Portland Trail Blazers (3) vs. Golden State Warriors (1): A Western Conference Finals Preview

by Casey Holdahl
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After Trail Blazers starting center Jusuf Nurkic went down with a broken leg just a few weeks before the end of the 2018-19 regular season, most assumed their chances of securing home court in the first round of the 2019 Playoffs were sunk. That didn’t end up being the case, as Portland won seven of their final nine games to secure the three-seed and home court in the first round, where they’d meet the Oklahoma City Thunder.

But without Nurkic, the safe assumption was that Portland didn’t have enough talent to take down the likes of Russell Westbrook and Paul George. The Blazers, behind Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, might put up a fight, but the overwhelming majority of NBA observers picked the Thunder to win the series and send Portland on yet another vacation.

But that didn’t happen either. The Blazers would eventually defeat the Thunder in five games, with the final blow coming on a 37-foot series-ending, buzzer-beater from Damian Lillard in Game 5 at the Moda Center, to advance to the second round. There, they would meet the two-seed Nuggets, a team that advanced by virtue of defeating the seven-seed Spurs in seven games. While a slim majority picked Portland to win the conference semis, after Denver took two-in-a-row, capped by a blowout win in Game 5 to take a 3-2 series lead, the prevailing theory was that it would be Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Paul Millsap and the up-and-coming Nuggets would be the team to advance to the conference finals. The Blazers won Game 6 in Portland by their most comfortable margin in the series, but when they went down by 17 on the second quarter in just their fourth Game 7 in franchise history, that theory seemed astute.

But behind the play of McCollum and Evan Turner, the Blazers rallied to defeat the Nuggets 100-96 in Game 7, and thus, secured a trip to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in nearly 20 years. There, they’ll meet the one-seed Golden State Warriors, a team that has won the NBA Championship in three of the last four seasons and eliminated the Blazers in two of their last three postseason appearances.

As one would expect, the Warriors, despite both Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins likely sitting out the series due to injury, are the prohibitive favorite, with few, if any outside of Rip City, giving the Blazers much chance of advancing. There might be plenty of storylines in the series, from Damian Lillard returning to his hometown one last time before the Warriors move from Oakland to San Francisco to Seth and Stephen Curry being the first brothers to face each other in a conference final, but none of those seem to involve Portland coming out of the fray victorious.

Considering what they've done to get to the conference finals, it's only fitting for the Trail Blazers to enter the series as the underdog. Between injuries and recent past playoff failures, almost nobody (at least outside of the "Inside The NBA" studio) thought they'd make it this far anyway, so they might as well lean into what got them here for the first time since 2000.

So before the Trail Blazers begin another daunting playoff task, let's take a look at some of the specifics of the matchup versus the Golden State Warriors prior to Game 1, which tips off Tuesday night at Oracle Arena in Oakland.


REGULAR SEASON, ALL-TIME: Trail Blazers lead, 125-104
IN PORTLAND: Trail Blazers lead, 84-31
AT THE WARRIORS: Warriors lead, 72-41
PLAYOFFS, ALL-TIME: Warriors lead, 8-1
IN PORTLAND: Warriors lead, 3-1
AT THE WARRIORS: Warriors lead, 5-0








Game 1

Tuesday, May 14

Golden State

6 PM


Game 2

Thursday, May 16

Golden State

6 PM


Game 3

Saturday, May 18


6 PM


Game 4

Monday, May 20


6 PM


Game 5*

Wednesday, May 22

Golden State

6 PM


Game 6*

Friday, May 24


6 PM


Game 7*

Sunday, May 26

Golden State

6 PM


*if necessary


• The Trail Blazers and Warriors split the regular season series in 2018-19, 2-2. Portland won the season series against Golden State in 2017-18, 2-1.

• In four games against the Warriors this season, Damian Lillard averaged 28.3 points (47.6% FG, 50.0% 3-PT, 85.0% FT), 2.0 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 1.00 steal. Lillard scored 40 points against Golden State on Dec. 29 and scored 21 points at Golden State on Dec. 27, including a game-winning three-pointer with 6.3 seconds remaining in overtime.

• CJ McCollum averaged 18.0 points (36.6% FG, 30.0% 3-PT, 84.6% FT), 3.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists in four games against the Warriors this season. McCollum has made at least three three-pointers in seven of his last nine games against Golden State.

• In four games against the Warriors this season, Al-Farouq Aminu averaged 10.0 points (37.1% FG, 35.3% 3-PT, 100% FT), 8.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists.

• Stephen Curry averaged 28.7 points (41.5% FG, 35.1% 3-PT, 79.2% FT), 5.7 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 1.33 steals in three games against Portland this season. Curry has made at least five three-pointers in eight of his last 10 games against Portland.

• In four games against Portland this season, Klay Thompson averaged 21.8 points (41.6% FG, 40.0% 3-PT, 78.6% FT), 5.8 re-bounds, 3.0 assists and 1.50 steals. Thompson scored 30-plus points in both of Golden State’s victories over Portland this season.

