The Blazers have done it. They have made the playoffs for the seventh straight season, and in RIP City style, they have done it the hard way. They went 6-2 in a restart that saw their ream of an end of the season easy schedule chopped away and replaced by a nightmare.
They beat Memphis, Houston Denver, Philly, Dallas, and Brooklyn. They barely lost to Boston and the Los Angeles Clippers in heart shattering fashion. There were no easy games. Ask the Pelicans, who had what was thought to be the easiest schedule in the bubble and were said to have the best chance of making the 8th seed. They didn’t even come close. And, they didn’t even have to play the Blazers.
Portland started things off by battling Memphis into overtime in the starting game, before besting them 140-135 even with top notch performances from Jaren Jackson Jr and Ja Morant. The Grizzlies are a team with a bright future, and a roster of meddlesome youth who almost made the postseason in Taylor Jenkin’s first season as head coach.
The Blazers dug a hole against a talented Boston team, with Jayson Tatum lighting it up in the first half with a career high in three pointers. But, Jusuf Nurkic kept the Blazers in it, and Dame time eventually came. The Blazers came back and almost won it, but Jaylen Brown had his way in the second half and it was enough to keep the Celtics from losing. The Blazers fell in a heart breaker 128-124.
But, Rip City was not to be let down. The Blazers beat both the Rockets without much ado, 110-102 using their size to over take the small ball Houston team with Portland-out rebounding Houston 64-39.
The Nuggets brought it despite missing several starters. Michael Porter Jr who was still pretty much playing his rookie season as he was out with a back injury most of last season, is no joke. The kid can shoot scary like, and Denver at full power could be worrisome. Bol Bol who had terrific games in the scrimmages, luckily had an off night, and while a skinnier Jokic got his, the Blazers got theirs too, overtaking Denver 125-115 in the end.
The came the Saturday massacre. Not really, but hey it felt that way to Portland fans. The Clippers were resting Kawhi Leonard and were without several other players. But, boy can that Clipper bench play. The Blazers had a chance to win, and they should have, but Lillard missed key free throws at the end, resulting in a Blazes loss 122-117. Clippers guard Patrick Beverly and Forward Paul George laughed at Lillard and poke at him on social media, telling him he was getting sent home this year. Boy, was that the wrong move.
Lillard Betelgeused, ejecting their trash talk and went supernova over the last three games scoring 51, 61, and 42 respectively against the 76ers, Mavericks, and Nets. Each team tried their hardest to beat the Blazers and knock them out, but at each attempt, Lillard simply wouldn’t let them. Dame became the first Blazer to score 50 points in back to back games, and the only other player in NBA history besides Wilt Chamberlain to score three 60 point games in the same season.
The 76ers were without Ben Simmons who had left the bubble to get knee surgery to remove an lose body. Their other star Joel Embiid went out early with an ankle injury and the game looked like the Blazers to lose. Josh Richardson and Al Horford kept the 76ers in it, and took the Blazers to the buzzer, where Portland won 1242-121 on a defensive possession. Good thing Korkmaz didn’t get the ball. Oh, the nightmares.
The Mavericks were out for blood. Rick Carlisle likes nothing better than beating his protege Terry Stotts, who served as an assistant coach with Dallas, helping them to a championship in 2005. Gary Trent Jr became the Doncic stopper, not letting Doncic shoot hardly anything. Porzingis couldn’t be stopped, until he fouled out in the last minutes of the game. Maxi Kleber talked a lot of garbage and got into it with Carmelo Anthony. Tensions were high all game. Whenever the Mavericks would build a lead, Lillard would go off to bring the Blazers back, Anthony hit some keys threes, and Portland again won on a defensive possession, with Lillard drawing an offensive foul, deleting a corner three by the Mavericks, to take the game 134-131 and the 8th seed from the Grizzlies.
The Nets was supposed to be the easy game. Phoenix was on Portland’s behind going 8-0 in the restart. The Blazers had to win or go home, with Phoenix taking the Blazers spot. The Nets who were already locked in for 7th in the east, had no business playing like their lives depended on it. There was no reason to start on all their starters. There was no reason for Caris LeVert to turn into Michael Jordan. But, hey this is the Blazers, and nothing is done easy. The Blazers seemed to be comfortable in the 1st half, but the Nets were matching them, shooting hotter than they ever should. Portland trailed after a dismal third quarter and it wasn’t looking good. There seemed to be no energy left. But, again, Lillard willed them back, and CJ McCollum defended LeVert on the final possesion, again for the the third game in a row, and LeVert whether CJ’s defense was enough, or whether he got to cocky, missed the game winner, sending Suns fans into mourning. The Blazers with a 134-133 win had kept the 8th seed, reached the play- in, and eliminated Phoenix.
The Grizzlies without Jaren Jackson Jr who suffered a season ending knee injury vs the Pelicans earlier in the restart, were no less aggressive or desirable of a win. Jonas Valanciunas battled all game with Nurkic who had just learned of his grandmother’s passing. Dillion Brooks kept hitting threes and so did Brandon Clarke off the bench. Ja Morant went off and Memphis looked like they might take it late, but lo and behold it was…CJ time? That’s right it was CJ time, as McCollum went off late in the fourth to bring the Blazers back from the brink. Nurkic and Melo played their parts too as Lillard distracted the Grizzlies defense. The Blazers pulled it out 126 -122.
That means Portland will will be play-off bound for the seventh season in a row. They will face the Lakers for the first time in the playoffs since 2001-2002 when the Blazers were swept 3-0. That was of course the year after the Lakers beat the Blazers in the infamous game 7 of the WCF. But, this isn’t the Kobe and Shaq Lakers. This Laker team doesn’t have guys like Rick Fox, Robert Horry, and Derrick Fisher. This Laker team limped into the playoffs despite owning the best record in the west. They went 3-5 in the restart. Sure, they have Lebron James and Anthony Davis, but so what. Lebron couldn’t get them to the postseason last year. The team is having issues off the court that Lebron would rather not discuss. They look fragile. If they aren’t afraid, they should be. The Blazers are coming, and no third quarter deficits, or Laker runs are going to stop them. You can’t keep the Blazers down because it is payback time. And, more importantly, it’s Dame O’Clock.