“We wanted to send the message to the fans that we’ve improved,” Portland coach Nate McMillan said. “We’ve gotten better and the next step is to make the playoffs next year.”
-April 15th, 2008 following the Blazers 113-91 win against Memphis in their last home game of the season.
Next year is here. So too are the playoffs.
365 days ago, the Blazers played their last home game. A very different evening but it also had its similarities. It was also Fan Appreciation Night in the Rose Garden. It too was a blowout, a 113-91 win over the Memphis Grizzlies. Like tonight it featured a Blazer hitting 6 three-pointers as James Jones did exactly what Rudy Fernandez did tonight. But those were the only similarities. A year ago, Blazer fans were enjoying finally having a .500 record. Mumbling about coulda shoulda wouldas. Contemplating the options in the draft. Wondering what moves were going to be made. Dreaming of Greg Oden. In short, Blazer fans were hopeful because of the future of this team. The future of this franchise. Everyone was hoping we were one year away.
Well the future is now. And this team has far exceeded anyone’s expectations and wildest dreams. Illustrated tonight by the fact that they won their 54th game of the season. That 54th win is the highest number of wins for this franchise since the 1999-2000 season. Yes….THAT season. Tonight the Blazers clinched home-court advantage after the best season in the history of the Rose Garden. A playoff series now goes through Portland. And although we will be seeded 4th in the Playoffs due to tie-breakers, let it be known that the Blazers tied for the second best record in the Western Conference. This team was supposed to fight and claw to get to the playoffs, lose in the first round and continue building. Instead they will host a playoff series with the chance to make some noise.
What a difference a year makes. Tonight, Portland gave a strong example of how you want to end the regular season. Basically doing the opposite of what Chicago did tonight (yikes). I mean check out what that took place tonight:
- Beating the #2 seed and Northwest Division Champions 104-76.
- Clinching home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs
- Going into the playoffs having won 6 straight games. The last time that happened was 1976-77. Mmm hmm.
- An alley-oop for a Chalupa.
You look at the keys to success to winning this game I wrote about in my pre-thoughts, nearly everything went Portland’s way. Portland was the aggressor from the start. JR Smith went back to being the JR Smith we all know and love. Carmelo Anthony had a horror movie type night. Portland’s X-Factors were incredible and both teams turned the ball over an equal amount. It was just that kind of night for Portland.
The thing about blowouts is that rarely can you take much from them. Obviously, Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony combining to go 7-for-28 doesn’t hurt you at all. Neither does Rudy and Travis combining to shoot 13-for-18 and the Blazers shooting 57% from the field and 59.2% from behind the arc. You get those type of numbers and you’re winning. However, tonight felt like an exception to the rule. Looking beyond the 28-point win there was some great stuff to take out of this one. For instance how about the fact that the Nuggets never once led in this ballgame. Or how about, Portland winning this one big without any starter scoring in double figures. As a matter of fact Brandon Roy only played 23 minutes. Contrast this game with the initial game in Denver. Remember how they exposed the Blazers then over-reliance on #7? And tonight he only plays 23 minutes. That’s growth people. It was a game where the Blazers’ X-Factors stepped up in a huge way. Of course you don’t want LaMarcus Aldridge and B-Roy to combine for 14 points in the post-season but that kind of output from the role players was bigger than all the Kardashians booty’s put together. Give credit to Travis Outlaw, Rudy Fernandez…hell even Sergio Rodriguez and Channing Frye deserve some love. They’ll have some extra confidence going into the playoffs in a series where they will have to show up. Any sort of contribution we can get from the latter too would be great but the first two will have to show up night-in and night-out. I mean for pete’s sake the bench almost beat the entire Nuggets team (72 points).
I for one was also impressed by the defensive effort. It still isn’t a strength but over the past month or so strides have been made. And if you take out that 20-6 run in the third quarter, I’d say Portland played some of their best defense of the year. A very encouraging sign at a time of the year when you consider the importance of defense this time of year. Denver was settling for jumpers for the majority of the night. During that second quarter where the Blazers really won the game, Denver was either shooting jumpers or turning the ball over. Portland dictated a lot tonight defensively, something that you have to like to see. I really like how physical the Blazers played early. Batum got Carmelo Anthony flustered, and he didn’t just do it with his length and speed. He was pretty physical with him as well. Ditto for Travis who really tried his hardest to fight Anthony. Let’s also not forget about the help defense. In the post-season the referees (for the most part) won’t be calling everything ticky tack and you’ll have the oppurtunity to play. I was impressed that the Blazers could play that way.
Also impressive about tonight’s game was the sense of urgency. You got this feeling that they knew just how important it was to get home-court advantage and played like it. There was a sort of desperate determination, if you will. You could feel the energy not only from the crowd but from the players. The business like approach that they have had over the past couple months has just been a sight to behold and it’s coming at just the right time.
The second quarter was where the game was won. That third quarter was where it was nearly lost. That 12 minutes made me both sad and happy. I was sad because the Blazers had a really, really rough stretch offensively. It was the kinds of stretches that kept Memphis and the Clippers around lately. The kind of stretches that have killed the Blazers on the road. And the kind of stretches that can turn a playoff series. Don’t believe me? Ask the Suns, their entire history could be changed give or take a couple play. During that 20-6 run in the third quarter the Blazers had 5 turnovers and 8 of their 13 field goal attempts were jumpers. We’ll be talking a lot about the Rockets in the up-coming days, but stretches like these can’t happen. Every possession now becomes so much more important. What made me happy was the resiliency that the Blazers showed. If you watched the Houston/Dallas game, contrast the runs. Of course, completely different scenarios as they were on the road and we had a bigger cushion. But when Dallas started to make a run it felt like the sky was falling for Houston. Meanwhile for Portland–while there was time for worry– it never felt like things were completely out of control. You just waited to see when they would respond. And they did finishing the quarter on an 8-2 run before polishing them off in the 4th. Really admired the effort of the squad in the beginning of the fourth. Denver wasn’t sniffing the paint. And Michael Ruffin was in there.
16 teams are left standing and we’re one of them for the first time in six years. As fun as this season has been..now….the real fun begins.
Topics: Blazers Home-court Advantage, Brandon Roy, Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Denver Nuggets, Kim Kardashian, LaMarcus Aldridge, Nate McMillan, Nic Batum, Portland Playoffs, Portland Trail Blazers, Rip City, Rudy Fernandez, Trail Blazers Playoffs, Travis Outlaw