After six wild games, the Blazers and Nuggets will settle their series with a Game 7 on Sunday in Denver. If a Game 7 feels rare, there’s a reason: This is Portland’s fourth Game 7 in their 49 years as a franchise. It’s an average of approximately one Game 7 every 12.5 years.
So what happened in those previous three Game 7’s? Let’s look back.
May 19, 1990: Blazers 108, Spurs 105 (OT)
The greatest series in Blazers history that didn’t end in a title or a buzzer-beater
Surprisingly little is written about this series, which has some similarities to this year’s matchup with Denver. Like 2019’s series, the Blazers and their opponent were both rising teams, and both trying to show they belong in the upper echelon of the Western Conference. In both, Portland was battling a team having their first playoff success with their elite center.
But back to 1990. Both teams won all their home contests through the first six games, leading to a winner-take-all Game 7 in Portland. With 2 minutes left, Portland was down 7 and all hope looked lost. But the Blazers made a few key defensive stands, helped by the Spurs’ Rod Strickland making a boneheaded playoff mistake. Clyde Drexler hit a clutch three-pointer to help Portland push into overtime, where they were eventually victorious in a classic.
Epilogue: In the other half of the bracket, the dominant Lakers had unexpectedly lost to Phoenix, and the Blazers saw a path to the Finals. They grabbed it. This was the beginning of Portland’s longest sustained period of success. They reached the 1990 and 1992 Finals, plus the 1991 Western Conference Finals, before wear and tear took their toll on the team.
June 4, 2000: Lakers 89, Blazers 84
We don’t talk about this game in good company
Almost every modern Blazers fan knows about this game. With both teams eyeing an easy opponent in the Finals, the Blazers fell behind 3-1 in the series. But Portland looked like they were finally about to break through, taking a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter of Game 7. Then it all fell apart. The quarter opened with Los Angeles outscoring the Blazers 17-4. Blazers star forward Rasheed Wallace (30 points) couldn’t buy a bucket, and point-forward Scottie Pippen couldn’t make any assists, and Blazer fans had to look at Shaq’s alley-oop dunk and goofy expression during every commercial break for ten years.
Pippen and Wallace still have regrets about that game. They recently discussed them on The Jump.
Epilogue: The Blazers came back the next season to be the best team in the league. Then general manager Bob Whitsitt acquired Rod Strickland at the trade deadline. That was the tipping point for the team’s chemistry. The Blazers fell apart and never fully recovered.
May 4, 2003: Mavericks 107, Blazers 95
Nearly the greatest comeback in NBA history
After the 2001 collapse, the Blazers hung around the lower playoff seeds as Rasheed racked up technicals and the NBA passed them by. In 2003, they matched up with Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, and the Dallas Mavericks. Portland looked overwhelmed from the start, falling behind 0-3. Then the unexpected happened: Their young guys, Zach Randolph and Bonzi Wells, took over. Dallas had no answers. After a Game 6 blowout in Portland, the teams met in Dallas for Game 7. Just like in Los Angeles, the Blazers led to open the fourth quarter... then were promptly outscored 36-22 by the Mavs to send them home for the summer.
Epilogue: The Blazers dismantled the team after this loss, to focus on the young guys. Unfortunately, that essentially meant a rebuild, where Portland was stuck until the 2006 draft night, when they acquired Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge in one hour, immediately changing the direction of the franchise.
Sunday, we’ll write a new chapter in the history of Blazers Game 7’s, as they walk into Denver an underdog, and hope to grab a trip to the Western Conference Finals.