I became an NBA fan because of two things: 1) Bill Schonely's radio play-by-play of Blazers games, and 2) NBA Entertainment home videos.
Listening to Schonely bestowed (cursed?) me with a lifelong addiction to the Portland Trail Blazers, but the NBA Entertainment videos added to my fandom a deeper appreciation for the league's history and great moments beyond the Blazers.
There was something engrossing about watching highlights of all-time classic games narrated and scored with an intensity that conveyed the same gravity as a World War II documentary. Add in the relentless excitement of full playoff series condensed down to a flurry of most-important highlights and I was hooked.
Watching those videos over and over again, three games stood out: Game 5 of the 1976 Finals between the Suns and Celtics, Game 6 of the 1974 Finals between the Bucks and Celtics, and Game 4 of 1992 Western Conference semifinals between the Blazers and Suns.
All three games have been recognized as among most memorable in NBA history - the '76 game was one of only two Finals games to ever go to triple OT and featured multiple buzzer-beaters, a 20+ point comeback, and even a fan beating up a referee. The '74 game was a double overtime Finals classic with 11 consecutive lead changes in overtime(!) capped by a game-winning sky hook by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the final seconds. And the Blazers/Suns contest was, and still is, the highest scoring game in playoff in NBA history - the Blazers prevailed in double OT.
Despite the epicness, however, none of these games closed out their respective series. They were all penultimate contests - importantly, the winning team cruised to victory in the following game and locked up all three series. This trend is a common one in the NBA. Often after battling and losing in a historically intense game, the losing team suffers an emotional letdown. They gave their best shot, usually through overtime, had victory within their grasp, and walked away with nothing to show for it. It's human nature that such intense disappointment would carry over to the next night.
The 2016 Blazers find themselves in that exact predicament. Less than 48 hours ago they watched reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Steph Curry's status for Game 4 go from "doubtful" to "I'm good." Initially, it seemed to make little difference as Curry looked rusty and tired through most of the game, missing his first nine 3-pointers, as the Blazers built a lead through three quarters.
But then something snapped: Curry hit his 10th 3-point attempt and suddenly he transformed back into the MVP. Over the last ten minutes of the game he buried the Blazers with a full arsenal of ballhandling, passing, and deeeeep 3-point bombs. When the dust had cleared, Curry had outscored the Blazers by himself in overtime and set a new playoff record for points in an extra session.
From a broader perspective, he saved the Warriors from losing back-to-back games for the first time all season, and put an end to the upset threat from the upstart Blazers, single-handedly preserving the sanctity of Golden State's 73-win season. The next morning he was named the first unanimous MVP in league history. If VHS tapes were still a thing, NBA Entertainment would have already hired Morgan Freeman to narrate.
The question for the Blazers going into tonight's "win or go home" Game 5: Can they subvert NBA history, put the Curry supernova out of their mind, and win at Oracle Arena for the first time all season?
Damian Lillard seems to think so. After the Game 4 loss he acknowledged the deflating nature of the defeat, but vowed to be ready for Game 5:
It was kind of draining. ...I thought we competed with them. We were right there. We were one or two stops from winning the game, but we right there. It wasn't a... we're not out here getting blown out. We're not out here getting bullied. We competing. ....We let one get away, but next game we got to go out there and try to get one on their court.
In the other locker room, Draymond Green also provided some motivation for the Blazers by declaring the series over.
Draymond on the Blazers: "Do I think they're done. Of course I think they're done" https://t.co/vHYuALSMlQ— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) May 10, 2016
Green later admitted that he was trying to give the Blazers "bulletin board material" with the comment.
Green's antagonistic strategy may be costly for the Warriors; The Blazers have thrived on adversity all season and played their best with their backs against the wall. Poor performances in "should-win" games have highlighted that the team seems to have integrated the underdog status into their identity.
But the Warriors are like no other opponent. They have acquitted themselves against top teams all season, losing most of their games only when underestimating the other team. A motivated playoff-ready Golden State team with their MVP back in the lineup is like no other challenge the Blazers have faced all season.
After eight games this years, the Xs and Os of this matchup have been thoroughly examined. The teams play similar styles and most possible adjustments have already been explored. Everyone knows, for instance, that the Warriors will swarm Damian Lillard and that Al-Farouq Aminu must hit 3-pointers for Portland to have a chance.
Thus, tonight's game comes down to a series of challenges: Can the Blazers play their best ball of the season, beat Curry and the Warriors at their own game, cast aside the disappointment of the Game 4 heartbreaker and defeat the best team in NBA history on the road?
If the Blazers do somehow succeed, it'll be a story worthy of a home video.