There are moments, and then there are moments. We don’t need to rehash everything that went down in the Blazers’ Game 5 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. But watching the majority of the game from press row (and Dame’s shot from the studio, unfortunately. But hey, I had a show to host) two thoughts kept running through my head.
- This is like watching a movie unfold.
- This team is getting hung up in the figurative rafters of Trail Blazers history
Point number one still holds. Everything about that game, actually everything over the last year, reads like a screenplay for a feel-good sports movie. I mean, if anything, it’s too cliche to get the green light. Just imagine it:
“OK, here’s the pitch. The team gets swept in the first-round of the playoffs for the second straight year. They’re at their low point. People want to break the team up. The coach might get fired. Due to a myriad of mostly self-inflicted issues, they add a couple of underwhelming free-agent acquisitions. After a mediocre start, they catch fire. They bolster the roster for a stretch run. But then, when fans are ready to believe, the second-most important player on the team suffers a devastating injury. But they keep wining. The bench has an improbable second-half comeback on the final day of the season to secure the third seed. The injured player drives to the arena to spark a 13-2 fourth quarter run, capped by a buzzer-beating 37-footer over a team that swept them in the regular season.”
“Sir, we’ve heard enough. It’s nice...but a little generic. Don’t you think?
“Wait, don’t you want to hear how it ends?”
I know we all do.
Lillard’s shot was on the eighth anniversary of Brandon Roy’s “had to see it to believe it” fourth quarter performance in game 4 against the Dallas Mavericks. I keep thinking back to that team. Not the 2011 Blazers. The Mavericks. Probably the last “Team of Destiny” that we’ve had in the NBA. The Mavericks started the season well enough, but went 30-10 over their last 40 regular season games. Similarly, the Blazers - after a 20-16 start - went 33-13 to close the regular season. The NBA is all about playing your best basketball at the right time, and Dallas rode their hot streak all the way to the third seed and an eventual NBA championship.
The odds are highly against the Blazers this postseason. They’re currently 33-1 to win the NBA Finals, up from 50-1 when the playoffs started. Should they advance to the Western Conference Finals, no one is expecting them to get past the Golden State Warriors. Heck, they may not even advance past a talented Denver Nuggets squad.
But, when it comes to hanging the figurative banner on legendary Trail Blazers teams, does that even matter? Surely this team, with its movie script story line, deserves to be remembered as something special. But what is the criteria for anointing one of our team’s as “special?”
A championship? Of course.
A lot of wins with guys that are easy to root for? Probably.
I happen to think it’s like what Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart about his threshold test for obscenity in Jacobellis v. Ohio - “I know it when I see it.”
While we all want the season to go on for as long as possible, the Nuggets, and then the Warriors (or Rockets) stand in the way. But, as far as I’m concerned, this year already ranks up there alongside 1989-90, or the 2008-09 team that won 54 games despite their youth before getting shellacked in the playoffs. Truly special seasons that caught me by surprise.
No matter how this movie ends, we’re seeing something special; and Rip City is buzzing in a way that it hasn’t in years. The second-round battle is going to be tough. The Nuggets have home court advantage, and Denver isn’t an easy place to play. Their starting center is an absolute monster. Portland’s starting center is out for the year, and his backup has a shoulder injury.
Although, if this were a script about a team of destiny, would Enes Kanter be able to fight through the pain of a separated shoulder to handle Nikola Jokic? Or would oft-maligned Meyers Leonard step up and have the series of a lifetime?
Or will it even matter when we tell our kids about how special this season was?