On the surface, the 2019 Western Conference Finals matchup between the Portland Trail Blazers and Golden State Warriors seems like a done deal. Warriors in 4, right? While this may well be the case, but if you scratch the surface, there is a lot more on offer in this meeting than what first appears.
Coming into this round of the playoffs the Warriors just faced a gruelling test against what many believe to be their fiercest rivals, the Houston Rockets, winning the series 4 games to 2.
However, Golden State had to play some of game 5 and all of game 6 without their All-Star forward and probable best player in the league Kevin Durant who suffered a ‘mild calf sprain’ in game 5. Durant’s absence has added a much-needed element of suspense to these Western playoffs.
Very few people believed that the Warriors could beat Houston without KD, but they did. The Warriors took us back in time to 2015 and 2016 and overcame the Rockets with the brilliance of their homegrown stars, Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry on show. The highlight being Curry scoring 33 second half points to remind us all how deadly the baby-faced assassin can be.
There are also murmurs of DeMarcus Cousins returning for Golden State after suffering a torn quad in the first round, the All-Star centre could make a return for the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. However, it is unclear how fit Cousins will be and how warmed up he’ll be after playing intermittently this season and playoffs. The same goes for Durant. It would not be in Golden State’s best interest to rush back two key assets.
If Golden State play it safe then we could see a mouth-watering matchup between the guards of Golden State and Portland. Curry vs Lillard, McCollum vs Thompson.
Just as the Warriors faced a tough semi-finals, so did Portland, going 7 games against Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets.
To many, Portland have been the surprise package of this playoffs. Dismantling the Thunder 4-1 behind Lillard’s 30, 29, 32, 24 and 50 points (including THAT game winner.) Then going on to prove themselves by beating the number 2 seeded Denver Nuggets in 7.
Just how Lillard stepped up for Portland in the first round, C.J. McCollum grabbed the spotlight against Denver scoring 30 in game 6 and then 37 in an elimination game, rescuing the Blazers from game 7 humiliation as they were down by 17 points at one point in the second quarter.
The emphasis of the Western Finals will be on this guard match-up. However, role players for both teams will play an important role. The battle between Enes Kanter and Draymond Green will be one to watch as both players harbour a plenty of pride and have performed valiantly this postseason.
If Durant was to return, the Blazers can put an array of options on him to try and slow down the slim reaper. Evan Turner, Maurice Harkless and Zach Collins all contain the necessary size and bounce to guard the 7’0” forward.
The experience of the Warriors matched with the inexperience of the Trail Blazers should be the deciding factor in this series. However, the passionate fight between two point guards who truly embody the cities they both represent will be box office.
Durant was quoted last summer telling McCollum and the Blazers not to “worry about what goes on at the top of things” well now the Blazers have earned their shot at the top and, as we all know, once you get in the dance anything can happen.