The Blazers’ season came to a close much earlier than anyone expected last Wednesday with a 99-93 defeat in Game 5 of their first round playoff series with the Memphis Grizzlies. Portland fought back from a 13-point third quarter deficit to tie the game early in the fourth quarter but came up short, missing several key shots which could have closed the final margin and sent the series back to Portland for a Game 6. In a microcosm of the series, starters LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, and Damian Lillard combined to shoot 15-of-49 from the field in the loss that sealed Portland's playoff exit.
Though a 4-1 defeat never looks good, several developments during Portland's playoff run offered hope moving forward.
C.J. McCollum staged his coming-out party on a national stage during the Memphis series, averaging 25.7 points on 60.9% shooting over the final 3 games, adding an exciting new dimension to the Blazers’ offense with his ability to get to the rim.
Meyers Leonard earned significant crunch time minutes in Games 4 and 5. He proved he could handle the pressure by hitting 76.9% of his threes for the series (not a misprint), while providing spacing previously reserved for small-ball lineups.
Even with so many key players hobbled or sidelined by injury, the team retained its ‘never say die’ character of the regular season, where they won an NBA-best 17 games after trailing by double digits, 14 when trailing after three quarters. With their backs against the wall, the Blazers came from behind to win Game 4 and came close to doing the same on the road in Game 5.
Still, this abrupt and unwelcome end to the season leaves the team facing uncertainty in an era-defining off-season where only four current players hold guaranteed contracts. The Blazers will have to decide who they want back. Several players will have to bounce back from injury or disappointing play. Losing 8 of 9 games to a fellow contender (coupled with an equally-convincing loss to the San Antonio Spurs in the second round last year) may portend changes in tactics, philosophy, and personnel. The Blazers thought they were ready to pursue the next level of success. Now they appear closer to the drawing board.
Thank you for joining us during our walk through this season's strongest memories. The year was full of great joy and great sadness. Many of its most significant events happened outside the sidelines. Here's hoping for a 2015-16 season that is not only more successful, but defined by play on the court more than injuries or sadness off it.