The Golden State Warriors have built a 3-0 series lead over the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference Finals.
The Blazers had multiple chances, leading by as much as 17 in Game 2 on the road in Oakland and 18 in Game 3 at home, but failed to close out the defending champions on both occasions.
They now have their backs against the wall, one loss away from being swept out of the playoffs for the third consecutive season while the Warriors are just one win away from their fifth straight NBA Finals appearance.
With all that in mind, here are four things to watch in Game 4...
Can Portland avoid a sweep?
It has to be infuriating for the Blazers to think about how reasonable it is that they could be up 2-1 in this series.
They led by 15 points at halftime of Game 2 and 13 points at halftime of Game 3 and couldn't close in either situation. They've played quality basketball in each of the past two games, even well enough to win, but failed to do so and now find themselves in need of creating history to keep their season alive.Howe
This is the third time in three seasons that Portland has trailed 3-0 in a playoff series, facing elimination by way of a sweep. The Warriors swept them in the first round of the playoffs two years back and the Pelicans swept them in the first round last season.
In 2017, the Warriors closed out the Blazers with a 25-point win in Portland. In 2018, the Pelicans closed out the Blazers in New Orleans by a closer margin of eight points.
With the way Portland has competed this postseason, don't expect them to roll over and die. But with that being said, they might not have much say in their outcome.
Star point guard Damian Lillard has looked off all series and after the Game 3 loss, reports surfaced that he has been playing with separated ribs, an injury he suffered in Game 2. He'll continue to battle but between two draining series against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Denver Nuggets and his injury, it's hard to believe he has enough left in the tank to will his team to victory.
CJ McCollum will have to post a similar performance to Game 7 against the Nuggets and the Blazers will need significant contributions from their supporting cast. The Warriors know what's at stake for them, should the close this series out in four games, and there is no better team in the league at taking out an opponent once they smell blood in the water.
However, Portland is desperate for a win to avoid another sweep and you never know what can happen when a team plays desperate.
Warriors without Kevin Durant
Over the last three seasons, the Warriors are now 33-4 in games they've played with Stephen Curry in the lineup without Kevin Durant. While it might be ridiculous to suggest that the Warriors are better without Durant, at some point that type of production has to mean something.
|Both Curry and Durant play||163-46||64-18|
|Curry without Durant||33-4||73-9|
|Durant without Curry||28-18||50-32|
The original Warriors stars have all stepped up since Durant went out in the third quarter of Game 5 against the Rockets. Here's how they've all performed in the four games since:
- Stephen Curry: 35.5 points per game (leads NBA), 6.3 rebounds per game, 5.5 assists per game
- Klay Thompson: 24.0 points per game, 21.5 FG att per game, 42.9 3-pt FG percentage
- Draymond Green: 14.0 points per game, 10.8 rebounds per game, 7.8 assists per game
They've all gone back to what made them special prior to Durant coming to Golden State. Green has been the tempo setter on both ends of the floor, anchoring that swarming defense and pushing pace relentlessly. Perhaps more than either of the Splash Brothers, it's been Green that has controlled the game in the most ways with his fingerprints all over everything that Golden State does.
Thompson is far more involved, taking six more shots per game and acting as far more than an over-qualified spot-up shooter which at times he acts a with everyone available. He's taken on that bigger load while continuing to play elite defense. He's checked Damian Lillard over twice as often as any other Warriors player, holding him to 7-21 shooting with six turnovers.
As for Curry, he looks like the former 2-time MVP that was MIA for much of the postseason. After scoring 12 points in the 4th quarter to close out Game 5 against the Rockets, Curry has scored 33, 36, 37 and 36 in the four games since. Not only is he cooking from beyond the arc, he's getting to the line at will where he's a sizzling 33-34.
The bench has been great. Andre Iguodala looks the best he has in years. But the story for Golden State has been the response from it's three other stars since KD went down.
The importance of a Warriors' win
The Warriors have a chance to reach The Finals for the fifth consecutive year, but we'll get to that in a minute. Taking care of business in this Game 4 is much more important than this dynasty's legacy at the moment.
Golden State has been without All-Star forward Kevin Durant since Game 5 of the Conference Semifinals with a calf injury. Star centre DeMarcus Cousins has been out since Game 2 of the first round of the playoffs with torn quad. Just last game, Andre Iguodala went to the bench in the third quarter and never returned with a calf injury and is listed as questionable for this upcoming contest.
The NBA Finals do not begin until Thursday, May 30th. Should the Warriors close the deal in Game 4, that would give the team a full nine days rest before having to compete for the title.
Nine days should be an ample amount of time to let Iguodala heal his minor injury and with both Durant and Cousins set to be re-evaluated in the middle of this week, they should be on the brink of returning too.
A win in Game 4 could give the Warriors a chance to return to full strength, and we all know what that means for their championship hopes. This team is as dangerous as it gets even without Durant and Cousins. Adding them back into the mix makes them nearly unstoppable and with the Toronto Raptors taking Game 3 to make it a 2-1 series against the Milwaukee Bucks, Golden State would be sure to have much more time off to rest and prepare than whichever team they would have to take on in The Finals.
Don't expect the Warriors to play with their food in this one.
Warriors seeing 5th straight Finals appearance
Only one team in NBA history has ever made it to five straight NBA Finals: Bill Russell's Celtics. From 1957 to 1966, the Celtics made it to the grandest stage 10 straight times, winning nine championships.
It's the greatest prolonged run of postseason success in NBA history and perhaps all of professional sports. It was also a completely different era with fewer teams and rounds. During that run of 10 straight trips to the Finals, the Celtics won a total of 11 playoff series prior to the Finals and only once had to win two series to reach the Finals.
If the Warriors get past the Trail Blazers, they'll be the second team ever to reach the Finals five straight times. A win would make them a perfect 15-0 in the Western Conference playoffs dating back to 2015 with triumphs over the Rockets, Thunder, Clippers, Jazz, Grizzlies, Pelicans, Spurs and Blazers. You can make an argument that given the state of the league - the incredible star power, the great equalizer in the 3-ball, the advanced scouting, the grind of winning three best-of-7s just to get to the Finals - that this run is more impressive than Boston's streak of 10 straight trips to the Finals.
Golden State is in the midst of making history the likes of which we have never truly seen.