OAKLAND, Calif. — As the Golden State Warriors retreated to the home locker room at Oracle Arena late Thursday night, a comfortable two-game lead over the Portland Trail Blazers tucked into their back pocket, a hooded friend greeted them near the front door.
It was Kevin Durant, the injured All-Star forward, smiling, slapping backs, smacking high-fives and spitting fire.
As Draymond Green moved his way, an ESPN camera crew documenting the scene, Durant unleashed his most cutting jab.
“Finals?” Durant screamed down the hallway. “They don’t want to go there.”
He was referring to the Blazers, of course. And after Golden State defeated Portland 114-111 in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals, sapping their morale with a stunning fourth-quarter comeback, it was hard to argue with him.
The Blazers led by 15 points at halftime, by eight points in the closing minutes, forced 10 first-half turnovers, made 18 three-pointers and were in control most of the night. And they still lost. In the end, Golden State flexed its championship pedigree and big-game mettle, taking the Blazers’ best punch and responding with a body blow, closing the game with a 14-3 burst to steal a victory and keep momentum in the best-of-seven series.
“We stole that game,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “I thought they outplayed us for much of the night … but we brought enough competitive fire in the second half to overcome their great play. We’ve been here before. I think our experience helped us. We’ve done this a few times, and yeah, we stole it for sure.”
Stephen Curry (37 points, eight assists, eight rebounds) had another electric performance, Green (16 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists, five blocks) was exceptional on both ends and the Warriors leaned on strong contributions from unheralded bench players Kevon Looney (14 points, seven rebounds) and Jordan Bell (11 points, three rebounds). But it was the final five minutes, a hideous finish by CJ McCollum and a last-second defensive stand by Andre Iguodala that will consume conversations around the water color Friday morning.
When Meyers Leonard swished a three-pointer with 4:28 left, the Blazers sported a 108-100 lead and were in position to head back to Portland with mojo and home-court advantage. Leonard danced and gyrated after his big shot and a stunned sellout crowd gasped, becoming the latest group to be silenced by a resilient and scrappy Blazers team. But, in the blink of an eye, everything unraveled.
The Warriors’ defense blanketed Damian Lillard. McCollum started forcing shots and launching bricks. Green became a blur of scoring and playmaking.
The Blazers made just 1 of 8 shots the rest of the way and the Warriors seized control, unleashing a 14-3 spurt that spurred the victory. Green was remarkable on both ends during the game-deciding burst, accounting for all five of the Warriors’ five made field goals, finishing two layups and feeding teammates for two dunks and a layup. Green’s most important assist came with 52.9 seconds left, when he drove to the hoop and flipped up a high-arcing lob to Looney for an alley-oop dunk. It gave the Warriors a 112-11 lead and they never trailed again.
“We’ve been here before,” said Green, who had four points, three assists, two rebounds and a key block in the game-clinching final burst. “And when you are on a run like we are currently in, you’ve seen everything. So we’re down eight points with what, four minutes to go … just got to keep going, because we know we can erase eight points in a minute. I think our experience really paid off tonight and just having a bunch of guys that’s never going to quit.”
In the middle of the Blazers’ late-game meltdown was the hero of Game 7 of the conference semifinals. Just five days after carrying the Blazers to a series-clinching win over the Denver Nuggets, McCollum couldn’t connect on anything in the clutch against the Warriors. He missed all six of his fourth-quarter field goals — including five over the final 3:54 — to sabotage any hopes of a Blazers win. McCollum bricked three-pointers on three consecutive Blazers possessions, had one drive erased by a Green block and then — after that Green-to-Looney alley-oop — missed a jumper in the lane with about 30 seconds left.
“They played good defense,” McCollum said. “But I can live with the shots I missed every day of the week. Offensively, we had some pretty good possessions. We just didn’t finish them.”
Despite McCollum’s myriad misses, the Blazers had one last-gasp chance to force overtime. Out of a side inbound play with 10 seconds left, the Blazers worked the ball to Lillard and he stared down a one-on-one opportunity against Iguodala on the left wing. The Blazers’ All-Star point guard sized up Iguodala and tried to create space for a three. But the Warriors’ talented wing defender swarmed him and swiped the ball away as Lillard went into his shooting motion.
The ball trickled to Curry, who heaved it the other way as the final buzzer sounded and confetti fell from the rafters.
“We knew we were going to go for the three, so I was just trying to get space to get a three up,” Lillard said of the final play. “I know it’s a tough position for the referees to be in to make a call at that point in the game. I tried to get a little bit of space the first time. He grabbed my arm and I lost the ball a little bit. I regained it and I was going to shoot it again. He got his hand on the ball. For me as the offensive player, I felt like it was contact. There was a lot of contact. But, obviously, the ref is not going to decide the game or jump in at that point. So … good defensive play.”
The miserable ending spoiled a 23-point, 10-assist night from Lillard, an inspirational 16-point, four-steal effort from Seth Curry and a prolific long-range shooting effort (18 of 39) from the Blazers.
And now they return to Portland reeling, knowing full well they squandered a chance for a rare win at Oracle. It’s fair to wonder what’s worse: Enduring a 22-point beatdown or suffering a three-point loss in a game you should have won just two nights later?
“We’ve got to flush it,” Rodney Hood said. “At the end of the day, it’s one game, no matter how you lost it. If you got blown out, if you lost a lead or whatever the case may be, one loss is one loss. They took care of home. Now it’s time to go back to Portland.”
The Blazers head to the Moda Center for Saturday’s Game 3 with history and a few statistics pointing against them. The Warriors have won 10 of the last 11 playoff meetings between the teams, including seven in a row at Oracle, and no team in NBA history has overcome a 3-0 deficit to win a seven-game series. So Game 3 is a virtual must-win for the Blazers.
The good news?
Durant will remain in Oakland to rehab his ailing right calf, so he won’t be around for any postgame taunting.
“Being down 0-2, it’s not what you would like to see,” McCollum said. “But it’s our reality, so now we got to go get some at home.”
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