• In four games against the Trail Blazers this season, Kevin Durant averaged 28.8 points (57.5% FG, 41.2% 3-PT, 76.2% FT), 6.3 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 2.00 blocks and 1.00 steal. Durant has scored at least 30 points in seven of his last 10 games against Portland.


• Portland and Golden State have faced each other twice previously in the postseason, with the Warriors winning both series.

• Entering the series, Golden State leads Portland, 8-1, all-time in the playoffs.

• Both series between the Trail Blazers and the Warriors have occurred in the last three postseasons. Golden State beat Portland in the 2016 Western Conference Semifinals, 4-1, and in the 2017 First Round, 4-0.

• In nine career playoff games against the Warriors, Damian Lillard has averaged 30.0 points, 4.3 rebounds and 5.7 assists.

• CJ McCollum has scored at least 20 points in six of his nine playoff games against the Warriors. He scored a playoff career-high 41 points at Golden State in Game 1 of the First Round in 2017.


Points per game: Trail Blazers 114.7 (6th), Warriors 117.7 (2nd)

Points against per game: Trail Blazers 110.5 (14th), Warriors 111.2 (16th)

Point differential: Trail Blazers +4.2 (7th) , Warriors +6.5 (2nd)

Field goal percentage: Trail Blazers 46.7 percent (12th), Warriors 49.1 percent (1st)

Opponent field goal percentage: Trail Blazers 45.7 percent (13th), Warriors 44.4 percent (3rd)

Three-point field goal percentage: Trail Blazers 35.9 percent (8th), Warriors 38.5 percent (3rd)

Opponent three-point field goal percentage: Trail Blazers 35.9 percent (18th), Warriors 34.7 percent (11th)

Effective field goal percentage: Trail Blazers 52.8 percent (13th), Warriors 56.5 (1st)

True Shooting Percentage: Trail Blazers 56.8 percent (9th), Warriors 59.6 (1st)

Rebounds per game: Trail Blazers 48.0 (3rd), Warriors 46.2 (11th)

Offensive rebounds per game: Trail Blazers 11.8 (3rd), Warriors 9.7 (21st)

Rebound differential: Trail Blazers +5.6 (1st), Warriors +1.9 (8th)

Assists per game: Portland 23.0 (25th), Warriors 29.4 (1st)

Turnovers per game: Trail Blazers 13.3 (12th), Warriors 13.8 (21st)

Pace: Trail Blazers 99.9 (18th), Warriors 103.6 (6th)

Offensive rating: Trail Blazers 113.6 (3rd), Warriors 114.9 (1st)

Defensive rating: Trail Blazers 109.5 (16th), Warriors 108.5 (11th)

Net rating: Trail Blazers +4.1 (7th), Warriors +6.4 (2nd)


• November 23: Golden State Warriors 125, Portland Trail Blazers 97

The Warriors (13-7), playing without Stephen Curry and Draymond Green, looked determined to snap their four-game losing streak – the team’s longest since 2013. Whether it was Golden State shooting 52 percent from the field in the first half or turning seven Portland turnovers into 19 points, the Trail Blazers weren't able to keep pace nor catch a break as the Warriors pulled away.

"It was like seven turnovers for 19 points, which is remarkable," said Stotts. "They took advantage of every time we turned it over. When we played in a crowd, they got it out quickly."

Golden State outscored Portland, 35-17, during the decisive second quarter that included a 22-3 run.

"This is probably the most disappointing game of the trip because they had two guys out with injuries and we had a day of rest," said Stotts. "This was probably the one that we really needed to get."

Damian Lillard (23 points, 8 assists), Jusuf Nurkic (22 points, 8 rebounds) and CJ McCollum (19 points, 5 assists) combined for 64 Portland points. Kevin Durant (32 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists) and Klay Thompson (31 points, 8 rebounds) led the way for the Warriors.

"To be honest, the Warriors were due for a game like this," Stotts lamented. "They've had some losses in a row and they were kind of slowed down a little bit. I think they tried to get back to the style of play that they needed to play."

Lillard eclipsed a legend in the losing effort. The 6-3 guard from Weber State passed Terry Porter (11,330) to become the third-leading scorer in franchise history (11,341). Lillard is on pace to pass LaMarcus Aldridge (12,562) for second place later this year, leaving only one name to chase – Clyde Drexler (18,040) – over the next few seasons.

• December 27: Portland Trail Blazers 110, Golden State Warriors 109 (OT)

Down two in overtime, Damian Lillard hit a game-winning three-pointer with six seconds to go against the defending champion Golden State Warriors in the arena where he grew up watching NBA basketball. Kevin Durant’s ensuing jump shot rimmed off to secure Portland’s 110-109 win.

"It was an amazing game, honestly," said Trail Blazes head coach Terry Stotts, who passed Rick Adelman for second in franchise history in wins Thursday night. "There were stretches where neither team really played that well but I liked the way we kept fighting. We have seven turnovers in the fourth quarter, three possessions to start the overtime with turnovers and still come back and find a win."

The Trail Blazers are now 20-15 overall and 7-10 on the road this season. The victory is Portland's first at Oracle Arena since defeating the Warriors 115-101 on November 23, 2013. It is also the last time the Trail Blazers will play in Oakland during the regular season with the Warriors moving to San Francisco before the start of the 2019-20 season.

