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KERRY EGGERS ON SPORTS/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Blazers better, but Warriors best at the end, rallying for a 2-0 series lead

COURTESY PHOTO: GEROME WRIGHT - Seth Curry (left) of the Trail Blazers drives on Golden State's Klay Thompson.OAKLAND — The Trail Blazers stuffed it up the katooties of the Golden State Warriors in the first half Thursday night at Oracle Arena.

It was Portland 65, Golden State 50 at intermission.

Through 48 minutes, the Warriors led for a grand total of 5:56 — for 1:15 in the first half, for 2:18 in the third quarter and for 2:23 in the final period — on a night when the Blazers seemed destined to square the Western Conference finals at a game apiece.

Yet when time expired, the hometown fans were roaring, the yellow confetti was drifting down from the rafters and the Warriors were two victories away from their fifth straight appearance in the NBA Finals.

Talk about a low blow.

In the postgame press conference, I asked Golden State coach Steve Kerr if the Warriors had dodged a bullet.

"Oh, totally," Kerr said. "We stole that game. (The Blazers) outplayed us for much of the night, but we brought enough competitive fire in the second half to overcome their great play.

"We've been here before. Our experience helped us. We've done this a few times, and yeah, we stole it for sure."

The Blazers led 108-100 after Meyers Leonard's 30-foot 3-pointer with 4:28 to play. The Warriors outscored them 14-3 the rest of the way, the Blazers closing the game by missing seven of eight shots over that span.

"They stole it, but they earned it down the stretch," Portland's CJ McCollum said. "They made more plays than us in the last three minutes."

It was the Warriors' 25th victory in their last 28 postseason games in the friendly confines of Oracle.

Said Portland coach Terry Stotts: "They played like a championship team would at home."

After Draymond Green's layup gave Golden State a 114-111 lead with 12.3 seconds left, the Blazers called a timeout. Stotts indicated he didn't draw up a play other than to put the ball in the hands of Portland's meal ticket, Damian Lillard.

"We were out of timeouts," Stotts said. "We just had to get a shot up. You know, get (Lillard) the ball."

The Warriors had a foul to give and Klay Thompson used it with 10 seconds remaining. The ball was then inbounded to Lillard, who drove left and was stripped by Andre Iguodala. The play was officially ruled a shot and a block, but it was a steal — Lillard never got the shot off.

"They knew we needed a 3," he said. "I was trying to get space to get a 3 up. It's a tough position for the refs to be in to make a call at that point in the game.

"(Iguodala) grabbed my arm and I lost the ball a little bit. I regained it and I was going to shoot it again. He got his hand on the ball. I felt like it was contact — there was a lot of contact — but the ref is not going to decide the game or jump in at that point. So — good defensive play."

"We've all seen it a million times," Green said. "'Dame' drives left and he steps back and shoots a 3. 'Dre' was ready for it. He just stayed on his hip."

Iguodala picked up the ball and forwarded it to Stephen Curry, who threw it high into the air. And when it came down, the Blazers were looking at an 0-2 hole.

"We were up eight points with, what, four (minutes) and some change?" Leonard asked. "But you're playing against the world champs. There's not a lot of room for error."

"We know we can erase eight points in a minute," said Green, who filled up the stat sheet as usual with 16 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and five blocked shots.

The Warriors, though, seemed full of themselves — much like their fans and many of the hometown media, who after Golden State's 116-94 win in the series opener, figured the Blazers were toast.

Not that Kerr felt that way.

"Game 2's scare you," he said. "If Game 1 goes smoothly, Game 2 is terrifying, because human nature sets in. That was the case tonight. (The Blazers) made the adjustments. We knew that was coming, but human nature doesn't allow you to bring the same level of appropriate fear and respect and the edge that you need, and we didn't find that until the third quarter."

Oh, that third quarter.

Portland was flying high until then, McCollum going for 16 first-half points, the Blazers drilling a franchise playoff-record 11 3's (out of 22 attempts). By then, Portland had 18 points off 10 turnovers by the Warriors.

"We had them backpedaling," Portland's Rodney Hood said.

But Golden State stormed back, using a 13-0 run to draw within 69-66 midway through the third quarter. The Warriors outscored the Blazers 39-24 in the quarter to go into the final period in an 89-89 tie.

