The conference finals kick off tonight, and first up we have the champs facing the playoff underdogs from Portland. Facing a team without Kevin Durant (at least for game 1), can the Blazers continue their unlikely run?
1) How surprised are we that this WCF features the Warriors and Trail Blazers?
Dom Flaim: Not terribly. I thought Portland would beat OKC, though I picked them to lose last round I wouldn’t have been shocked either way. On a 1-10 scale, maybe a 2 or 3 given that Golden State to me was all but a lock. Nobody on the other side of the bracket would have shocked me much.
Reid Belew: If you would’ve told me this was the outcome before the playoffs started, I would’ve been shocked. After Portland killed us, I almost anticipated it.
Nile McNair: Surprised at the fact Portland was a high enough seed during the regular season to avoid Golden State until now. But it was about time Dame and Chris broke through and made a conference finals appearance.
Kevin Nesgoda: Pretty shocked actually. I figured the Warriors would end up here, but like most of America I thought the Blazers were done after Nurk went down in March, but they keep winning.
Ben Mertens: Stunned, just stunned. I’ve been a long time skeptic of the Trail Blazers, I questioned the ceiling of a Lillard-McCollum backcourt, and one Nurkic went down and was replaced by “Can’t Play Kanter” I thought they were cooked (as, to be fair, did some of the Blazers writers I spoke to).
I was wrong! The Blazers depth has outperformed expectations (I see you Rodney Hood), their star guards have both been electric in the biggest moments, and no team has punished their defensive shortcomings the way I expected. Whatever else happens, Portland should be very proud of this run.
Ryan Harris: Depends on when you ask me that question. At the start of the season I wouldn’t have believed it. I thought we would get a Houston- Golden State rematch in the WCF, and we almost did. I guess Portland is happy they won their last game against Sacramento.
This result doesn’t surprise me too much. I thought the Blazers had a good chance to beat OKC, and they did. I thought they had a decent chance to beat Denver and they did. It is mind blowing to think about all the stars in the western conference and think that a team that starts Maurice Harkless and Al Faruq Aminu (and Enes Kanter out of circumstance) is in the conference finals.
2) Durant is expected to miss game 1 at the very least. What did we learn about the Warriors after they beat the Rockets without Durant, and do the Blazers have an effective counter that could steal game 1?
Dom: That the Warriors are really fun without KD and they move the ball a ton more. Portland can effectively use what little depth is left because theirs is still better than the Warriors, but starters should be Warriors in a wash again. I’d expect them to finally play Kanter off the court, as Golden State is about his worst matchup.
Reid: We learned that even without Durant, they’re one of the greatest teams in history, and the Blazers might win one game. I hope and want to be wrong.
Nile: The Warriors’ ball movement is way better without Durant on the floor. Also Kerr goes back to playing about 10 players during the game, giving them bench production they haven’t had all season. Portland counter is that the backcourts play each other even and their support cast continues to shine like they have thus far this postseason.
Kevin: Without Durant, we see the ISO ball go away almost completely. The ball movement is so crisp and precise. If the Warriors are whipping the ball around they are going to get open shots. Portland does not do well switching and chasing the ball. In saying that though, Steph has been pretty banged up and has had periods of being ice cold. If Klay is going through a spell where his shots aren’t falling, then Portland needs to take advantage and run up a big lead and maybe steal a game.
Ben: What did we learn? We learned what we knew all along: #StephBetter. For 3 years, Steph has been a lesser, though still incandescent, version of himself to accommodate Durant, and the results speak for themselves. But the Warriors’ performance without Durant has confirmed what Draymond Green himself told Durant: The Warriors only needed KD to help them vanquish Cleveland and LeBron. Against almost any other team, the core that won 73 games without Durant in 2016 is more than enough.
Ryan: I have missed watching the Warriors play basketball without Kevin Durant. It’s beautiful and, at times, looks effortless. Golden State isn’t better off without KD, but they play a better brand of basketball. This team is easily a title contender without Durant and, if he hypothetically didn’t return this season, I would still consider picking the Warriors to win the title. Their biggest issue early in the series will be depth, but I expect them to figure it out and win at least one out of the first two games at home.
3) Do the Warriors have an Achilles Heel, and can Portland exploit it?
