OAKLAND -- Professional athletes and coaches aren't much interested in moral victories. You win or you lose, but not many times do you feel good about losing.
But the Portland Trail Blazers had every reason to feel good about their 125-117 loss to the Golden State Warriors Wednesday night, if for no other reason than it was a 37-point improvement on their performance the last time, they played the Warriors in Oracle Arena. That game was a debacle at the Oracle -- a 45-point loss.
But Wednesday the Trail Blazers played physically, energetically and stubbornly. They weathered a couple of Golden State knockout punches -- scoring runs that often take opponents out of a game -- and came back for more. And they played a decent defensive game.
Yes, they did.
You're going to look at those 125 points and the Warriors' 50.5 percent shooting and wonder how it could be said they played a decent defensive game? But I'd have to tell you they were playing a juggernaut of an offensive unit, a team that has now shot more than 50 percent in four straight games and came into this game averaging 49.8 percent from the field for the season. That's a product of their sensational passing game, which led to 31 assists Wednesday night. It was the 25th time this season Golden State has reached 30 assists. No other NBA has had more than six 30-assist games.
"I was really pleased with the way we competed," Portland Coach Terry Stotts said. "Obviously, we played a much better game than the last time we were here. We withstood a lot of their runs, particularly in the first half and even in the second half. We made a good game of it."
The Trail Blazers, as they've been of late, seemed much more physical on defense than they were earlier in the season.
"I hope so," Stotts said. "That was part of what we wanted to do going into the game. ... We tried to be more physical, we tried to keep the tempo up. To beat Golden State, you've got to be able to score and we did a good job of that."
Particularly in the first half, when the Trail Blazers racked up 71 points, the most the Warriors have allowed in any half this season. CJ McCollum was terrific in the first half, posting 26 points, six rebounds and three assists. But in the second half, the Warriors -- not having to worry about Damian Lillard (still out, nursing a sprained ankle), they were able to load up on McCollum and double-team him on pick-and-rolls.
"We just got more physical," said Golden State Coach Steve Kerr. "The first half, I felt like he was getting anywhere he wanted before and after he got the ball. We did a better job in the second half of running him off of his routes and just tried to be more physical with him. We were a little quicker and a little more alert."
McCollum still finished with 35 points, nine rebounds and five assists -- and a lot of admiration from the Warriors' Kevin Durant.
"CJ McCollum is a hell of a player," Durant told ESPN's Chris Haynes after the game. "Amazing player. One of the best players in our league."
The Blazers finished up a 44.9 percent from the field and 46.2 percent from three-point range while making 25 of 28 free throws -- marksmanship that will usually win games. They also won the rebound battle 44-39 and turned 17 Warrior turnovers into 21 points.
It was encouraging. And if the players and coaches couldn't bring themselves to call it a moral victory, I believe you and I certainly have that right.