Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) celebrates during the second half of Game 1 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, April 16, 2017. The Warriors won 121-109. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
By Joe Hawkes-Beamon
Sports Radio Service Writer
OAKLAND — The whole basketball world knows that the only way that it’s championship-or-bust for the Golden State Warriors this season.
Even after leading the NBA in wins for a third-straight season (67-15), if the Warriors don’t bring home their second Larry O’Brien trophy in three years, the 2016-17 season will be considered a failure.
But forward Kevin Durant and the top-seeded Warriors look like they are ready to claim their rightful place as the best team in the NBA at the end of June, after holding off the visiting eighth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers 121-109 victory Sunday in front of frenzied, sold out Oracle Arena in Game 1 of the first-round series.
Here are a few of my takeaways from Golden State’s win:
Durant is big time: Durant finished with a team-high 32 points to go along with 10 rebounds in his playoff debut with Golden State. Durant shot 12 of 20 from the floor and showed no signs of a player who missed 19 games in the second half before returning for the Warriors’ final three games of the season due to a recent knee injury.
“The game ratchets up when you get into the playoffs,” Durant said after the game. “I definitely felt good out there.”
Entering Sunday’s playoff game, Durant is averaging 28.8 points and eight rebounds per game in 91 career playoff games, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
Another day at the office for Mr. Green: Draymond Green continues to be the heartbeat of the Warriors and it was business as usual for Green after recording a near triple-double, finishing with 19 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists, five blocked shots (two that kept Oracle buzzing), and three steals.
With all due respect to Durant, Stephen Curry (29 points, 9/19 FG, 5 REB, 4 AST) and Klay Thompson (15 points, 6/16 FG, 1/6 3FG), Green is vital for Golden State to win the title this year. Green is the emotional leader of the team, the guy who brings his lunchbox and hard hat to work game-in, game-out, and possibly, the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year this season.
Trail Blazers have Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, but not much more: McCollum tied a Trail Blazers franchise record for most points in the first half of a playoff game with 27, and Damian Lilliard scored 21 points as Portland’s backcourt combined to score 48 of the team’s 56 points at half time.
McCollum finished with a playoff career-high 41 points on 16 of 28 and eight rebounds, while Lillard scored 34 points on 12 of 26 shooting and five rebounds.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, Lillard and McCollum are the first Trail Blazers teammates to score 34 or more points in a playoff game since Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter on May 19, 1992. Their 75 points were two off the franchise playoff record by teammates.
That sounds all good, but Portland won’t win a game in the series if their star-studded backcourt has to continue to shoulder the load and not get any help from the role players.
Maurice Harkless was the only other Trail Blazer who had double-digit shot attempts (5/13 FG) and finished with 11 points. Evan Turner scored 12 points.
Portland’s bench was missing in action, scoring just nine points, while reserve guard Ian Clark scored 12 of Golden State’s 22 points off the bench.
The Trail Blazers were without center Jusuf Nurkic, who missed the game with a non-displaced fracture in his right leg.
Game 2 is Wednesday back in Oakland. Golden State is hoping that reserve forward Matt Barnes, who didn’t play in Game 1 due to an ankle injury, is ready to go.
Golden State held the rebounding edge (45-38) and shot 53.1% (43/81 FG) from the floor, while holding Portland to 43% shooting (40/93 FG) for the game.