By Mark Plumlee
Special to S.F. Examiner
PORTLAND — With 40 seconds left in Golden State’s 119-117 Western Conference Finals-clinching win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night, Stephen Curry stood stock-still near midcourt, a contemplative look on his face.
Curry would later tell ESPN that he was thinking about Draymond Green, who had just hit his second 3-pointer of the series, a 3-pointer that wouldn’t have been possible had the red-hot Curry — in the midst of scoring a game-high 37 points — not passed up his own shot and found Green with a swing pass.
“Obviously that [trust] is built over time,” said Green after the game, “but I’d say that we’ve probably had that type of trust since about 2015. You know, it’s always great to have a guy of Steph’s stature who, if he takes that shot, nobody is going to be mad. Nobody is going to complain. But for him to throw me the ball in that situation, it helps with my confidence, as well.”
Curry and Green became the first two teammates in playoff history to record triple-doubles in the same contest, as the Warriors overcame a double-digit deficit for the third game in row and won in overtime, completing the Western Conference Finals sweep and reaching the NBA Finals for the fifth straight year.
“I just can’t say enough about the competitive desire of the group of players that we have here and the culture they have built together,” said Warriors head coach Steve Kerr. “You know, playing together regardless of injury. Being without Kevin [Durant] these last five games has put us in a really tough spot, and our guys stepped up in a big way.”
It started with Curry, who made seven 3-pointers and logged 47 minutes in Game 4 after not cracking 40 minutes once in the first three games. He remained in the game for the entire second half and overtime. Green continued to contribute from all-over the floor, recording 18 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists.
“They are fun to watch,” said Kerr about Curry and Green’s on-court chemistry. “They are kind of made for each other from a basketball standpoint. You know, they have been doing this for a long time, so they have got a real feel for each other.”
With Andre Iguodala joining Durant and DeMarcus Cousins on the injured reserve list with soreness in his left calf, Kerr replaced Iguodala in the starting lineup with Alfonzo McKinnie, who made his presence felt from the jump with six first-quarter points. Kerr also started Jordan Bell at center rather than Andrew Bogut, who started Games 1 and 2, and Damion Jones, who received the nod in Game 3.
With Curry and Klay Thompson struggling to make shots in overtime, the Warrior reserves pounded the offensive glass for extra opportunities. Whenever the Blazers switched a big man onto Curry in the pick and roll, McKinnie and Kevon Looney exploited the smaller Blazer switched onto them, diving to the rim and grabbing three offensive rebounds in overtime that led to seven second-chance points.
“Our bench was incredible,” said Thompson. “Kevon Looney with a double-double. Twelve to 14 huge rebounds. Quinn Cook coming in and making a difference. Shaun Livingston played great. Everyone who came in tonight made a huge impact, so I’m proud of the way our bench showed up this series. They showed that they’re professionals and that they can impact the game in many ways, so I’m proud of those guys.”
After cutting what was a 17-point lead down to two with 3.3 seconds left in overtime, Blazers point guard Damian Lillard took a fading three-pointer from the corner with a chance to win the game. On this night, though, Lillard Time — and the Blazers magical postseason run — ran out early. The Oakland native’s shot fell short, careening off the rim and igniting a Warriors celebration.
Both teams had looks to win the game at the end of regulation. Curry was stopped at the rim by Meyers Leonard, then was whistled for a travel as he gathered his miss and tried to hop-skip behind the three-point line. On the other end, Lillard’s running hook bounced on the rim before falling into Green’s hands. The Warriors advanced the ball with a timeout, but the desperation tip attempt by Green with 0.1 seconds sailed out of bounds.
The first half saw offensive explosions by both teams, as the Warriors and Blazers scored 62 and 69 points respectively before the break. They both finished the half shooting north of 56% from the floor. Curry carried Golden State with 25 points and five three pointers.
He cut the Blazers lead to four by scoring eight points in the last 30 seconds. He drilled a 3-pointer off the dribble, stole a Lillard pass with ten seconds left, drew a clear-path foul on Lillard, sank both free throws, and then punctuated the sequence with a deep three pointer off the inbound pass.
For the Blazers, Leonard stepped up for the second game in a row, scoring a career-high 25 first-half points and matching Curry’s 3-pointers with five of his own. Leonard, who fell to fourth in the team’s depth chart after the midseason acquisition of Enes Kanter, was the most unlikely of heroes put his stamp on a Western Conference Finals game. 26 times this year, he failed to crack the rotation and received a DNP. Leonard is tied with Lillard for the longest-tenured Blazer. The seventh-year center received MVP chants from a sold-out Moda Center crowd as he led the Blazers with 30 points.
The Warriors earned themselves nine days of rest before the NBA Finals. They will play the winner of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors with a potential third-straight Warriors championship on the line.
The upcoming series will mark the fifth-straight year the Warriors have reached the NBA Finals — the longest such streak since Bill Russell’s Celtics won 11 championships in 13 years in the 1960s.
“Basketball careers aren’t that long,” said Green. “If you can get 10 [years] out of it, you’re lucky. To go to five straight Finals — I don’t even know what to say about it. This is what you play for. This is our goal every year, and to get here five straight times is special”
“We know four more wins defines our season,” said Curry. “We got to stay locked in.”