Both the Portland Trail Blazers and Golden State Warriors enter the Western Conference Finals after incredibly taxing series-clinching wins on the road.
Portland endured a seven-game slugfest with the Denver Nuggets that included a four-overtime game while the Warriors, already without DeMarcus Cousins who has not played since tearing his quad in the 1st Round, outlasted the Rockets despite losing Kevin Durant in Game 5 with a strained calf.
These teams know each other well as they met in the playoffs in 2016 and 2017. The Warriors swept the Blazers in the 1st Round in 2017 and beat them in five games in the Conference Semifinals in 2016.
- Game 1 - Tuesday, May 14 at Golden State, Time: 9:00 p.m.
- Game 2 - Thursday, May 16 at Golden State, Time: 9:00 p.m.
- Game 3 - Saturday, May 18 at Portland, Time: 9:00 p.m.
- Game 4 - Monday, May 20 at Portland, Time: 9:00 p.m.
- Game 5 (if necessary) - Wednesday, May 22, at Golden State, Time: 9:00 p.m.
- Game 6 (if necessary) - Friday, May 24, at Portland, Time: 9:00 p.m.
- Game 7 (if necessary) - Sunday, May 26, at Golden State, Time: 9:00 p.m.
Recapping the Season Series
Result: Series split 2-2
Best game: Dec. 27, 2018 - Trail Blazers 110, Warriors 109 (OT)
Best performance: Damian Lillard - 40 points, 14-23 FG, 6-13 3-pt FG on December 29
Although the teams split the season series, only one of the four games - the overtime thriller on December 27 - was particularly close. Each team had a blowout win (Portland won by 22 in February and Golden State won by 28 in November) while the Warriors led by double digits throughout almost the entire fourth quarter of their other win.
In the overtime game on December 27, Portland blew a 10-point lead with just over three minutes left in the fourth quarter before ultimately pulling out the win in overtime thanks to a game-winning 3-pointer by Damian Lillard with 6.0 seconds left.
Both Lillard and CJ McCollum played in all four games as did Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. Stephen Curry and Draymond Green each played in three of the four meetings while DeMarcus Cousins did not play in any of the four matchups.
Key Storyline: Which backcourt decides the series?
The easy answer is the injury to Kevin Durant which looms large over the series. How many games will he miss? Nobody know for certain and it's a question that tugs at the strings of this series.
MORE: Medical expert weighs in on Durant injury
What we do know is that if Durant is out, the series will fall into the hands of the dynamic backcourts of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson for Golden State and Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum for Portland.
These are the two best backcourts in the NBA and both are cooking.
Lillard was perhaps the biggest star of the opening round when he torched Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder, slamming the door hut with an emphatic 50-point game and game-winning buzzer-beater to clinch the series. Last round against Denver, it was McCollum's turn to take over as he scored 41 points in Game 3 before dropping 30 and 37 in Game 6 and Game 7, respectively.
For the Warriors, both of the Splash Brothers are coming off signature performances in Golden State's epic road win in Houston without Kevin Durant in Game 6. Thompson erupted for 21 points for the Warriors in the first half to keep them in it with Curry going scoreless before Curry atoned for his poor showing with 33 points of his own in the second half including 23 in the fourth quarter.
Each of these guards has shown an incredible knack for timely shot making at various points in this postseason and especially given the uncertainty regarding Durant's strained calf, whichever backcourt steps up will give their team the upper hand.
Three Players to Watch
vs. Portland in 2018-19 (four games): 29.8 points (57.5 FG%), 6.3 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 2.0 blocks
The longer Durant misses, the greater opportunity that Portland has of making this a competitive series. Prior to limping off during the third quarter of Game 5 against Houston, Durant was playing the best basketball of his career. Coach Steve Kerr called him the best player in the world during the Houston series and during his on-court interview following the win in Game 6 without him, Curry echoed Kerr's sentiments.
He's averaging over 34 points per game on better than 50-40-90 shooting while also at times guarding the other team's best player. One key to watch? If Portland steals a game or two early, will Golden State feel pressure to rush Durant back before he's fully recovered? And if that happens, what kind of toll might that take on Durant moving forward not only in this series, but for potentially an NBA Finals matchup against either Giannis Antetokounmpo or Kawhi Leonard?
vs. Portland in 2018-19 (three games): 4.3 points, 2.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.7 blocks (in 21.9 mpg)
Curry and Thompson might get most of the credit for that Game 6 win, but the Warriors simply do not win without Iguodala who hit five timely threes while also recording five steals. He also played 38 minutes and averaged just under 35 minutes per game, far more than he did during the 1st Round (25.7) or regular season (23.2). Golden State's bench is shallow and the Warriors are relying heavily on the 35-year old Iguodala who has risen to the occasion. Can he continue to hold up carrying this significant of a load?
vs. Golden State in 2018-19 (four games): 6.8 points (36.4 3P%), 1.8 rebounds (in 16.4 mpg)
It's impossible to talk about this series without hitting on the fact that this will be the first time in NBA history that brothers will face off in the Conference Finals. Beyond simply being the younger brother of a two-time MVP, Seth Curry plays an important role as a shooter off the bench for Portland, a role that's all the more critical after Rodney Hood hyperextended his knee in Game 7 against Denver and did not return. Curry shot a sizzling 45% from beyond the arc during the regular season and can get hot quickly. He's the type of player that Golden State does not have off the bench and if Lillard or McCollum gets in foul trouble, becomes an incredibly important player in this series.
Picks and Predictions
Gilbert McGregor: Warriors in 5
Scott Rafferty: Warriors in 5
Micah Adams: Warriors in 6
Kyle Irving: Warriors in 5
Alex Novick: Warriors in 6
Carlan Gay: Warriors in 7