"That's a hell of a way to go out," said Lillard. "We need this win, it was a big game for us, especially having to play them two times in a row. Having played such a solid game, almost gave it up. It was huge for us, for us to have to dig the way we had to dig, come up big on so many possessions after we had kind of let them back in to the game. That was a great, great win, a great way to go out of here."

Lillard scored 21 points in all, but before the decisive shot, the game belonged to Jusuf Nurkic. The 7-footer from Bosnia played perhaps his best game of the season, scoring a season-high 27 points (10-18 FG) to go with 12 rebounds and four assists.

"Nurk carried us during that stretch," said Stotts. "The way he finished on the block, he had a good matchup. It was disappointing when he drew some double teams, he made some nice passes and we got some wide open shots. We haven't done that a lot but to be able to play through him like that was a real advantage for us against their small lineup."

• December 29: Golden State Warriors 115, Portland Trail Blazers 105

After a close first quarter, the Warriors outscored the Blazers 26-11 in the first eight and a half minutes of the second quarter to take their largest lead of the night at 56-38.

"They’re a great team, they’ve won three championships," said Damian Lillard. "They’re going to make shots. Sometimes it was contested but the ones we allowed them to get a little bit too much space, they made them tonight."

The rest of the night consisted of the Trail Blazers cutting the lead down to high single-digits, only to have the Warriors push the lead back up to a comfortable margin.

After trailing by 16 with just over five minutes to play, the Trail Blazers made one last attempt to get back into the game, going on a 10-0 run to cut the lead to 105-98 with just under three minutes to play.

But Stephen Curry would make a 17-foot pullup jumper and four free throws to push the lead back to 13 with 1:17 to play.

“They can run points off," said Damian Lillard. "You know, they can run points off and you let them hit two threes, turnover, another three – down nine. 9-0 run, it can happen fast."

With a game on the horizon Sunday night, Terry Stotts finally waved the white flag.

As one might expect when two teams play twice over the course of three days, Saturday night's game was a contentious affair, with six technical fouls and one ejection, which came due to Golden State's Andre Igoudala throwing the ball into the stands at the end of the second quarter.

• February 13: Portland Trail Blazers 129, Golden State Warriors 107

After a first half that featured 10 lead changes, 12 ties and neither team leading by more than six points, the Warriors went on a 13-3 run, capped by a Kevin Durant dunk, to take an 87-84 lead with 4:37 to play in the third quarter. But while Portland answered back, they still trailed by 95-94 going into the fourth quarter. And considering that the Trail Blazers had lost all 22 instances this season in which they trailed going into the final 12 minutes, their chances for coming away with a win against the reigning NBA Champs seemed slim.

But the momentum shifted squarely into Portland’s favor after an impressive block by Zach Collins with 7:35 to play in regulation. After being blocked on the other end, the 7-0 big in his second season out of Gonzaga seemingly came out of nowhere to block Damion Lee at the rim. On the ensuring possession, Collins drew an offensive foul on Klay Thompson, the two jawed on their walk back up the court, drawing offsetting technical fouls.

“Zach’s plays, I thought, were a turning point – particularly the one where he either gets the ball stripped or blocked and then runs down to the other end and makes the block," said Stotts. "I thought that was kind of a turning point for us because the game was going either way and if they score there, it’s a big turnaround. So that play was big and then he made other effort plays, emotional plays that fired up the team and the crowd."

From there, the Trail Blazers outscored the Warriors 25-4, with eight of those points coming on one possession thanks to flagrant and technical fouls on Draymond Green and Steve Kerr, to pull away for the 22-point victory.

“We knew it was going to be a tough game," said Damian Lillard. "They played last night, so we just wanted to try to keep our energy up, keep the pressure on them and I thought we did a great job of each time they made a little run, we just weathered the storm and stayed with it. It came down to the last few minutes and it kind of got out of control a little bit – we finished it out how we needed to."


• Portland guard Damian Lillard is from Oakland and attended Oakland High School, located five miles away from Oracle Arena.

• Warriors head coach Steve Kerr played for the Trail Blazers during the 2001-02 season, averaging 4.1 points a and 1.0 assist in 65 games.

• Trail Blazers guard/forward Evan Turner and Golden State forward Andre Iguodala were teammates with the Philadelphia 76ers from 2010-12.

• Trail Blazers guard Seth Curry and Warriors guard Stephen Curry are the first pair of brothers in NBA history to face each other in a Conference Finals playoff series.


Center Jusuf Nurkic (left leg) is out for the duration of the postseason. Guard/forward Rodney Hood suffered a bone bruise in his left knee in the second half of Portland's win versus Denver in Game 7 and is listed as questionable for Game 1 versus Golden State. 

As for the Warriors, DeMarcus Cousins (left quad), Kevin Durant (right calf) and Damian Jones (left pectoral) are out for Game 1.  


The entirety of the Western Conference Finals will air nationally on ESPN. Travis Demers and Michael Holton will have the call on Rip City Radio 620 AM and on all of the stations of the Trail Blazers Radio Network.  The game will also broadcast on ESPN Radio.


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