OAKLAND — It wasn’t supposed to get easier.
Sure, the Golden State Warriors were expected to beat the dazed Houston Rockets in the first round. But advancing meant a new opponent, one that had validated its place in the postseason by winning a series themselves.
And, by the way, reigning MVP and Greatest Basketball Player on the Planet Stephen Curry was again unavailable to play.
But none of that mattered on Sunday in the Warriors’ series opener against the Portland Trail Blazers.
It was the team’s “other” stars that ensured a 118-106 victory: Klay Thompson more than ably shouldered the scoring load, and Draymond Green logged his third triple-double in five tries against Portland this season.
Thompson scored coming off screens and on leaning jumpers in the paint; he even nailed a heat-check 3-pointer from a few steps in from the logo. And this was just in the first quarter.
“I was in a great zone,” the healthy Splash Brother said about his performance in the opening period.
He finished with a game-high 38 points on 14-for-28 shooting — his third-straight game with at least seven 3-pointers made. And he did it all while guarding the Blazers’ best player, Damian Lillard.
“Klay is a tremendous two-way player, and that was a really amazing night for him just in terms of his all-around play, and obviously we got a lot of really good performances from people,” Golden State head coach Steve Kerr said after the game. “That’s a big burden to have to play both ways like that. He was awesome.”
With Curry — who has the best blend of offensive skills maybe ever — on the sideline in a blue suit coat, it was the two-way versatility of Thompson and Green that set the tone. Green finished the game with 23 points, 13 rebounds, 11 assists and a pair of emphatic blocks, spurring center Andrew Bogut to dub him the “best all-around player in the league right now,”
“I think there’s a lot of great all-around players in the game,” Green said, confessing he’s comfortable with Bogut giving him that title. “You’ll never hear me call myself that, but if they are going to call me that, I’ll take it. I’m not going to shy away from it.”
It wasn’t the individual play of Thompson and Green that won the day; the Warriors maintained their rhythm from their last two games against the Rockets, and their ability to harness momentum produced the hallmarks of Kerr’s system.
The Dubs’ ball movement was stellar (they assisted on 27 of their 43 baskets), their defense was suffocating (Portland shot 40.2 percent as Lillard and C.J. McCollum, one of the best backcourts in the NBA, combined to shoot 13-for-43 from the field) and they managed to limit their turnovers at 12.
“The game we lost in Portland, we had 13 in the second quarter alone,” Kerr said, referencing his team’s worst loss of the year. “… That has to continue for us. We can’t have a big gap in terms of the disparity in turnovers. As long as we take care of it like we did tonight and move the ball, we are confident we can score enough points to win.”
On Sunday, scoring enough points was never the issue, but that doesn’t mean the team wouldn’t welcome a boost. And with the game well in hand, Curry revealed he thinks he could return earlier than expected.
“To me, they’re pretty good,” he said to ESPN sideline reporter Lisa Salters regarding his chances of returning for Game 3.
Curry is an eternal optimist and this isn’t the first time he’s projected his own return before the team was comfortable with putting him back out there. Nonetheless, the idea of his return is exciting.
But if Game 2 plays like the series opener, there should be no rush.