It was a battle from there, the Blazers seizing the advantage with a 16-8 run to go ahead 108-100, the Warriors then winning the hand-to-hand combat with the game on the line.

"The NBA game is a long, long game," Kerr said. "There are so many possessions, and with our team, we always feel like we have a chance. We kept playing, and our guys got it done. They were amazing in that third quarter, and then down the stretch as well."

Curry, who had scored 36 points in the series opener, came through with 37 in this one, though he was only 4 for 14 from 3-point range. Curry made 7 of 8 2-point attempts and was 11 for 11 at the foul line to go with eight rebounds and eight assists in a splendid 39-minute performance.

A couple of stats reflected the way the game turned at halftime. The Warriors, outscored 18-3 on points off turnovers in the first half, won that battle 21-0 in the second half. The Blazers led the fast-break points duel 13-4 in the first half and lost it 13-0 in the second.

"We got challenged (by Kerr) at halftime to play with more energy, more fight, more competitiveness," Curry said. "We answered it, finding that edge with our backs against the wall. It was an exciting brand of basketball (in the second half). We've done it before, but we don't want to be in those situations."

Thompson added 24 points, and the Warriors got big help off the bench from front-liners Kevon Looney (14 points on 6-for-6 shooting to go with seven rebounds) and Jordan Bell (a career playoff-high 11 points, three boards and two steals).

"Draymond's defensive play, and Andre's, was just fantastic stuff tonight," Kerr said. "That's what it takes in the playoffs. You have to have guys stepping up at a very high level. Steph was brilliant, and Looney was brilliant, and we got the defensive effort we needed down the stretch."

Lillard was scoreless until he hit the first of his four 30-foot treys with 3:50 left in the first half. He finished with 23 points and 10 assists and was 5 for 12 from downtown, but made only 1 of 4 2-point attempts.

McCollum was terrific early, and he finished with 22 points. But he was 0 for 6 in the fourth quarter, missing four shots with the game on the line in the final three minutes.

"I got some good looks," he said. "They played good defense, but I can live with the shots I missed every day of the week. We had some pretty good possessions; we just didn't finish them."

The Blazers' Seth Curry played his best game of the playoffs, scoring 16 points on 5-for-9 shooting, 4 for 7 from 3-point range. He also had four steals, picking brother Stephen's pocket once late in the game.

"Seth was incredible tonight," Thompson said. "He almost won the game for them."

"It worked out perfectly tonight," Golden State's Curry said. "Seth played well, and we won."

With Stephen at the line shooting three free throws and Portland leading 108-107 with 2:01 remaining, his brother tried a little trash-talking.

"After he made the first one, I told him, 'That was like 70 in a row,' to try to jinx him," Seth said. He said, 'It's gonna be 72." And he made them both."

Seth almost had his stats right. His brother is 78 for 82 from the line in the playoffs, a .951 percentage.

Portland outscored Golden State by 27 points at the 3-point line, finishing 18 for 39 to the Warriors' 9 for 29. Yet the Blazers still lost.

"It can happen, but it doesn't happen very often in this league," Kerr said. "They shot the lights out tonight. They did a great job of spacing the floor and moving the ball against our traps. They got good shots. They got big performances from Seth Curry and Rodney Hood off the bench. So, yeah, we dodged a bullet, for sure."

Lillard said the Blazers should be encouraged heading back to Portland for the next two games, beginning with Saturday's 6 p.m. Game 3 at Moda Center.

"We weathered the (third-quarter) storm and went into the fourth quarter tied," he said. "We played a really solid fourth quarter as well, but (the Warriors) are a shot-making team, a championship club. Down the stretch, you know they're going to make those plays and would give themselves a chance.

"But we gave ourselves a chance, too. We missed some shots. We had some turnovers. We lost the game, but their job was to take care of the home floor, and we have the opportunity to do the same thing."

With the Warriors moving to brand-new Chase Center in San Francisco next season, Lillard was asked after the game by a Bay Area reporter if it crossed his mind that this might be his last game at Oracle in his hometown.

Lillard started to answer, then stopped in mid-sentence.

"I doubt this will be the last time," he said. "We're planning on coming back here."

For Game 5 next Tuesday, of course.

After a pair of wins at Moda Center to tie the series.

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@kerryeggers


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