The good, the bad, and the predictable Warriors comeback of Game 4 of the Western Conference finals.
Game 4: Warriors 119, Trail Blazers 117
Winner: Meyers Leonard
Meyers Leonard almost saved Portland from getting swept by Golden State again. Almost. Had it not been for the man Jalen Rose once called “7-foot Justin Bieber,” the Blazers wouldn’t have even been in a close game on Monday night. Leonard, in case you need a refresher—as I suspect you may, given that the guy has averaged 5.2 points and less than 15 minutes a game over the last three seasons—is in his seventh year with Portland. A career Blazer, he’s best known (before Monday) for being one of the Blazers’ Big Four—that is, one of the four players the franchise signed to abominably oversized contracts in 2016. Leonard was given four years and $41 million after he had sustained a shoulder injury that caused him to be such an on-court liability that he was booed by his home fans.
Leonard earned all of the $10.6 million he received this season in Game 4. It was the game of his life: 30 points on 12-for-16 shooting (5-for-8 from behind the arc), 12 rebounds, three assists, one steal, one block. By the half, Leonard had already scored more points (25) than he had in the NBA or in college at the University of Illinois. Multiple “MEYERS LEONARD” chants broke out, the first coming at the end of the second quarter. Leonard appeared to tear up.
Mark Jackson said Leonard had a star mentality. Jeff Van Gundy, referring to Jackson’s recurrent “BANG!” call, prodded his broadcast partner, “If he’s not going to get a bang now, when are you going to bang him?” Unfortunate turn of phrase. But, I’ll say it, Leonard deserved to be banged! He deserved every “Mama, there goes that man!” Jackson could muster in a single evening, and folks, as your mute button will tell you, that’s a lot!
Was the performance predictable for Portland’s oversized Chris Pine? Leonard drew his second career postseason start in Game 3 and notched 16 points. He was tough as Denver-series Zach Collins in the paint and strong as Dame Time Dame on the perimeter, hitting necessary shot after shot and grabbing rebounds to push Portland’s pace. At one point in the fourth quarter, Leonard received the ball on the perimeter just feet away from Lillard, and two Warriors defenders left Lillard open TO DOUBLE LEONARD.
It’s too bad that the performance of Leonard’s life ended in a loss. (Although, oddly enough, in every game in which he’s dropped 20 or more points, the Blazers have lost.) But hey, next season is a contract year. This could just be the beginning. The very overdue, expensive beginning.
Winner: Golden State’s Comeback Legacy
Here’s a Weird, But Warriors truth: Golden State is better off down double-digits in regulation than they are in overtime. The team went 0-6 in overtime games this season, making Game 4’s extra period a tale of two Dubs: They came back from a 17-point deficit to push past regulation in Game 4, yet 2018-19 provided no proof they could keep that momentum.
This Warriors dynasty will be remembered as one of the best teams ever, if not the best, no matter what happens this offseason with Kevin Durant’s and Klay Thompson’s likely free agencies. But they’ll also forever be a part of an individual’s history, the butt end of LeBron James’s greatest feat: the 3-1 comeback in the 2016 Finals. That was a first in NBA history; so was the Clippers’ 31-point comeback against the Warriors in the first round of this year’s playoffs. So it’s important that comebacks have also become a positive part of the Warriors’ playoff identity: On Monday, Golden State rallied back after trailing by 17 late in the third quarter. Game 4 marked the third consecutive 17-point (or more) deficit that the Warriors had come back from this series, all without Kevin Durant (and this time, without even Andre Iguodala).
Loser: Helpless Dame
The through line between the last time Golden State swept Portland, in the first round of the 2017 playoffs, and this time is Lillard’s inefficiency. In that 2017 series, he shot 43.3 percent from the field, 28.1 percent from deep, and he averaged 27.8 points; in this series, he shot 37.1 percent from the field, 36.8 percent from deep, and he averaged 22.3 points. There are other repeat offenses that carried over from 2017 to the present for Portland, a franchise frozen in time by its own overspending, but Lillard—more than CJ McCollum or Terry Stotts or the team’s many familiar role players—is the one person whom the Blazers needed at his best against the Warriors. With Portland operating at peak efficiency, I’d give it two games in a series with Golden State. Depending on whom you ask—Kevin Durant or the Instragrammers he’s firing back at—the Blazers had an even better chance at stealing a couple games against a Warriors team without KD. (I imagine you can guess which camp Durant’s in.)
Portland’s hopes begin and end with Lillard. Tired as hell from Denver in the second round; getting ambushed, doubled, and trapped by Golden State; and reportedly dealing with separated ribs, Dame just couldn’t be the man. He didn’t make a layup in the series until Game 4; his dribble drives were often smothered before he could even think of getting a shot up.
Lillard tried his best to make use of passing lanes inside, and Stotts tried his best to get his guard going by giving him more time off-ball, but nothing seemed to work. Lillard’s legend went to another level in the series against OKC following The Shot, and the Blazers backed up the idea that they could give Golden State a challenge during the second round against Denver. But the Warriors have a way of reducing their opponents’ major, week-old accomplishments to sidenotes. Lillard’s fallen victim to Golden State’s compressor multiple times. There’s a word for trying to go shot-for-shot with Steph and squaring up against a Klay Thompson and Draymond Green double team: swept.