With the 2018 NBA Playoffs on the horizon and a decent seed guaranteed, the Portland Trail Blazers can consider this season a success. How many people actually thought Portland had a chance to finish in the top half of the Western Conference this season, close to 50 wins?
(Side note: I actually had a friend say this very same thing before the season and I called them crazy. I’m a bad friend.)
The Blazers can thank their 13-game win streak for getting them in the West’s top four. But could they have had more? Hindsight is 20/20, but some preventable losses this season could’ve lessened the pressure down this playoff stretch. If we could stuff them all into a time machine to re-do certain games, here are the likely candidates they’d want a second crack at.
With 43 seconds left in the fourth quarter, CJ McCollum hit a mid-range shot to put the Blazers up 102-101. Then a turnover gave Portland the ball back, and McCollum was sent to the line with his team up one. Instead of pushing the lead to three, and a loss basically out of reach, McCollum — who led the NBA in free throw percentage the year before — missed the first shot before knocking down the second.
Just play good defense and come out with a win, right? Well, Blake Griffin found himself open and did this:
Blake Griffin wins the game with the buzzer beater 3 pointer pic.twitter.com/t5FCgXhYj4— The Render (@TheRenderNBA) October 27, 2017
That hurts to this day. If a player is traded away from a team, and he hit buzzer-beater to get a win for his old team, shouldn’t that be stricken from the record or something?
After a questionable loss to the Memphis Grizzlies earlier in the week, Portland dropped a head-shaker of a game to the Brooklyn Nets days later. This game was dominated by poor play on the court by the Blazers, and after the game news came out that assistant coach David Vanterpool yelled at Jusuf Nurkic for lack of effort on defense — Nurkic was benched for all but 53 seconds in the fourth quarter. Good thing that’s all behind the team.
With Damian Lillard missing this game, Portland maybe gets a pass. Still, every single player who touched the court for Portland had a negative plus/minus. Meanwhile, every Hawk except Tyler Dorsey (who appeared in 1:42 of game time) posted a positive plus/minus.
I get it, teams missing their best player lose perceived winnable games. But the Hawks have won 14 games since that day; Portland has won 30 — more than Atlanta’s whole season (24) — since that day, just for perspective.
How sweet would it have been to extend the win streak against a semi-rival on national television? The Blazers got the outside help they often need — it was the two focal points, Lillard and McCollum, that let the team down.
Al-Farouq Aminu (22 points, 6-8 on threes), Moe Harkless (17 points, 5-5 from the field) and Jusuf Nurkic (21 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks) were great. Lillard and McCollum (9-32 combined from the field, 0-12 from three) were not, and they basically became non-existent as James Harden put the game away. Still … 13 games in a row isn’t bad.
With the NBA playoffs nearing, the Blazers had a game to cushion their slim hold on the 3-seed before games against the Rockets, Spurs, Nuggets and Jazz to finish the season. Instead, Portland laid an egg with really no excuse. Even missing Moe Harkless and Ed Davis doesn’t abstain Portland from fault.
It’s Not All Bad, Though...
The Blazers have been two different teams this year, defined by the front and back sides of January. Early losses that would have otherwise been unremarkable look especially bad after that 13-game win streak put them in prime playoffs position. But ebb and flows are not unusual for Portland; they don’t play the same throughout the season, and the team that lost to the Nets is not the team that lost to the Rockets.
With the Blazers feeling the Jazz creeping over their shoulders, at risk of losing home-court advantage, they could’ve used the “easier” wins they squandered. Even so this season has been a success, and especially fun in the second half.
Do you recall any bad games we haven’t covered? Let us know in the comments.