The Portland Trail Blazers’ 2018-19 regular season included 53 wins, a third seed in the NBA Western Conference playoffs bracket, a devastating injury, a couple roster moves, and a whole lot of action. Before Portland takes on the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the playoffs, we’re look back on the season that got them here.
In this fourth installment, we center on the event that changed the course of the year and the way the Blazers battled through it.
The Breaks of the Game
The first game back at home after Portland’s infamous “elevator” road trip came with a different kind of drama. Oklahoma City completed a season series sweep of Portland in an overtime victory which included Jusuf Nurkic tripping Russell Westbrook, Westbrook trucking Nurkic, and shared words between Paul George and Nurkic to earn the big man his second technical and an untimely ejection. Al-Farouq Aminu saved the day with a pair of clutch free throws in the dying seconds, but OKC exposed Enes Kanter in the paint during OT to secure the win.
Also, during halftime of this game, Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith confidently predicted that Portland would make the Finals, contrary to the rest of the broadcasting crew’s opinions.
The Blazers bounced back to win nine of the next ten games. In the middle of that streak, Damian Lillard passed LaMarcus Aldridge for second on the franchise’s all-time scoring list. Aldridge congratulated his former teammate and a story by Jason Quick of The Athletic detailed the misunderstood relationship between the two. The most important tidbit: Aldridge isn’t opposed to returning to Portland, which provoked mixed feelings among Rip City fans.
The hot streak also put the Blazers in a position to guarantee home court advantage, but their hopes of a deep playoff push simultaneously disappeared thanks to demoralizing injuries.
First, CJ McCollum strained the popliteus muscle in his left knee and although his re-evaluation was slated for the following week, he remained out for the next 10 games. With the increased efficiency and production from Seth Curry and Nurkic, plus Lillard’s impressive play-making, the team managed to continue winning games against lesser opponents without the shooting guard.
Then, in double overtime against the Brooklyn Nets on Blazer’s Edge Night nine days later, the unimaginable happened. Nurkic landed awkwardly going for a rebound and suffered a gruesome leg injury later diagnosed as compound fractures to his tibia and fibula. The Blazers didn’t include a timetable for his recovery, but it’s safe to expect that the big man will miss much of next season as well.
A game that secured Portland’s sixth consecutive playoff berth received zero positive attention as the impact of Nurkic’s injury hit home. Along with grief came incredible support for Nurkic. Players and teams around the league offered kind words and prayers, Rip City funded a billboard and created numerous “Get Well” signs, and fans attending a Bosnia and Herzegovina national team soccer game halfway around the world chanted his name.
Next: Coming home in style.