OAKLAND — Before Wednesday night’s game at Oracle Arena, I asked Portland coach Terry Stotts whether Kevin Durant’s calf injury was sort of an equalizer for the Trail Blazers.
“I don’t know if I would use the word ‘equalizer,’ ” Stotts replied. “Certainly, they are a better team with him than without him, but they went on a really good run when he was out (in March and early April).”
Stotts has been around the game a long time, knows it well. And he was right about this one. The Warriors went into Game 2 of their Western Conference first-round series without one of their best players — without one of the NBA’s top five players — and ran away from the visitors with the acceleration of Rickey Henderson, who happened to be among the spectators here. Golden State breezed to a 110-81 victory to take a 2-0 lead in the series.
It was like the Warriors hardly missed Durant. They got a couple of huge shots from rookie Patrick McCaw, some monster dunks from Javale McGee (so what else is new?), 13 points from Ian Clark and even quality minutes from James Michael McAdoo.
All of which brings up an interesting question. How many players would the Warriors have to lose for Portland to win this series?
Wednesday, the Oakland infirmary included not just Durant, but Shaun Livingston and Matt Barnes. Livingston hasn’t had a great season, but he remains one of the Warriors’ top reserves, a legit ball handler and harassing defender. Barnes is mostly a role player, but a valuable one with toughness and lots of playoff experience.
Those absences weren’t enough to lift the Blazers. Not even close.
The going will be tougher for the Warriors in Portland on Saturday and Monday. But is there anything to make you think they couldn’t win both games without Durant? He’s out with a calf strain suffered in Game 1, probably nothing major. But why not sit him on a divan, prop up his left leg with a pillow and feed him peeled grapes until the West’s semifinal round?
I don’t mean to trash the Trail Blazers. They could probably beat three or four teams in the Eastern Conference playoffs. And let’s not forget that they, too, are missing an important player — Jusuf Nurkic, the massive young Bosnian center. Nurkic’s presence would make a difference for Portland. But not THE difference.
Alas, the Trail Blazers are an incomplete entity. They have a fabulously talented backcourt tandem and a bunch of other guys who can make a pass or set a screen or grab a rebound, but spend much of their time hoping they’re not asked to take a crucial shot.
The Blazers’ weaknesses have been made obvious in this series. Because the Warriors are the completest of teams. Which is why they can lose Durant, Livingston and Barnes and win by 29 points, on a night when Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, those famed marksmen, combine to hit just 12 of 35 shots.
What, really, would be enough to change the direction of this series? How many twisted ankles, gouged eyes and inflamed appendixes would it take for the Trail Blazers to win?
Let’s look at some projections.
Warriors play without Durant, Livingston and Barnes: This serves as our baseline, because we saw it Wednesday. Golden State by 29.