Lillard, who has two playoff series game-winners to his name, failed to connect on a series-saving attempt in overtime of Game 4 of the Western Conference finals. His fading attempt from the right corner sailed wide at the buzzer in a devastating 119-117 defeat.
Game, set, series: Warriors, who became the first NBA team to advance to a fifth straight Finals since the Boston Celtics of the 1950s and ‘60s. They completed the sweep without Kevin Durant (calf strain), Andre Iguodala (same) and DeMarcus Cousins (torn quad). As ever, they had all they needed in Stephen Curry (game-high 37 points), Draymond Green (another triple-double) and Klay Thompson, whose defense on Lillard down the stretch proved the difference.
“Five straight Finals hasn’t been done since Bill Russell’s Celtics, and it hasn’t been done for a reason,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr told reporters in his postgame press conference. “It’s really, really difficult, so I just can’t say enough about the competitive desire of the group of players that we have and the culture that they’ve built together, playing together regardless of injury.”
Klay Thompson asked how the Warriors split the regular-season series vs. Portland, but swept Portland in the postseason. Klay: “Key word is regular.”
— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) May 21, 2019
The Blazers shot 61 percent from the field, 56 percent from 3-point range and got a career-high 25 points from Meyers Leonard in a 69-point first half, and they still only led by four. That’s how disheartening it can be to face the two-time defending champions, even undermanned. Still, the Blazers did not quit, not with Lillard at the helm of a team that had already overcome so much.
Lillard said before the game that he believed his Blazers had a chance to be the first team ever to come back from a 3-0 deficit in an NBA playoff series (against one of the greatest teams in league history, no less). He played like it, too, shaking off the rust of a 15-for-46 shooting effort through the first three games and playing through a rib injury to score 28 points on 24 shots.
It wasn’t enough. It never has been against these Warriors.
Lillard’s costar, C.J. McCollum, also had his best game of the conference finals, adding 26 points on 22 shots after starting 23-of-62 in the series, and Leonard overshadowed them both. The 7-footer’s back-to-back 3’s pushed Portland’s lead to nine in the final minutes of the second quarter, and another 3 (his fifth) gave the Blazers a 69-57 edge 32 seconds before halftime.
The Warriors being the Warriors, regardless of who starts around Curry, Thompson (17 points) and Green (18 points, 14 rebounds, 11 assists), never let the Blazers get too comfortable. An eight-point Curry flurry in 26 seconds — two 3’s around a questionable clear-path foul — cut Portland’s lead to four before the break. The two-time MVP also had 25 points at the half.
Lillard and McCollum picked up the mantle for Portland in the third quarter, combining for 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting, including a string of eight straight points by McCollum that pushed the lead back to double digits four minutes into the second half. The Blazers were in control, in so much as you can be against a team that has lit the league on fire for five years running.
The Warriors came back, because they always come back. They had erased large deficits in each of their two previous backbreaking wins in the series, and they cut a 17-point lead in half in the last two minutes of the third quarter of this one. When the Blazers finally went cold midway through the fourth, they pounded the rock until Green’s 21-footer gave Golden State its first lead since the seven-minute mark of the second quarter, 108-106, with 3:30 left in regulation.
Warriors: +61 in the second half in this series.
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) May 21, 2019
“We’ve been here before, we’ve seen everything,” Curry told ESPN’s Doris Burke afterwards. “Every experience you can imagine. We relied on that. Three starters down, everybody stepped up, played amazing minutes, and we fought until the end. We could’ve said Game 5 was our game. But we saw how long that break was gonna be, so we wanted to take advantage of it.”
Lillard answered with a 3, and Leonard dropped the hammer on his career night — a transition dunk over Green, the self-proclaimed greatest defensive player ever, that gave Portland a 111-108 lead with two minutes remaining in the fourth. Thompson responded with a game-tying triple 11 seconds later, and neither team scored over the final 1:48 of regulation. The Blazers were spared in regulation by Curry’s shuffling travel that erased a potential game-winner.
The teams traded baskets in overtime, until the Warriors strung a second straight bucket together when Green drained a wide-open 3 made possible by the attention paid to Curry. That gave Golden State a 119-115 lead in the final minute. Lillard tried valiantly to erase the deficit, trimming it in half with a layup and driving for a game-tying attempt that Thompson blocked out of bounds with three seconds left. Thompson again gave chase on Lillard’s final miss.
A make there would have only delayed the inevitable.
“It was just a special season for us,” Lillard told reporters after the loss. “Coming off back-to-back sweeps, this was another sweep, but you’d rather get swept in the Western Conference finals than the first round. … Every other team would wish they could be in our shoes, not only making the playoffs but getting an opportunity to play for a chance to go to the Finals, and we just ran up on a team who has been there the last four years.”
The Warriors have laid waste to many a savior.
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