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Bumps in playoff road can't knock Warriors off track

Golden State endures injuries -- and the Portland Trail Blazers' best punches -- to reach another conference final

POSTED: May 12, 2016 10:41 AM ET

By Shaun Powell

BY Shaun Powell


— Just when you thought you saw it all from a team that sashayed through the regular season in record style, pausing for its star to collect a Kia MVP trophy along the way, the Golden State Warriors delivered something new and unexpected the last few weeks.

Nervous sweat.

The relative ease in which they rumbled through the 82-game regular season took a turn so sharp and the Warriors suffered a cut. First, they lose Stephen Curry temporarily on an ankle tweak in Game 1 of the first round -- a frightening injury for a player with a nasty history of ankle woes.

Then midway through Game 5 of this Western Conference semifinal series with the Portland Trail Blazers, Draymond Green grimaced and limped to the bench, his ankle throbbing through his sneaker.

Warriors On Game 5 Victory

The Warriors speak with the media about the series clinching victory in Game 5.

The overmatched Blazers, with nothing to lose, took their swings and connected enough times to make the Warriors realize that this isn't the regular season anymore.

Even after all that, Western Conference finals are once again here for the Warriors, who are navigating this playoff minefield so far. Curry is healthy and back to a level that elevates him above most, if not every, player in the NBA. That's evident by how he finished off the Blazers with a pair of behind-the-back dribbles followed by a 3-pointer that the 125-121 series-clincher Wednesday out of reach. Green left the building Wednesday night walking normally. And the Warriors, collectively, are strutting, too. They're one round closer to defending their title, which is precisely where you expected them to be.

Before Game 5, Curry accepted his MVP trophy before a thrilled Oracle Arena crowd from NBA commissioner Adam Silver. Then he scored 29 points and had 11 assists, giving him 61 points post-knee-scare. He's healed, you think?

Klay Thompson dropped 33 points, then stuck a hand in the face of Damian Lillard in the final moment, forcing a bad shot which led to Curry's clinching 3-pointer. Thompson showed his two-way ability ability throughout this series and throughout the first two rounds, the Warriors' rotation has showed its might.

They are undefeated with Curry in the lineup, though not unblemished. Four of their five games against the Blazers gave way to late-game suspense. Maybe this was to be expected as the Blazers' guard combo of Lillard and C.J. McCollum (and their solid coach Terry Stotts) matches up well against Golden State.

"I think this prepared us for the next round," said Thompson. "We know what's right before us."

Curry Seals The Deal

Stephen Curry hits another triple to put the Warriors up by five.

Finishing off the Blazers in five granted the Warriors a five-day furlough, time to be spent resting and healing up to prepare for the survivor of the semifinal series/brass knuckle brawl between the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder. While this shouldn't be taken as a slight to the friskier-than-expected Blazers, the Warriors are about to see a significant step-up in challenge.

"Anytime you win a series, you're just relieved and then you move on and at that point you have a brand new set of challenges," said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. "So this was a great series and I'm happy we pulled through. Now we'll get a little rest and see what happens on the other side of the bracket."

Actually, you could even make a case that the Warriors haven't seen a high-quality opponent since last year's Western Conference finals against the Houston Rockets. The Rockets then were cohesive and loaded with James Harden, who gave Curry a push for the 2015 MVP (and was voted MVP later that summer by his peers in a union poll), nothing like they were in this year's first round, when they rolled over.

And if you share the opinion of Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers, then the Warriors' path to the championship round last year was easy since they didn't see the Clippers or Spurs. Of course, in The Finals, the Cavaliers were stripped of two All-Stars who were injured, leaving the heavy lifting to LeBron James, and still managed to win a pair.

Curry Goes For 29 In Game 5

Stephen Curry explodes for 29 points with 11 assists as the Warriors close out the Trail Blazers in Game 5.

None of that matters to the Warriors. They've gotten over the slights, either real or imagined. They beat the team in front of them 73 times during the regular season, which included the Cavs, Thunder, Spurs and Clippers, and they did so convincingly. Most of the players in their rotation are better than a year ago, and three are expected to be All-NBA selections, which suggests the Warriors to this point are better as well.

Both Green and Thompson had big performances against Portland when Curry sat out with a bum knee, and both have damaged the Spurs and Thunder this season. Green is averaging 17.7 points, 10.4 rebounds and seven rebounds in the playoffs and has has dominated the front line in the postseason. Thompson is averaging 27.2 points per game and points and shooting 47.5 percent both from the field and on 3-pointers, especially impressive since he was chasing Lillard for five games.

Thompson Goes Off In Game 5

Klay Thompson scores 33 points as the Warriors close out the Trail Blazers in Game 5.

"The best series I ever saw him play," Curry said of Thompson. "Hopefully that doesn't get lost in what we did. Shout out to him for elevating his game on both ends of the floor."

But in a West final that is expected to be closely contested, it's really about Curry and his health and shooting stroke. The vital signs are promising, based on the way he finished up the second round, and the rest he'll get before the next.

"He's great for basketball," said Blazers coach Terry Stotts. "He's a special player who can do special things. That's why he's MVP, and that's why they have a championship, and that's why they won 73 games. You can go down the list. He makes big time shots and he showed that again tonight."

The Warriors have Curry and a rich lineup that hasn't failed them for almost two years. They'll own home court advantage and have proven to be nearly unbeatable at Oracle Arena. They also have the experience of winning it all, and the desire to double up.

"Being the defending champs, teams are coming at you every night," Green said. "But making a run to the championship last year helped us out. We know what it takes. This is a great time for us and we're definitely taking advantage."

Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.

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