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Winners and Losers: No Lead Is Safe Against the Warriors

Even when they’re down two All-Stars, Golden State proved on Thursday that it is still every bit the juggernaut we’ve come to expect

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The good, the bad, and the fraternal from Game 2 of the Western Conference finals.

Game 2: Warriors 114, Portland 111

Winner: Andre Iguodala’s Hands

As a 35-year-old going on his 15th NBA season, most of Iguodala’s moves these days have to be calculated and measured; ones that save energy for the times when he needs it most. With the Warriors up three in the final 10 seconds, Iggy knew Damian Lillard wanted to go for the tie and timed his move accordingly. Lillard had struggled in Game 1 but come alive in the second half of Thursday’s Game 2, scoring 13, including a couple of signature deep 3s. But Iguodala wasn’t about to be posterized on another one of those shots. He made his move:

Ball out, no foul, game over—Paul George only wishes he could have prevented Dame Time like this.

Winner: Seth Curry, in a Losing Effort

I know what it’s like to have a younger brother (two of them, in fact)—and I can tell you that 75 percent of the time it’s annoying as hell. Or at least it was when we were all growing up. These days, the nuisances only happen once in a while, and I can only imagine how Steph Curry felt throughout most of Game 2 as flashes of old backyard games between him and Seth were playing out on the biggest stage.

“It was like back in Charlotte,” Steph told Doris Burke postgame.

Familiarity is a competitive advantage and Seth made sure to get the most out of it on Thursday. Nobody in the NBA can really stop Steph, but when Seth guarded him, it was like he was inside his brain, like he knew his tendencies and was able to guess where Steph would go next. It resulted in four steals for Seth, and must have felt like winning an argument or a fight when they were younger. The snapshot of the two going against each other wasn’t so much a mirror, given that Steph is clearly the more talented brother, but it was eerily like looking through a time machine. For a few moments, it was just the two of them going up against each other one-on-one, while their conflicted parents—Dell was wearing a half-Blazers-half-Warriors jersey—cheered them on.

Two brothers have never before faced off in a conference final. And Game 2 gave us the kind of storybook performance younger siblings dream of against their older siblings for years. Seth didn’t just annoy Steph on defense, he also hit four 3s and scored 16 points off the bench, including a couple in crunch time. For a player that is often simply known as Steph’s brother, it must have felt good. He was nearly the difference in a game Portland absolutely needed to win. But the greatest shooter in league history still got his 37 points and the W. Sometimes, us older siblings might lose the battle, but we always end up winning the war.

Loser: The Blazers’ Bigs

In Game 1, the Blazers’ bigs were dropping back in coverage when put into a pick-and-roll against Steph Curry, and it turned out to be a disastrous strategy. In Game 2, Portland was more aggressive on that end, but the bigs failed to be difference-makers on offense. None struggled more than Zach Collins, who played a whole eight minutes in the game, and whose only recorded statistics were two turnovers and five fouls. That’s it.

Enes Kanter didn’t fare much better. Terry Stotts played him for only 19 minutes and he grabbed five boards and scored four points. This is looking more and more like a “Can’t play Kanter” series—except that if Portland doesn’t play Kanter, their alternate options are not much better. Stotts went to Meyers Leonard early in this game and he ended up playing 17 minutes. While he had some key rebounds and one particularly nifty pass in the fourth quarter, he also took three 3s and only made one. He was a minus-six, the worst of any Blazers bench player. For the few minutes that Portland decided to play small with Al-Farouq Aminu at center, the Warriors crushed the boards, and on the whole night, they outrebounded them 50-37, and 12-10 on offensive rebounds. You’d like to imagine the Blazers will play better at home, but the reality is they’re extremely overmatched in the frontcourt, especially with Kevon Looney suddenly playing like a lite version of young Draymond. The best Portland can hope for is that the bigs don’t completely collapse and that Lillard and CJ McCollum can carry them. Here’s the thing: Statistically, both had decent performances, but McCollum forced and missed four shots in the final four minutes and Lillard, well, we all saw what Iguodala did to him.

Winner: The Third-Quarter Warriors Led by Draymond Green

By this point in the Warriors’ dynasty, their classic avalanche third quarters feel like footnotes in a history book. With Kevin Durant, they are either dominant from start to finish, or they take over in the fourth after not playing to their full potential for three quarters. Rarely now do we see the type of vintage frenzy to open the second half that defined their early years, when teams could see their leads evaporate faster than they could call out for help defense while defending the deadly Draymond Green and Steph pick-and-roll. The Blazers were hit with that flurry hard in Game 2, and it changed the game.

Portland shot the ball extremely well in the first half, getting 33 points off 3-pointers as opposed to the Warriors’ nine. It was the exact blueprint for the Blazers to steal one in Oakland. But once the third quarter began, a 17-point lead shrank to three just five minutes in. And with just over three minutes left in the quarter, Golden State had the lead and Oracle was singing the Warriors’ praises at full volume. How did they do it? It’s impossible not to start that answer with Draymond Green, who was omnipresent all game long, batting balls away, getting blocks at the rim, forcing turnovers, running the floor, and making perfect passes. The Warriors turned on their defensive efforts in the third and played to the beat of Green’s energetic heart rate, trapping Portland’s guards hard and forcing their bigs to contribute. Green was the glue that kept the team together on defense and the grease that helped the offense’s wheels go at warp speed.

By now everyone seemingly knows that Green lost 23 pounds before the playoffs, and man, does it show. He has gone from looking like he was playing with a backpack on during the regular season to zooming around the court like a sports car, knocking down everything in his way and making plays at will. It feels like he’s first to every loose ball and rebound, and he never, ever stops running. In Game 2, he finished with 16 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists, and five blocks. Curry may be the player who elevates the Warriors, but Green is still the key that unlocks their full force on both ends.

Losers: The Warriors’ Other All-Stars

Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins are not walking through that door. At least not yet. The Warriors announced before Game 2 that both will be re-evaluated for their respective injuries in a week—Durant a calf strain he suffered in Game 5 of the Rockets series, Cousins a torn left quad in Game 2 of the Clippers series—and will not make the trip to Portland for Games 3 and 4.

Still, Golden State remains dominant. It boasts three other All-Stars, and we won’t bat an eye if it makes a fifth straight Finals appearance. But without Durant as a reliable Apple backup for their offense (he’s averaging nearly 35 points a game in the playoffs) the Warriors are clearly playing with a nostalgic energy and free-flowing pace, and their depth is clearly lacking. Kerr was forced to use 11 players in the first half of Game 2, and even though they got the win, it was probably closer than they’d like.

The Warriors can get past the Blazers without Durant, who reportedly “isn’t even close” to returning. They should. But the team has been vocal about how much they need him. (Cousins would add some much-needed big-man depth, given that they had to dust off Damian Jones, who hasn’t played since December, in this series). While the Warriors can probably afford to not have Durant for this series, either Giannis or Kawhi await in the Finals, and the two-time Finals MVP is going to be essential.