What I’m Hearing: USA TODAY Sports’ Jeff Zillgitt discusses the recent comments from Magic Johnson who painted a dysfunctional picture of the Lakers’ front office.
PORTLAND, Ore. — Adversity seems to serve as fuel for the Golden State Warriors as they seek a third straight NBA title and so it proved again on Monday night as their latest checklist item – reaching yet another NBA Finals – was duly accomplished.
A 119-117 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers in an overtime thriller at the Moda Center clinched a 4-0 sweep of this Western Conference finals series, and ensured the Warriors will play on into June for a fifth consecutive year.
It was tense and tight and required Golden State to resist a pair of potential game-winners from Damian Lillard, one in regulation and another as time expired in the extra period. But at the end of it all the outcome was exactly as expected.
Having survived, even thrived, without their finest offensive player (Kevin Durant) throughout the Portland showdown, this night also saw them cope while missing their most proficient defender, left calf injury victim Andre Iguodala.
Throw in a magnificent 25-point first-half scoring outburst from unheralded Blazers center Meyers Leonard, who ended with 30, and Golden State could perhaps have been forgiven if this one had slipped away and given their opponents a welcome consolation prize.
However, the will to win runs deep within this group, even though it didn’t always feel like that during parts of the regular season, when Steve Kerr’s men lacked cohesion and motivation in equal measure.
They are firing now, led once again here by Stephen Curry, who posted 37 points to reinforce the point that he is well and truly back in form. The visitors trailed by four at the half and eight at three-quarter time, yet there was no sense of panic. A clinical surge midway through the final period was key, with Curry leveling scores at 104 with 4:34 to go.
Portland threw everything at them. Leonard was largely shut down by altered defensive strategy in the second half, but that allowed Lillard, playing through a lingering rib injury, and CJ McCollum, to profit, ending with 28 and 26 points, respectively.
Yet there is an unstoppable sense about these Warriors. Draymond Green has taken on the role of energizer in Durant’s absence and it was he whose three in the final minute of overtime established a four-point gap that his team would never relinquish.
And so on march Golden State, which now has a full week to rest and recharge and welcome back at least Iguodala if not immediately Durant. This modern dynasty is now five years in, and it shows no sign of slowing just yet.