PORTLAND — For at least one night, Damian Lillard found the spell the Trail Blazers needed to defeat Draymond Green and the Golden State Warriors in their best-of-seven playoff series.
Lillard’s magic included 40 points, 10 assists and five rebounds in a must-win situation Saturday night to establish competitive balance in the series, 120-108.
The Warriors, who were without reigning MVP Stephen Curry for the fourth consecutive game, lead the series 2-1. Game 4 is Monday in Portland.
So, Steph, how’s that knee feeling now?
During the first two games in Oakland, Green had sucked the life out of the Portland Trail Blazers like a dementor from the Harry Potter books.
Green’s magic was in full effect Saturday night. The champs also had the efficient shooting of Klay Thompson. In front of his adoring fans, Lillard summoned his own patronus charm to get the Blazers closer in the series.
It was as if a fluorescent trail cat lit up the arena when he scored his 38th, 39th and 40th points of the game with 2:17 left.
Lillard did what no other Blazer has done since Clyde Drexler in 1992 with his scoring and assisting — but he also set a tone.
“There was no question in my mind he was going to have a good game tonight,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said.
But Lillard’s magic and the hot-shooting of Al-Farouq Aminu (8-of-9 FG, 4-of-5 3-PT, 23 points and 10 rebounds) weren’t the only way the Blazers found an answer for their most formidable foe of the playoffs.
Green (37 points, nine rebounds, eight assists) and Thompson (35 points) combined for 72 points, but Green couldn’t have been more disappointed in himself while also guaranteeing a win in Game 4.
After the game, despite saying he’ll keep shooting, he sounded like a man mad at himself for taking the bait.
“When I look at this game I thought it was my worst game of the series,” Green said. “37, 9, 8, two turnovers. That’s cute. But I didn’t do what I do for this team. I don’t feel like I led my troops tonight. I felt like I was horrendous on the defensive end.”
The Blazers tried to do everything in their power not to let Thompson beat them.
And that meant living with Green taking open 3-pointers. He had eight makes on 12 attempts.
After he hit some, Portland switched their pick and rolls and coverage but Green still found a way. But if Green is going to take 3-pointer after 3-pointer, the Blazers are okay with that, given the alternatives.
“I would rather Draymond shoot than Klay Thompson,” CJ McCollum, who scored 22 points said.
Moving Maurice Harkless on to Thompson in Game 2 was Portland’s biggest adjustment, but it was evident to the Blazers coaching staff that something wasn’t right with Harkless.
Harkless said after the game that his right hip has been bothering him since Green delivered a hard foul on him in the first quarter of Game 2.
“I felt really slow out there today,” Harkless said. “The coaches saw that, they took me out, which I think was the right decision.”
If the Blazers were going down, they were going down with their best as Lillard, McCollum and Aminu each logged over 41 minutes.
“We had to do everything we had to do to win this game,” Stotts said. “One of the reasons we keep their minutes under check during the regular season is so they can be in this position during the playoffs.”
Gerald Henderson started the third quarter and played 23 minutes but other reserves made key contributions in the win like Allen Crabbe (10 points, 30 minutes) and Ed Davis (8 points, 10 rebounds, 30 minutes)
Surely, they would rather be up 2-1. But that has never been this team’s role to play.
“You understand stuff, you understand how to calm yourself down,” Aminu said of what they learned from Game 2. “Sometimes you have to go through it. Not that I wanted to lose Game 2 but to win this game I’m thankful for what we learned from Game 2.”
Suddenly, they find themselves in a real series with the champs and that, like this season, has been no magic trick.