Five observations from the Warriors’ Game 3 win in Portland
Here are five observations from the Warriors’ Game 3 119-113 comeback win in Portland on Saturday night.
1. The shot-blocking
When the Warriors defend, this series turns from competitive to uneven. Both teams have elite scorers, but the Warriors have far better, more versatile, more capable, more willing defenders. They cranked it up and turned an 88-88 Game 1 tie into a 12-point win. They locked the Blazers down for 12 and 17 points during two separate quarters of the Game 2 runaway. Then after a lazy first 29 minutes on Saturday night — 67 first half Blazers points, 80 with seven minutes left in the third quarter — they finally flipped a defensive switch, rattled off a 19-1 run and stole away Game 3, again, because of defense.
There are so many aspects to that end of the floor — energy level, versatility, focus, schemes, luck. When operating at an optimal level, the Warriors check every box. But entering the season, many believed they wouldn’t contain an important defensive quality: Rim protection. With Andrew Bogut gone, they lacked a traditional shot-blocking center. The Warriors — well, really, Draymond Green — promised in preseason it wouldn’t be an issue: “Rim protection by committee.” In an early-season road game against the Pacers, they combined to block 10 shots (anywhere near double-digits is a mega shot-blocking game in the NBA) and it was like, yeah, OK, maybe this won’t be a problem this season. But pretty soon, you went from thinking it may be a weak spot to realizing it was a massive strength.
Green blocked 106 shots this season, seven away from a career-high. Kevin Durant arrived and surprised the world with his rim protection, jumping from 1.2 per game to a career-high 1.6. Remember when he stuffed a late-game DeMar DeRozan dunk attempt or punctuated that Cavaliers blowout with an emphatic block on LeBron? Green and Durant led the charge, but there were plenty of others. JaVale McGee played more than expected, chipping in 67 in his 739 minutes. Twelve Warriors finished the season with at least 15 blocks. That’s what allowed them, without one of the league’s top-8 shot-blockers — Durant was ninth — to lead the NBA, as a team, by more than one block per game: 6.9, next closest was 5.9. Rim protection by committee. They had 18 separate games of 10 or more blocks, easily the league’s most.
How does it relate to this Blazers series? Their shot-blocking has been a major factor. The Warriors had 10 blocks in Game 1, 11 in Game 2 and 11 more in Game 3 on Saturday night. Those 32 in three games are nine more than any other team in these playoffs, despite playing a game fewer than most teams. The Wizards, at 23, are the next closest.
Shot-blocking, of course, isn’t the only indicator of effective rim protection. One of the best metrics for it can be found on NBA.com/Stats through their player tracking. In this series, the Blazers are 41-of-100 against Warriors defenders contesting at the rim. That 41 percent mark is the best among the 16 playoff teams. The Spurs are the only other team holding opponents under 47 percent. Here’s the full list entering Sunday.
So even when the Warriors aren’t blocking shots, they’re effectively altering them. Among players who’ve faced at least three shots at the rim per game, McGee’s 28.6 percent allowance rate is best among playoff players. The Blazers are 4-of-14 against him. He has six blocks in 39 minutes. Draymond Green has a playoff-high 14 blocks, including six during Saturday night’s Game 3. He is terrorizing the Blazers and a chunk of it has been against their premiere duo. Fourteen of the Warriors’ 32 blocks have been on either Damian Lillard or CJ McCollum. The Warriors’ rim protection has become a major strength for this team.
Three games, three hugely impactful JaVale McGee performances. But Saturday’s Game 3 was easily his most important yet during this series. The plus/minus column tells you plenty: In McGee’s 16 minutes on the court, the Warriors outscored the Blazers by 24. In his 32 minutes off of it, the Blazers outscored the Warriors by 18.
McGee came in at the 6:07 mark of the third quarter and the Warriors trailing 82-66. He…