The Lakers dribbled out the clock and the Blazers season with it, Saturday night. The Blazers were eliminated from the 2020 playoffs falling 132-121 to LA in game 5.
If we are being honest, the series was probably over before it began. Maybe when Trevor Ariza opted out. Maybe when Nassir Little suffered a concussion in practice during the scrimmages and missed the playoffs due to syncopal spells, later listed as dehydration.
Perhaps it was over when Zach Collins hobbled off the court in the playin vs the Grizzlies, with what was later diagnosed as a fractured malleolar.
If not, because of one of these unfortunate series of events or a confluence of them all, the series was decided after game 2, that saw the Lakers blow out the Blazers and Damian Lillard dislocate his finger. Then after game 4 another blowout and another Lillard injury. This time his knee which buckled on a shot attempt against Markieff Morris.
Lillard would not return to the game or the series. He left the Orlando bubble to return the Portland,and it doesn’t seem fair, not at all.
The Blazers after a season plagued with injuries – every single player on the Blazers roster (Minus the newer Adams) took turns bring injured this season – had one of the easiest schedules to finish the season. Then Coronavirus came and shut things down. Fast forward several months and the Blazers along with 22 other teams would get a chancevto finish their season in the Orlando bubble.
The Blazers schedule heavy with opponents who didn’t make it to the bubble was re-written. It went from one of the easiest, to one of if not the hardest schedules.
The Blazers went 6-2 behind a supernova in Lillard, a return of Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins, and the emergence of Gary Trent. They held off an 8-0 suns, Lillard set records only recorded by one other, Wilt Chamberlain. They got the 8th seed, and defended it in the play in versus a hungry Memphis Grizzlies.
What did the Lakers do in the seeding games. They floundered. They lacked identity and cohesiveness. They went 3-5. They lost to teams outside the playoff picture. Terrible.
Not fair, not fair at all. After all the hard work, all the continuous piling of injuries, the Blazers just couldn’t over come it. Not that the NBA is about fairness anyway. Never has been. Its about competitive spirit and drive.
Whether the series was over before it began or after game 4 if not game 2, the Blazers weren’t listening. They weren’t listening game 1, when the Lakers under estimated them, and they pulled away with a 100-93 win. The Blazers certainly weren’t listening Saturday night.
Portland was 1-3 in the series. They were without their star player in Lillard. They were without Ariza, Hood, Collins, Swanigan, and Gabriel. They had 9 players to their name. They could have given up. After two blowouts already, they could have walked into a third, but that is not the Blazer way.
The Blazers fought tooth and nail in game 5. All united in their headbands, commemorating Clifford Robinson, who had passed away earlier in the day. They stayed up with the Lakers in the first half, down four after one quarter and tied at half time.
The Blazers faltered a bit in the third, but came back from a double digit deficit to tie the game mid fourth quarter. A depleted Blazers team took the Lakers to their limits. They shooked and rattled them.
CJ McCollum played 46 minutes, almost the whole game with a broken back and notched 36 points. Carmelo put up 27 behind him. Nurkic battled fatigue and conditioning. Trent Jr and Anfernee Simons showed up for the party. Whiteside suffered a dislocated finger (the injuries followed Portland to the end) but didnt let it stop him.
Portland could have packed it in. But,they played with heart, effort, and intensity. They didn’t look like a team ready to go home. They put everything on the line, every last measure of their will.
In the end, it wasnt enough. The Blazers were too injured. Missing too many players. They are on the plane headed home. But, they are headed home to a proud fanbase.
Because if without their star player, several other starters and important role players, at their weakest, they could score the most points they have in the playoffs this postseason, fight like they did, one can only imgaine this team fully healthy.
The Blazers will return.