OAKLAND, Calif. – As much as they tried to tell themselves it was only one game, and that the margin of defeat didn’t matter, the Trail Blazers in the aftermath of Wednesday’s Game 2 blowout at Golden State knew they had put themselves in a precarious position.
Saturday’s Game 3 in Portland?
“It’s a must win game, for sure,’’ Maurice Harkless said. “We have to get that game. If we want a chance to win the series, we have to win Game 3.’’
As if playing perhaps the best team ever assembled wasn’t daunting enough, NBA history shows that in seven-game playoff series, teams that have gone up 2-0 have won nearly 94 percent of the time (262-18).
“We’ve got to get this one,’’ Damian Lillard said of Game 3. “You don’t want to go home and drop this one and then, you know, even if you do win Game 4 you’re coming back here looking at elimination.’’
At the forefront of the Blazers’ preparation figures to be how to stop JaVale McGee from impacting the game so emphatically in his short spurts, while also bracing for what the law of averages says will be a breakout game from the struggling Klay Thompson.
McGee has hurt the Blazers with his rebounding and dunks off lobs – both of which seem to come at pivotal times that sway momentum back in the Warriors’ favor. In Game 2 he had 15 points and five rebounds in 13 minutes, hitting all seven of his shots.
His effectiveness has highlighted the Blazers’ inexperience and lack of depth at the center position. With centers Jusuf Nurkic, Ed Davis and Festus Ezeli injured, the Blazers have turned to Noah Vonleh and Meyers Leonard, who have been overwhelmed, and Al-Farouq Aminu, who has been physically overmatched.
“We didn’t communicate the switches well, but it’s a challenge,’’ coach Terry Stotts said of McGee’s effectiveness. “When you have a guy like Steph or Klay coming off (a screen) you’ve got to get up and guard them and not let the big get behind you … we didn’t obviously cover it the way we wanted to.’’
If McGee’s impact has been unexpected, so too was the Warriors’ ease with Game 2 considering they played without Kevin Durant (calf), Shaun Livingston (finger, hand) and Matt Barnes (ankle).
What’s more, the Warriors enjoy the comforts of a two-game lead despite erratic performances from both Thompson and Curry, neither of which has been near the top of their game.
Thompson on Wednesday continued his series funk, going 6-for-17 with six turnovers. He is now 12-for-33 in the series with eight turnovers while Curry is 15-of-37 in the series with nine turnovers.
Still, with the exception of a second-quarter flurry by the Blazers, Game 2 was never close. Most of the Blazers starters watched for the final 10 minutes from the bench.
“That’s why it’s a series – points don’t carry over,’’ Harkless said. “Doesn’t matter how much we lost by – one or 50 – next game we start 0-0.’’
That will come Saturday in Portland, in a game the Blazers have already amplified to a must-win.
“That’s not pressure,’’ Harkless said of the must-win proclamation. “It’s basketball.’’