The second half of the Western Conference semifinals begins with game 1 of the Portland Trail Blazers playing the Golden State Warriors, followed by game 7 between the Indiana Pacers and the Toronto Raptors.
The Blazers weren’t supposed to get this far, but Terry Stotts did an incredible job of surrounding Damian Lillard and the (finally) breaking out C.J. McCollum with players who don’t care about points and are willing to work on both ends for their two stars. And there was some luck involved too: The Los Angeles Clippers lost Chris Paul and Blake Griffin to injuries, so the Blazers came back from 0-2 down to win four games and make it into the WCSF for the second time in three years.
And now? The Blazers have beaten the Warriors this season, but it seems there’s no one link between one Warriors loss to another, with only 10 including the playoffs taking place. It mostly involved both Klay Thompson and Draymond Green having a bad shooting game, especially while Stephen Curry is still out with a knee injury, although he might be back at some point during this series.
Both teams like fast pace and plenty of points, but with Curry out at least until game 3, we might see the Warriors trying to get a bit more physical. The most important thing about this series seems to be focus. The Blazers beat the Warriors 137-105 in that regular season game, as Golden State turned the ball over 13 times in the third quarter. The Blazers can’t afford to lose focus for too long of a stretch against the Warriors. Look at what happened to Houston in the previous series.
The Toronto Raptors are in a game 7 for the second time in three years in the first round of the NBA playoffs. They’re at home, but with more pressure on their shoulders, trying to figure out a way of finally putting away the Indiana Pacers. They’ve gotten sorta blown out in their two previous losses to the Pacers, while things seem to go difficult for them, even when they win. More than anything, they’re waiting for DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, both shooting 32% or worse from the field in this series, to put on a show.
The Raptors can win without efficiency. With more Jonas Valanciunas. With some Norman Powell and Terrence Ross getting hot. But it seems that without finding a way to shake free of Paul George haunting DeRozan or Lowry making awful decisions time after time, it’s going to be a tense evening in Jurassic Park for a team that might be burdened a little bit too much with the pressure of being a number two seed and once again not making it out of the first.
How do the Pacers win this? George is the best player on the court. Keeping the defense as good as it’s been for most of this series and playing smart offense, which means getting guys like Ian Mahinmi and George Hill involved, is what the Pacers will be looking for, making up for their inferiority in offensive talent by knowing and executing their style of basketball, something that has happened a lot less for the Raptors in the last three games.