I had a weird realization with about nine minutes to go in the Trail Blazers game four playoff win over the Thunder — I had transitioned from intently watching the game to mindlessly alt+tabbing through Twitter/NBA stats pages/NBA Slack convos on my laptop.
That happens all the time during the regular season. Over the course of the season a solid quarter, or more, of the 82 games are decided with significant time left on the clock and it’s easy to open up a second screen and start digesting the avalanche of side stories the NBA provides.
But switching to laptop mode during a Trail Blazers PLAYOFF game? With significant time on the clock? Because they’re winning convincingly?! Unheard of.
In a moment of bemusement I had to ask myself why it seemed sub-consciously okay to basically write off the last several minutes of a playoff game. The answer was extensive, but obvious: Every time the Blazers start to look shaky Damian Lillard launches a Hulk-esque barrage of fury, not for a single second of the series have the Thunder looked as prepared and polished as the Blazers, Russell Westbrook is shooting approximately 7 percent and refuses to stop, etc.
Basically, there was no way the Blazers were losing this game. They had the unquestioned best player, Terry Stotts had coached circles around Billy Donovan, and this team almost literally hasn’t given up a fourth quarter lead all season. The game was over, even if the clock hadn’t hit triple zeroes yet.
We haven’t been in this scenario — the Blazers crushing a playoff series to the point of foregone conclusion — since Brian Grant was wrestling with Karl Malone. It’s been 19 years.
I’m obviously not the rah-rah type of fan or analyst so I’ll spare you the “THIS IS FUN” lukewarm take (for the record, it is a shirt-ton of fun) and say this: Winning easily in the playoffs matters right now for the Blazers.
Ever since the infamous summer of 2016 there have been legitimate concerns about whether or not the franchise is progressing in the right direction. About whether or not they’re in the dreaded mired in mediocrity middle ground of the NBA and will waste Lillard’s prime on hapless first round playoff exits.
If 53 regular season wins didn’t erase the doubts wrought by last year’s Pelicans smackdown, then beating the doors off the Thunder certainly alleviates any of the lingering preoccupation. This team is 100 percent legitimate and should be a frontrunner for homecourt advantage in everyone’s preseason predictions. They won’t be the Vegas favorite to win the NBA championship, but, if all goes well, it’s reasonable to think they’ll be contenders to make the Western Conference Finals.
That’s not to say there aren’t barriers in the immediate future. General Manager Neil Olshey will still have work to do this summer to fortify the bench with few resources, and Jusuf Nurkic will likely miss half of the upcoming season. But, given this year’s progress, those feel more like obstacles that can be overcome and not a foretelling of 47 wins and first round futility. That’s a good feeling and I plan to enjoy it as we watch the Blazers (hopefully) close out the Thunder tonight at the Rose Garden.