This is the kind of run I’ve waited for 19 years of my 25-year-old life for. This is the kind of run that you only imagine can happen until it does happen. Sunday afternoon, Mother’s Day, the Portland Trail Blazers faced off against the Denver Nuggets for one more game and for a chance to go to the Western Conference Finals. In the words of seasoned radio voice of Trail Blazers basketball, Brian Wheeler, “it’s a great day to be a Blazer.”
The Trail Blazers won. They did it. On the road! Defeating the second-seeded Nuggets 100-96. In a game where they trailed by as much as 17 at one point in the first half. “We don’t stop, there’s no quit. When we came in at halftime there was nobody in this locker room that thought we was going to lose the game.” Moe Harkless said after game seven. “We’re at our best when our backs against the wall and I think we showed that.”
In the words of Rasheed Wallace, a former Blazer great that helped lead the Blazers to their last Western Conference Finals appearance in 2000, 19 years ago. “Both teams played hard.” I gained a lot of respect for the Nuggets, Jokic, Murray, and head coach Michael Malone over this 7-game series. Regardless of how the series went, this team will be around for years to come.
There’s just something about this year for the Portland Trail Blazers. After losing owner Paul Allen before the start of the year, losing games early in the season, losing CJ towards the end of the season only to lose Nurkic a few games later. It just seemed like there were more reasons as to why it wasn’t our year than to say that it was. This group refused to listen to that outside noise.
I credit Neil Olshey. That seems to be an unpopular opinion here in Rip City but I’d like to make a case. Olshey said from day one it was a four to five-year plan after LaMarcus Aldridge left. This being year four. He drafted Dame, he drafted CJ. When everyone said you can’t win with that pairing he said it was on him to find the complementary guys to put around them to help them succeed. So he signed Evan Turner, Meyers Leonard, and Maurice Harkless. Yes, the summer of 2016, when everyone got overpaid. He traded 2 picks and drafted Zach Collins, and many questioned why did we just draft a 20-year-old foul happy backup center? All of these guys played important roles in the series against the Nuggets, and these playoffs as a whole. Olshey is apart of the culture here in Rip City - whether you want to admit it or not.
Game seven though, game seven goes to CJ McCollum. McCollum scored 37 points on 17-29 shooting, while only attempting three 3-pointers the entire game. He finished 1-3 from behind the three-point line. It was the art of the midrange which was on full display for McCollum as he crossed, spun and floated into the lane carrying his team towards the win. According to Andy Bailey of Bleacher Report, McCollum became just the 10th player in 2019 (regular season and playoffs) to hit at least 16 mid-range jumpers in a game. He’s 6’3”. The average height of the rest is 6’10”. In a game where Damian Lillard only scored 13 points, you could see why having both these dynamic guards was the plan all along.
The Blazers are now in Oakland, for their first conference finals in 19 years, to take on the defending champs Golden State Warriors. The man that wears the letter O and has the famous Oakland Oak Tree tattooed across his chest is going home. Lillard has had his fair share of big-time moments in Oakland. Most recently a game-winning three that gave Portland its first win in Oakland in nearly four years!
The Western Conference Finals will get underway Tuesday at 6pm. The game will be aired on ESPN.
To the city of Portland, enjoy this one. In the era of ring chasing it’s easy to get caught up in a “title or bust” mentality. Last year after being swept by the New Orleans Pelicans in the first round there were many calling for “wholesale changes”. This season proved that sometimes it’s ok to be patient and enjoy the ride. While everyone began to overlook the Blazers because of their lack of moves, the Blazers just continued to nod their head and accept that once again they had been overlooked.
In two years, the Trail Blazers have finished with a top three record in the West. They weren’t supposed to. They weren’t supposed to beat the Thunder. Dame wasn’t supposed to pull up from 37 feet. They weren’t supposed to win game seven on the road, behind CJ’s own 37. They aren’t supposed to beat the Warriors. The Warriors dynasty that everyone seems to be waiting to dispatch. The Blazers, they have something else in mind and it starts on Today Rip City.