PORTLAND — When Golden State Warriors forward Jordan Bell missed a wide-open dunk in the third quarter of Saturday’s Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals, a dunk that would have cut the Portland Trail Blazers lead to 6, Draymond Green gently took him aside.
Green thought back to a conversation he’d had with video coordinator James Laughlin before the series even began. Laughlin told Green that he’d helped him grow a lot, since he’d been with the Warriors. In the midst of Golden State’s 110-99 win — their second straight coming back from down double digits — the mercurial Green counseled patience.
After falling behind by double digits in the first half for the second game in a row, the Golden State Warriors turned to Green to get them right. That maturity was almost as important as Green’s fourth career playoff triple-double (all on the road), as Golden State relied on him and the bench to come back from down 18 to go up 3-0 on Portland.
“[Laughlin] said, ‘Hey, you’ve helped me a lot in growing since I’ve been here. This series, we’re going to need our bench a lot,’” Green said. “‘It’s important that you stick with them and continue to give them confidence.’”
Green almost single-handedly kept the Warriors in the game as his teammates struggled to find the bottom of the net in the first half. He turned every Blazer miss into an opportunity, securing the rebound and flying up the court to challenge a retreating defender at the rim or kick it out to a streaking shooter. He put the final exclamation point the game when he rumbled the length of the court in the final four seconds, laid the ball in at the buzzer, and chirped at the Blazers as he bounded off the court.
“[Green] is playing unbelievably well right now,” said Kerr. “He’s playing with force. He’s playing with discipline. He’s playing under control. He’s not letting anything bother him. You know, officiating, bad shots, turnovers. He’s just moving on to the next play.”
Not only was Green’s entire arsenal of skills on display, but so was the growth he has made as a leader, both on and off the court. He picked his spots and understood when the team needed him to be aggressive and make something happen. He kept the score within striking distance early by pushing the pace relentlessly and creating transition opportunities, even after made baskets on the other end.
“You can kind of feel when our offense is getting bogged down, or another team is starting to make a run,” said Green. “I like to push it more when they are starting to make their run, because then the guys get excited. They hit a shot and they relax, and you just push it back. I think that helps change the momentum.”
No moment was more emblematic of Green’s maturity and poise, and its effect on his teammates, than Bell’s missed dunk. He told him to keep playing hard, noting that every other player on the floor had missed shots as well. Two minutes later, Bell hit a dunk off a Green defensive rebound, drawing Golden State to within five.
That confidence and empowerment paid off huge in the second half when when the bench unit extended the lead to start the fourth, providing Green with extra time to catch his breath on the bench.
Stephen Curry got rolling in the fourth quarter en route to a game-high 36-points, and Klay Thompson chipped in 19 points, but took 20 shots to get there. It was Green, though, who dominated the game from tip-to-buzzer. He left his mark on every aspect of Game 3 in Portland, terrorizing the Blazers on defense and applying constant pressure on offense, finishing with 20 points, 13 rebounds, 12 assists and four steals, with one block.
The Warriors won the game on the defensive end of the floor, especially in the second half, holding the Blazers to a meager 33 points. They continued to send doubles against Portland’s talented backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. The two guards were completely taken out of their game, shooting a combined 12-for-38. When the Blazers role players stopped making shots in the second half, the Portland offense completely dried up.
Just like Game 2, the Warriors came out of halftime and dominated the third quarter, turning a 13-point deficit into a 3-point lead. Golden State became the first NBA team in the shot-clock era (since 1954-55) to overcome a 13-plus point halftime deficit to win back-to-back playoff games.
“[The team] has a lot of experience, and we’ve played in a lot of big games,” said Kerr. “We’ve been down in many games by pretty big margins. Our guys know that we have an excellent defensive team, and we have a lot explosive scorers, so 13 points could be two to three minutes. That’s how we look at it.”
Kerr opted to start the second half with Bell at center instead of Damian Jones — who garnered the first start of his playoff career — and Bell played an important role in slowing the Blazers offense, helping to hold them to a 13-point third quarter. On the final Blazers possession of the quarter, Bell bottled up the Lillard pick and roll at the top of the key, and then recovered in time to reject what initially seemed like an open lay-in for Zach Collins.
Andre Iguodala exited the game in the third quarter with tightness in his left calf. He ran up the tunnel and flashed middle fingers at ESPN’s camera. He did not return to the game and will receive an MRI on Sunday. Iguodala could potentially join Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins on an injured reserve list that is quickly growing into a story for the Warriors.