How Warriors shut down Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum in Game 1 with small-ball
Sometimes, smaller size matters
The Trail Blazers torched the Warriors in the first half of Game 1. For all their dominance, all their talent advantages, all the talk that they would roll through everyone on their way to the title, the mighty Golden State Warriors were tied after three quarters. C.J. McCollum put up a Blazers record for most points in the first half of a playoff game with 27 and he and Damian Lillard combined for 48 of the Blazers' 56 points.
The idea was that this wasn't sustainable, and indeed, it wasn't, but not because of Lillard and McCollum's inability to remain hot; those two have nuclear engines behind their offense, they'll burn for years. But the Warriors' defensive approach changed, and in the end, Golden State cruised in the fourth quarter to a 121-109 victory, holding Portland to 29 percent shooting in the final period. So what changed?
Leveling the field
This is a shot from early in the first half that shows what McCollum was looking at in isolation situations off the pick and roll. He's guarded by the phenomenal Draymond Green, but he's just too fast for him and gets to the rim. Look at the secondary level of help. Most guys are focused on their man.
It was just complete torching all over the floor:
The Curry problem
Notably, the Warriors also tried guarding Lillard and McCollum several times with Stephen Curry one on one. That did not go well.
Curry picks up a lot of steals and has great quickness to attack the ball. But if he's facing guards who can effectively handle, he turns into a liability, which gets exponentially worse if they're athletic and can shoot from range.
The tide turns
In the second half, however, the Warriors made adjustments. They took every opportunity to switch Curry onto another weapon, even if it was a bigger wing, knowing they wouldn't get the ball anyway. They decided to start daring the other Blazers to beat them, which of course, they could not. They went to an "anyone but Lillard and McCollum strategy. Look at how they're layered defensively here.
That's three levels of defense McCollum has to get through. Same deal here with Lillard on a play he was blocked on:
The Blazers out and out abandoned other weapons to attack those two. Watch Moe Harkless in the bottom corner here:
The adjustment for the Blazers will have to be McCollum and Lillard using that help to their advantage. They have to find a way to recognize it, anticipate it, and find the open man, and those players have to deliver. This is where the absence of Jusuf Nurkic really hurts the Blazers, as he could take advantage of mismatches if help from bigger players leaves him to attack the guards.
Finally, the Warriors' adjustment in the second half had to do with who they attacked with, and how. The Warriors went to smallball exclusively in the 4th quarter; neither JaVale McGee nor Zaza Pachulia logged a minute. Typically going small is supposed to hurt your defense, but in the Warriors' case it meant they could play up and aggressive on pick and rolls to keep them off the 3-point line and force them to attack inside where that help came from.
With McGee and Pachulia, the Warriors had to drop a little bit, giving up space. In the fourth quarter, despite needing to shoot 3's to get back in the game, McCollum was only able to shoot one 3-pointer.
Here's McCollum's first half vs. second half shot chart.
There are adjustments the Blazers can make, but all of this paints a bad picture for Portland. The Warriors know that without Nurkic, they only need to shut down those two. That's the extent of the weaponry on Portland. The other Blazers will have to earn Golden State's respect, because in Game 2 you can expect them to start off from the tip with their approach of "anyone but CJ and Dame."
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