The Denver Nuggets were the best home team in the NBA. They were the most winningest team in games where the point margin is four or less. They had the altitude. They were the healthier of the two teams. They had every advantage. It wasn’t enough. Portland had fate on it’s side. The Blazers had the heart and they had CJ McCollum. The Blazers eliminated the Nuggets in game 7, in a Mother’s Day comeback, 100-96.
The Blazers became the only team to win a series this playoffs without home court advantage. They did it the hard way in the suffocating Pepsi Center up in Mile High City. Enjoy your summer Denver. You have a bright future. A talented young team. A savvy coach. They will learn from experience. But, the present belongs to the Trail Blazers.
In a continuation of what has been an special season of adversity, tenacity, and the ultimate perseverance, the Blazers have just put the frosting on the cake with their first trip to the Western Conference Finals since 2000. The journey hasn’t been easy. In fact it has been costly.
Owner Paul passed away just before the regular season. The Blazers wear PGA patches on their jerseys to commemorate him. They have dedicated the season and postseason to him. He wasn’t your average owner. He was a superfan. He saw something exceptional about this team. Now his sister, Jody Allen, has witnessed it. She has been enchanted. She understands. She feels it. She believes in it too. She is seeing it as Paul saw it. The Blazers got her. They got us too.
Late in the season, the Blazers had a scare when CJ McCollum hurt his knee in a game against the Spurs. Then not two weeks later, they lost Jusuf Nurkic to a broken leg. The Blazers seemed to be against a wall. When the playoffs came, the Trail Blazers were waved off. They weren’t given a chance. No respect. They didn’t need anyones blessing. They beat the Thunder decidedly in five games. Enes Kanter separated his shoulder in doing so. There is simply not enough adversity.
Again, waved off in the semifinals against the Nuggets. There was no way Portland could win the series. The Blazers took game two and stole home court advantage. They beat Denver in an epic 4 OT game. They were steadfast in game 6 facing elimination. Then game 7.
It didn’t look good from the start. The Blazers won the tip(strangely in the series, the team that won the tip, won the game) and then the ball went to Aminu on the first possession. Turnover. The Nuggets controlled the opening quarter and built a lead behind two Jokic threes. (The only two threes the Nuggets made). The Trail Blazers started 0-10 from three. They shot terribly from the field. Lillard missed all five shots, was scoreless in the quarter. The Nuggets led 29-17 after the 1st.
They built their lead to 17 in the 2nd quarter, but Cj McCollum kept the Blazers in it, with acrobatic layups and jumpers. He pretty much did it alone with 15 points in the half. One after another Stotts went deeper. Everybody was missing shots. Clank. Airball. Thud. Portland never led the first half, but they dug into Denver’s lead and were down only nine at halftime, 48-39, despite a 1-9 FG, 0-4 from three game for Lillard. Things weren’t looking good. Frankly, they could have been worse.
CJ McCollum continued to be locked in the 3rd quarter. Lillard continued to struggle offensively, but showed leadership through playmaking, rebounding, and passing the ball. Rodney Hood hyperextended his knee and left the game midway through. Basketball Gods why? Zach Collins played through 5 fouls playing magnificent defense. The Blazers cut the deficit, and took their first lead 71-70 with 12.1 seconds left. They outscored Denver 32-24 in the period.
The Trail Blazers went into the final quarter up 1 point. Denver tied the game on more than one occasion but never again got the lead. CJ McCollum never stopped hitting. Evan Turner scored 10 of his 14. The Blazers outscored Denver 29-24 in the 4th and 61-48 in the second half, to beat Denver 100-96. CJ had 37 points to lead the way. Lillard finished with 13 points, 10 rebounds, and 8 assists.The Blazers became the only team to beat Denver twice at home this season.
Now, the Golden State Warriors resting from anti climatic battle with the Houston Rockets, will host the Portland Trail Blazers Tuesday for game 1. Talks of broomsticks and gentlemen’s sweeps are abounding. Portland is being dismissed yet again. Some people just never learn. Fate has seemed to lead Portland through the first two rounds of the playoffs. It has been on their side. The Warriors can have all the advantages. They are going to need them. The Blazers are coming to town.