NBA Playoffs 2019: Why Portland must regroup defensively against the Warriors
The Portland Trail Blazers gave it everything they had to get to the Western Conference Finals. Overcoming the scarring sweep that the New Orleans Pelicans inflicted upon them last season, this year's Blazers have proven that they can hang with some of the best teams that the West can throw at them.
They have come a long way from facing Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and the Thunder in the first round. In facing both the players, Portland had to make adjustments to its lineup and hope that Enes Kanter's defense in the pick-and-roll wouldn't let them down. For the most part, it didn't.
Then came Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets. Second-seeded Denver had just come off a Game 7 win over San Antonio and was an inexperienced squad with fatigue. This was the Trail Blazers' chance to make the conference finals and they sensed it. Although it was anything but a straightforward series win, the Trail Blazers and their back up center managed to make the Conference Finals.
Had Jusuf Nurkic not been injured, Kanter might only have seen the floor as an offensive player from the bench. He might not even have the first big off the bench, that would have been Zach Collins. However, since Nurkic got injured, Kanter has been Rip City's starting center and it's been quite a ride.
In all fairness, this is not a knock on Kanter's ability. The former Thunder big has come a long from being Steven Adams' backup in Oklahoma City and his new-found defensive nous has helped Portland keep opposing centers in check. That and his activity on the offensive board have been key in Portland's progression.
However, that's where the positives end. Against the Warriors in game 1, Kanter's reluctance to trap on the pick-and-roll, something which he did successfully against Jamal Murray and the aforementioned Jokic, were exposed.
With Kevin Durant injured, the Warriors' go-to play was the Curry-Green or the Curry-Looney pick-and-roll. Kanter's reluctance to step up and outside the three-point line meant Curry had more than enough airspace to launch a three. The result? A playoff career high tying performance from beyond the three-point arc by the two-time MVP. See the correlation?
And that was just on Steph. The Warriors feasted on Portland's inability to guard the Splash Brothers beyond the three-point line and coming out of the pick-and-roll. Kanter and Portland, in general, were so afraid of giving Green that short roll that proved to be so deadly against the Rockets in game 6 that they let arguably the greatest shooter ever have more than enough airspace to launch at will.
Granted, Steph was struggling from beyond the arc prior to game 1 of the Conference Finals. However, if you let him find his shot, that's the end of your chances in the game.
As mentioned before, the Trail Blazers gave everything they had to get to the finals in the West. It took one of the most iconic buzzer beaters in recent playoff history and an incredible performance in a Game 7 on the road to get them there.
However, if this is the best they have got defensively, it may not be good enough to get past the Warriors.