The Portland Trail Blazers were finished off by the Golden State Warriors Monday night in game 4. The Warriors won the series 4-0 with a stinging 119-117 win, with a Damian Lillard miss at the buzzer in overtime, that would have stayed Portland’s execution. The Warriors took the series and earned their 5th consecutive trip to the NBA finals. They don’t get to take Portland’s spirit with them. The Blazers are beaten but far from broken.
Portland could have folded like a lawn chair after going down 0-3. No team has ever come back from such a deficit to win a series in the playoffs. The Blazers came close once against the Mavericks in 2003, getting the series back to game 7, but ultimately losing. To do it against arguably one of the best teams in NBA history would have been more than a tall order. Still, the Blazers fought with everything in their tank. They showed gusto and nerve.
Meyers Leonard had the game of his career. He finally looked the player the Blazers had been waiting six years for. Shooting, rebounding, passing, running the offense, all with confidence. Leonard had 25 first half points and finished with 30 points and 10 rebounds. Lillard had 28 points and McCollum had 26. The Blazers took the lead early and held on to it, taking a four point lead to halftime. Then the Blazers came out and won the third, a quarter in which the Warriors are terribly dominant in. When the Warriors finally came back in the fourth, the Blazers went toe to toe with them, not allowing the defending champs to build a lead. The Blazers went to limits, no white flags.
In the end, it was bitter sweet. It was tough to watch the Warriors adorn themselves with western conference championship hats and t shirts and celebrate on Portland’s court. To see them hug it out with the Blazers and be friendly. To offer words of encouragement, the whole your time will come spiel. But, it became easier to swallow when I thought about the season in retrospect. About how the Blazers had defied not only expectation but the miscalculated predictions of NBA analysts and pundits.
The Blazers fought through the adversity of the death of their owner, Paul Allen, injuries to half their team, including the devastating season ending calamity that took out Jusuf Nurkic. The Blazers still managed 53 wins and third place. They had good showings from their youth. They won two series in the playoffs (They are the only team to win a series on the road this postseason) and got to their first western conference finals in nearly twenty years.They found themselves among the top four teams in the league.There is much to be proud of.
I am not too worried about the Warriors sweeping the Blazers or going to the finals. Let them have their fun while they can. Tell them to mark their calendar for next May because the Blazers will be back to see them in the western conference finals yet again. This time healthy, more experienced, more hardened, and hungrier than ever. I know that Paul Allen would be so proud of them. I know I am.