The last time the Portland Trail Blazers won game 1 of the western conference first round, was 5 years ago, 6 days from now, on April 20th, 2014 against the number four Houston Rockets, on the road. The last time the Blazers won a game 1 on their home court, in 2000 vs the Minnesota Timberwolves. (They went to the WCF’s that year). A year before that, they won game 1 in 1999 against the Phoenix Suns. So, a 104-99 win against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the opening game on Sunday was a long time coming, and what a season to do it in. With the passing of owner Paul Allen. With Jusuf Nurkic’s gruesome injury.
With the victory, Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers have cut the tape on the incertitude that has lingered about the past several seasons. They broke an eight game losing streak in the playoffs. They have been waved off. They have been doubted. They have been called inferior. Perhaps today is the overture of the downfall of those cynical perceptions. Eh, there will always be detractors, and there will always be crow to eat.
Damian Lillard’s voice opened up the show at the Moda center, in a pregame video. He put straight a common misconception. This series isn’t about weathering a storm. The Blazers are the storm. A power force to be reckoned with. They showed Sunday afternoon, they were to be taken seriously.
The Blazers opened the 1st quarter strong, with Lillard taking and hitting a long emphatic shot from the Moda logo on the first possession. It meant more than three points. It was a swift message to the Thunder and to the doubters, signed the letter 0. It was Lillard letting it be known, the Moda center is his house. The Blazers outshot and outplayed their division foe.
Though the Thunder held a brief lead, it was fleeting. The Trail Blazers scored 39 1st quarter points, more than any other team in game 1 this postseason.
The Blazers led the rest of the way. They outshot OKC 44% to 15% from the 3pt line. The Blazers played some of the best defense they have played in some time. They tore down rebounds. They took charges. They blocked the ball 9 times. They played with intensity and awareness. It wasn’t all pretty, in fact there was a lot of ugly. But, the Blazers did what needed to be done. There was no flinching.
Enes Kanter pummeled his way to a 20 point 18 rebound game. Only two Blazers have done that in an opening playoff game, Bill Walton and LaMarcus Aldridge. Seven of those rebounds were offensive. Three of them came late and helped Portland keep possession and run the clock down.
CJ McCollum finished with 24 points, 6 rebounds, and three assists. He broke down double teams, something that plagued the Blazers in last year’s playoffs and throughout the season, with ease.
Lillard scored 30 points to lead the Blazers. He hit a late three and followed that with several free throws to put away the game as the fans chanted “MVP”. As the buzzer sounded he raised his hands high and the Moda Center came alive.
The Blazers were the storm Sunday afternoon. The Oklahoma City Thunder were the casualties, lost in a red and black out. They shot an abysmal 38% from the field. Westbrook went goose egg from the arc. Five other Oklahoma City players followed suit. Someone tell the Thunder they aren’t in Kansas anymore. They are in Portland where the rain doesn’t play around.