PORTLAND, Ore. — After the gasps receded and those in attendance collectively picked their jaws off the concrete having witnessed basketball splendor in the person of Stephen Curry, a rousing wave of applause emanated from the Moda Center. The Portland Trail Blazers had dropped the 132-125 overtime classic to the Golden State Warriors, and probabilities dictate that the valiant 2015-16 Baby Blazers — now down 3-1 in this second-round series — might have played their final home possession of the season in front of the Portland faithful.
A few minutes later, the Trail Blazers were fielding a spate of questions about Curry’s night: What was it like to be on the floor for that? How surprising was the output, given that he hadn’t played in two weeks? Ever seen a performance like that?
“Yeah,” Blazers big man Ed Davis replied. “Dame. Last game.”
The Trail Blazers were courteous but truculent. The line of questioning almost seemed disrespectful to their floor and locker room leader, Damian Lillard, who in the shadow of Curry’s 40-point rebirth, put up 36 of his own in a high-volume (9-for-30 from the field, 13-for-15 from the stripe) but resourceful outing in which he also tallied 10 assists.
“I didn’t have my greatest shooting night,” Lillard said. “But at this point in the season, I’ve been telling myself and my teammates have been telling me to go out there and be in attack mode and be aggressive at all times, and we’ll live with the results.”
Not that these results were easy to live with. The overtime loss was by no means the spectacular Game 2 collapse in Oakland last week, but it was a missed opportunity of a different sort. At the outset Monday, this was a less healthy, less composed Warriors team that showed vulnerabilities and, in the case of Curry, some hardened rust. Portland built itself a 16-point first-quarter lead with their usual diet of stuff — Lillard with a trailer 3, a nice weakside kick to Al-Farouq Aminu in the corner and C.J. McCollum taking handoffs for scores like Barry Sanders.
But as the Warriors ratcheted up their defense along the perimeter to deny the Trail Blazers their merry-go-round of flares, pindowns and double-barreled actions, Lillard went cold. Meanwhile, Portland’s defense got run ragged. They lost Klay Thompson on baseline screens. And then came Curry. He got loose on a back door, stopped and popped off the dribble inside the arc, but these were merely appetizers.
Lillard tipped his cap to Curry but was quick to lament his team’s mental errors that coincided with the reigning MVP’s outburst.
“In the second half, we had some blown coverages and miscommunication, and we allowed him to come off and get wide-open shots, and then he got it going,” Lillard said.
When the Portland bigs weren’t up, Curry had a vast expanse. When they were up, Curry hit a slashing Draymond Green with no Trail Blazers rotation in waiting. And in overtime, three of Curry’s six buckets were uncontested, per ESPN Stats & Information data. In the regular season, he hit 63 percent of those shots. On Monday night in overtime, Curry hit 100 percent.
Lillard was clearly disappointed postgame, but he was also defiant. The three quality quarters in Game 1 after the slow start, the 40 minutes or so of savvy basketball in Game 2, the win in Game 3 and the control of most of Game 4 added up to one truth: The Trail Blazers had not only acquitted themselves in this conference semifinals series, they also felt they had played the defending champs nearly even, possession for possession.
“We could have won the last three games,” Lillard said. “We were in position to win the last three games. We had slippage and a championship team is going to take advantage of that, and that’s what they did.”
Though the Trail Blazers face the difficult task of trying to stave off elimination at Oracle Arena on Wednesday night in Game 5, it’s not an unenviable task — 22 other teams at home would kill to be in their position. And unlike the Houston Rockets, who sullied their franchise’s good name with a dispiriting tank job in the same predicament, the Trail Blazers will do no such thing.
“We want to go out there and make sure they respect us, make sure they understand it’s not going to be what everybody thinks it’s going to be,” Lillard said. “It’s not going to be no rolling over, it’s not going to be no out here being scared, it’s not going to be any of that.”
A minute or so after Lillard departed with those comments, Green took the podium in the Moda Center media room.
“”Do I think they’re done? Of course I think they’re done,” Green said.
And about that respect?
“We’ll talk about that on Wednesday,” Green said.