For three quarters the Portland Trail Blazers dominated the Golden State Warriors building an 11 point lead heading into the fourth quarter. Then the Warriors kicked it into another gear and erased that deficit in a flash. It all started on the defensive end, and with Fetus Ezeli’s great pick-and-roll defense.
Damian Lillard put on an exhibition in the third quarter, scoring 17 of the Blazer’s 28 points including going four for five on threes. Through three quarters Lillard was a plus 10 and was completely dominate in that third quarter. It looked like the Blazers were about to hand the Warriors their first playoff home loss.
Looks were deceiving at that point, and the Warriors game roaring back. They made an adjustment to aggressively trap CJ McCollum and Lillard in pick-and-rolls. This is nothing new to the Blazers, the Clippers trapped all series and Mason Plumlee made them pay (Trail Blazers’ Unlikely Clipper Killer). Last night however, Plumlee was unable to make the plays he made in the first round.
In the play below McCollum is coming off a pick-and-roll only to be met by Ezeli with Ian Clark chasing over the top. McCollum finds Plumlee but Ezeli sprints to back in front of him and forces him into a difficult lay up attempt.
Late in the fourth quarter when McCollum comes off another pick-and-roll he’s met yet again by Ezeli and with the help of Livingston they force him into the corner. McCollum finds a rolling Plumlee but Draymond Green came over in great help position. Plumlee kicks it out to Al-Farouq Aminu who started the game on fire from three but is chased off the line by a sprinting Harrison Barnes. Aminu passes it to an open Plumlee who gets his shot swatted by Ezeli. This was a textbook example of rotating on defense.
Again, late in the game Plumlee sets a high ball screen for Lillard, and quickly rescreens hoping to get Ezeli out of position. Unfortunately for the Blazers, Ezeli does a great job recovering to Lillard as Klay Thompson works over the top. Lillard makes the right read and hits the rolling Plumlee. Green is in perfect low help position to take on Plumlee and blocked the shot attempt.
Lillard entered the fourth quarter a plus 10, when the game was over he was a minus 10. After his third quarter outburst the Warriors clamped down on defense and Ezeli was great in pick-and-roll defense. During his time on the court in the fourth, he was four for four from the field, had five rebounds and a plus 14. The Blazers went from a 28 point quarter to a 12 point one while shooting 26.3% and gave up 34 points on their blowing their best chance to steal a road win.
The Warriors comeback started with their defensive adjustment and was aided by Ezeli’s ability to stay with the Blazer’s guard in pick-and-roll situations. This 22 point swing, showed the Blazers can compete for three quarters but when the Warriors hit that fifth gear, the Blazers will be stuck eating their dust.
- Photo from Getty Images Credit to Noah Graham