Dom: They have maybe two — depth and complacency. Without Durant, the first is made much worse, but the second much better. Ultimately I don’t see a way they take more than a game with all due respect to what they’ve done so far. Golden State just has too much high end talent and now knows they need to hurry up and get healthy because whoever comes out of the East is going to be tough (hint: I see an upset in the Finals...).
Reid: The Warriors’ Achilles heel has always been the center position. Obviously no one knows how to utilize that effectively, or else things would look different.
Nile: Golden state has two problems. Their defense appears to not be as superior as it has been in years past. Let’s remember even though they beat the Rockets in game 6, they allowed 113 points in that game. The other is turnovers. When Golden State gets sloppy with the ball they give the other team a chance to keep the game close. If Portland can score in transition and make Golden State work in the pick and roll defense they can win some games in this series.
Kevin: As I stated above, with Steph banged up and Klay being streaky this year, there is no third option for the Warriors to pick up a big scoring load. Looney has played amazing and Draymond Green does what he does, but neither are a real threat to go off for 30 tonight to pick up the slack.
Ben: The Warriors’ weaknesses have always been offensive rebounding and turnovers. But Portland lacks the defensive personnel to really force Golden State into turnovers, and will more be banking on Golden State’s own self-inflicted sloppiness. And while Enes Kanter is excellent on the offensive glass, the Blazers finally find themselves against an opponent who can really punish Kanter’s defensive weaknesses in the pick and roll. Steph should waltz into open 3’s anytime the Warriors drag Kanter into the pick and roll. The Blazers can counter by going small with Zach Collins at center, and I expect they will, but that forfeits their advantage on the glass.
Ryan: Golden State’s Achilles Heel has been complacency all season. Now that Durant is out, I’m not sure how much of an issue that will be. The lack of depth and bench scoring is the most obvious weakness Portland will need to exploit, but the Blazers will need to find a way to keep Kanter on the floor without getting killed in the pick and roll. They have done it effectively enough through the first two series, but the Warriors are a horrible matchup for Kanter.
4) Who hits more deep threes in game 1 — Curry or Lillard?
Dom: Ugh....I want to say Lillard because Curry’s looked shaky but I know if I do Steph is gonna go 2016 for a night. I’m saying Steph, and he’s coming back for a game or two until Durant returns.
Reid: Great Q. I’m going to go with Dame. He carries a bigger scoring load.
Nile: Feeding both off the crowd’s energy at Oracle and his second half performance vs Houston, Steph will get hot in this game and let some bombs go from way out.
Kevin: I am going to go with Lillard in this one. But it’d be a lot of fun to see the two guys trading 35 footers with the game on the line.
Ben: Lillard takes more and hits more, but Steph shoots the higher percentage would be my guess.
Ryan: I think Curry will hit more deep threes in game 1. Steph will be the primary option on offense with Durant out, and I think Curry and Klay Thompson will be shooting early and often. Once Curry gets hot he will start launching from deep. Lillard will attempt some deep threes as well, but Curry will make more of them.
5) Who is the X-factor in game 1 and why?
Dom: This is a fun one, so a little different maybe but I’ll go Zach Collins. If Portland is going to keep in this they need a big who can stay on the court and in flashes Collins has shown he can. Kanter and Leonard are yielded mostly useless in this matchup and they need someone to go at Green. I’m going to say if they can do something it’s because Collins steps up big and their guards get hot.
Reid: Enes Kanter. He will either continue to be Portland’s X-factor, or he will become GSW’s X-Factor over and over again when he gets switched on to Curry.
Nile: The X- factor is surprisingly Damian Lillard. He needs to return to how he was performing against the Thunder in order for them to win.
Kevin: Seth Curry. With Rodney Hood doubtful for tonight’s game the Blazers need some scoring from their bench and I think Seth is the best one to do this. Zach Collins is X1B here.
Ben: Andre Iguodola. With Durant out the Warriors need him to fill a bigger role on offense while still carrying a big load on defense (expect to see him guard both McCollum and Lillard at times), and Iggy more than came through against Houston. If Iggy is off the Warriors can still win, but it’ll be closer and leave Portland with a chance to steal one. If he’s at his best, golden State should win by a comfortable margin.
Ryan: The shooting of Thompson and Curry will be the X- factor in game 1. If those two can’t get it going on offense, the Warriors will be in trouble of dropping the opening game of the series on their home floor.