that helps Golden State gain an edge, but also what Green offers defensively. When the Blazers attack Bogut with Damian Lillard in pick-and-roll, Golden State can counter with Green at center. When Green guards the screener for Lillard, he can simply switch onto Portland’s star PG. He boasts this ability plus the skill to disrupt attempts at the rim.
These advantages help the Warriors sell out in chasing Lillard and CJ McCollum off the arc, knowing full well they have a safety net. On Sunday, 32 of the 43 shots McCollum and Lillard took were contested, of which they made a combined 8. Even with Curry out for, at least, multiple games, Portland has a thin margin of error in this underdog effort.