March 10, 2018, 1:53 am
Steph Curry didn’t play. Neither did Andre Iguodala, David West, Jordan Bell or Patrick McCaw. But you can only face the team in front of you, and the Portland Trail Blazers put one of their finest performances of the season together on Friday against the wounded Golden State Warriors. The Blazers beat the Warriors 125-108, winning their ninth consecutive game and taking the season series against the defending champions 2-1.
C.J. McCollum led the Blazers with 30 points, including 13 in a fourth quarter that was far more competitive than the final score made it seem. Damian Lillard added 28 points and eight assists, hitting multiple big shots down the stretch to put Golden State away for good. The most encouraging sign for Portland, though, was that the production of its stars was supplemented with game-changing bench play by way of multiple players.
Ed Davis led the charge. The Blazers’ toughest player lived up to that reputation and more on Friday, hustling and muscling his way to 10 points, a season-high 15 rebounds – seven of which came on the offensive glass – and four assists. The Warriors had absolutely no answer for tangling with Davis in the paint. He was Portland’s best interior defender, too, faring well in extra aggressive pick-and-roll coverage against the cooking Kevin Durant after the former MVP ate Jusuf Nurkic‘s typically passive approach alive. Davis played the entire fourth quarter before Steve Kerr waved the white flag after the Blazers opened up a 15-point lead, much of which came from plays like this by one of the league’s most underrated players.
— NBC Sports Northwest (@NBCSNorthwest) March 10, 2018
Davis’ partner in crime also played one of his best games of the season. Zach Collins had 12 points and four rebounds, showing off the mature, refined offensive skills that combine with his natural defensive ability to get Blazers fans excited about his future – and present. He faced up on Omri Casspi from the block, where he’s most struggled as a rookie, in the first half, bumping the defender off balance with two dribbles and confidently hitting a 10-foot step-back, Dirk-style. What was arguably Collins’ most important play of the game exhibited the rare feel that most players his size take years to develop, if they ever get it at all.
But the Blazers wouldn’t have been able to a take a commanding nine-point lead on Lillard’s 3-pointer with 5:45 left if not for Evan Turner. Again coming off the bench behind a healthy Moe Harkless, Turner kept Portland afloat when Durant, who scored 40 points on 12-of-21 shooting with six rebounds and six assists, and the Warriors tried to run away with the game in the third quarter. After Golden State took its first lead since the opening minutes of the game at 75-73, Turner went to the scorer’s table and proceeded to stem the tide all by himself. He scored the Blazers’ next seven points over a span of two minutes and one second to keep his team within striking distance of the lead by quarter’s end.
Portland got it with a 10-0 run to close the third, suddenly entering the final stanza having overcome a classic Golden State scoring binge and leading 87-83. After the Warriors, led by Klay Thompson, threatened to retake the lead by closing their deficit to one with just under nine minutes remaining, Shabazz Napier took full advantage of a defensive mistake that plagued Steve Kerr’s team all night long. For the fourth and final of the game, the Warriors fouled a 3-point shooter. This time, though, Napier made them pay with a four-point play.
— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) March 10, 2018
By beating Golden State and by virtue of the Houston Rockets’ dramatic loss to the Toronto Raptors earlier on Friday, the Blazers now possess the longest winning streak in the NBA. Do some of those wins, like this one, include caveats of injuries, scheduling and quality of opponent? Absolutely. But that’s inevitable for a stretch of success that extends nearly a full calendar month; Portland began its streak by beating Golden State at Moda Center for the first time this season back on February 14
And at 40-26, one and-a-half games up on the fourth-place New Orleans Pelicans as they seem to have finally found an elusive blend of two-way effectiveness, the Blazers – the stars, starters, rotation players and bench-warms – have more reason for confidence than ever. Said Lillard after the game to ESPN’s Chris Haynes, “We’re the real deal.”
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to argue otherwise.