The Portland Trail Blazers had a volatile, interesting year in 2021. After nearly a decade of stability, the Blazers experienced seismic shifts that redefined the terrain under their feet, changing the outlook heading into 2022 and beyond. On New Year’s Day we’re going to look back at the most significant events defining the franchise over the last 365 days. These are the stories that made their year.
Denver came into the fray wounded. They lacked star point guard Jamal Murray and 30-minute-per-game guard Gary Harris. Super-sub Will Barton would join the series halfway through. Portland, meanwhile, was rounding into full shape, with Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, newly-acquired Norman Powell, and center Jusuf Nurkic all ready to play. It should have been a mismatch: Portland’s best chance to make the second round and, perhaps, return to the Conference Finals.
Except it wasn’t. Portland’s inability to contain center Nikola Jokic was somewhat expected. He was, after all, the league’s MVP. But that was one player against five. When Austin Rivers and Facundo Campazzo also ripped them apart, Portland slouched past “Go” and directly into a 2-4 series loss.
The stunned reactions after the final horn of Game 6 were palpable. Lillard expressed disappointment that would continue through the off-season. Nurkic blasted the team and its choices in a season-ending press conference. An obvious question hung in the air: “If we can’t beat the Nuggets under these conditions, when can we beat them? And who can we beat?” In a fortnight, a near-decade of positive spin and persistent hope disintegrated under the cold-fish slap of reality.
One could argue that those questions defined Portland’s summer moves and still linger over the team to this day. Their regular-season losses in 2021-22 are accompanied by far less “never say die” attitude and/or bravado than we’ve seen under similar conditions in years past. Shrugs have become the norm.
Either way, June 3rd, 2021 was the day that it all came crashing down. One playoffs series erased, then rewrote, the narrative spun between 2012 up to that point. As such, the loss became one of the most significant events of 2021.