This Western Conference Finals has so many interesting headlines going in. These might be the two most dynamic backcourts in all of basketball and both teams are dealing with injuries.
For starters Portland has of course been without Jusuf Nurkic during this playoff run and not having his ability to protect the rim will hurt against this Golden State team, but more recently, in game seven against Denver, Rodney Hood had to leave the game with a bone bruise in his left knee. He is considered day-to-day, but Portland isn’t the deepest team and Rodney Hood played really well against the Nuggets being able to come off the bench and provide some scoring punch. If they want to be able to keep up with Golden State they will need him on the floor.
While Portland needs Rodney Hood, the Warriors are dealing with injuries to some of the top players in the league when healthy. Of course DeMarcus Cousins was coming off of an Achilles tear last season and just when he seemed to be getting close to back to his old self in terms of being able to play a good amount of minutes, he tore his right quad against the Clippers. Reports have been out there that he could come back in the playoffs. He definitely won’t be back for the start of this series and it’s still up in the air if he will return during this series, potentially during the Finals or if he will return at all. And then of course there’s Kevin Durant. When he strained his calf you could hear a sigh of relief go through the league because the immediate worry was an Achilles injury. It didn’t turn out to be that serious which is great for Durant obviously, but also fans of the game because he was the best player in the world when he got hurt. We know for sure he is going to miss game one and there’s a good chance he misses game two. Coach Steve Kerr said this is a very open-ended injury so it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when he could be back during this series or if he will even be back during this series.
The good thing for Golden State is that even without Durant they have two-time MVP Steph Curry and one of the best two-way players in all of basketball in Klay Thompson manning the backcourt. On top of that they have former Finals MVP Andre Iguodala, who is of course a very good two-way player, and Draymond Green who is coming off of a very good series against the Rockets.
For Portland though, they have a backcourt that could keep up with the Warriors backcourt almost as good as anyone else in basketball could. Damian Lillard was one of the best players in the league in the First Round against OKC, but he struggled much more against Denver while he was dealing mostly with the defense of Gary Harris, but C.J. McCollum took his game to the next level against Denver, showing that he can carry the offensive load when Lillard isn’t able to.
Steph Curry isn’t the worst defender in the world, but he is usually the one that opposing offenses choose to attack. I would fully expect to see Klay Thompson guarding both Lillard and McCollum at different times depending on who is hotter. It also wouldn’t be too surprising to see the Warriors put Iguodala or Draymond Green on one of the Portland guards on occasion and move Curry to a guy like Moe Harkless, who is much less of an offensive threat even though Curry would be at a significant height disadvantage.
A huge wild card for Portland though is Enes Kanter. Kanter isn’t great or even good on the defensive side of things, but it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see Golden State struggle with him inside on the offensive glass and with him getting looks right at the rim if they sell out too much to stop the guards.
When it comes to defending Golden State where do you even start? Even without Durant this is a lethal offensive team that has two guards who can go for 20+ points in a quarter at any time. That is going to be tough to deal with for a Portland team who was middle of the road this season defensively.
Lillard and McCollum have improved their defense over the past couple of seasons, but the Warriors backcourt is a tough ask for them to defend. Moe Harkless might have to take of the responsibility of guarding Klay Thompson and they could move Lillard or McCollum to Iguodala or Green. That would still be a tough ask though because either of those Warriors players will have a big size advantage.
Whatever matchups Portland decides to go with could ultimately be a moot point because with the player movement of the Golden State offense, Portland will likely spend most of the time switching almost everything.
I don’t have a very high opinion of either of these benches but I do give the edge to Portland. If Rodney Hood is able to give it a go he is someone who can bring some instant scoring into the game, Seth Curry shot 45% from three in the regular season and in the postseason he is shooting 41.7%, but he is not someone who can generally get his own shot. Evan Turner can be a wild card for Portland. He has been pretty terrible most of the postseason, but he was huge in the fourth quarter of game seven against Denver and at the end of the Denver series he seemed to kind of find his role within this playoff run and that is to play tough defense, be a distributor and offensive rebounder on offense and only shoot the ball if it is an open lay-in.
And then of course there’s Zach Collins. He has shown a lot of growth during this playoff run and for Portland he is the best rim protector and he is the guy that bring the attitude off the bench because he is not someone who will back down to anyone, despite being a second-year player with a scrawny build. I mean who can forget earlier this season when the Blazers were playing Golden State and the cameras caught Collins saying to Klay Thompson “Fuck you hoe”?
“Fuck you hoe” – a blazer legend pic.twitter.com/LJpLg6Av3z— Not Brad Stevens (@parkcorral) February 14, 2019
The Golden State bench has kind of been a mishmash of players. The only real steady players off the bench have been Shaun Livingston and Kevon Looney. Alfonzo McKinnie has also been averaging nine minutes per game during the postseason off the bench, but he’s been a complete non-factor. I would expect to see some Quinn Cook in this series because the Portland guards aren’t as big as the Houston guards are.
Overall this series should produce some offensive fireworks. Both backcourts are dynamic and if their team is going to have a chance to win they’ll have to play well. The secondary players that play best will likely determine who wins assuming the stars play well and I think that’s where the separation between these two teams favors Golden State. Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala are more trustworthy guys in the starting lineup than guys like Moe Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu when it comes to knocking down open looks.
This should be a very fun series though and even though the Warriors are the better team, don’t automatically count out this Portland team because they’ve shown a ton of toughness this postseason.
Top Photo: Steve Dipaola/Associated Press