“I don’t believe in moral victories.” — Blazers G Damian Lillard
— Ben Golliver (@blazersedge) April 8, 2013
Sunday April 7th 2013 very likely won’t be memorable for much. It probably won’t be the type of evening that gets replayed in the minds of every Blazer fan. However, it was an evening, and a game, that illustrated one of the stranger quirks of the NBA game.
Game 77 was meaningless from start to finish, there was nothing to be gained and nothing to be lost. Yes, finishing 2012-13 without a win in nearly a month doesn’t look good, but that’s all. It won’t change Portland’s draft position, it won’t lead to the coach’s firing, it probably won’t even have a lasting impact on the Blazers’ roster; the same four guys that carried the load this season will carry the load next season.
So why not celebrate a little bit when Will Barton, a glorified cheerleader for much of his rookie season, goes off? Why not celebrate a little when Portland works back from being down nearly 30? Why not celebrate a little when on a Sunday evening a half full Rose Garden goes full nova when a jumper cuts a deficit from 16 to 14 with less than 10 to play in the fourth quarter?
This team is not going to win many of their next five games, they might not win any at all, but they are going to win some games next year, if free agency goes well (or at least not horribly) they could win a lot of games next year. There needs to be something down the stretch that brings this team together. There needs to be something down the stretch that this team can be happy about.
That’s why it was a bit of a shock to see Damian Lillard respond the way he did to Sunday’s game. Lillards frustration has been evident over the last few games. It was never more clear than Sunday night. He’s hell-bent on winning, to the point that while his teammates were ribbing Will Barton for being of the center of attention in the post-game locker room, Dame was not. While LaMarcus Aldridge was laughing and joking with the media, even while also saying he too didn’t believe in moral victories, Lillard was stoic and straight faced.
It’s not that Portland’s best rookie and future franchise player should suppress his natural inclination to win at all costs so he can join in on the fun his teammates are having, it’s just that at this point in the season why not take a moral victory from a historical performance by a rookie who has shown flashes of something but has yet to make a real impact on a real NBA basketball game?
And it’s more than just a moral victory, really. Portland has roster holes to fill and minutes for next season to allocate. They also have limited resources with which to build a playoff caliber roster. If Will Barton can be a contributor, a real contributor not just a side-show in a late-season game that means nothing to nobody, that’s one less potential bear trap for Neil Olshey this coming off-season.
Barton doesn’t become a rotation player by having one great night, but he makes a case for himself.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to throw Lillard under the bus, or to say that his desire to win games that are meaningless is an indication that he somehow doesn’t get it, I just think that the long view is the important one to take at this point. Celebrating the small victories, such as 22 points, 13 rebounds, six assists, three steals, and not a single turn over in 32 minutes from Will Barton, does not mean you’re comfortable with losing, it does not mean that winning games suddenly becomes less important. It does mean, though that you can see the light at the end of the tunnel, that this season, for all it low-lows, is the beginning of something special and not just the first act of a very depressing chapter of Blazer history.
Portland has five games remaining on the schedule, two of them on the road. With Wesley Matthews going down to a sprained ankle and leaving the Rose Garden on crutches and in a boot and Nicolas Batum unlikely to come back, road wins are unlikely. Portland’s home games are against the Lakers (who need wins to stay above water), the Thunder (who need wins to leap-frog the Spurs for the first seed in the Western Conference), and the Warriors (who have a tough final stretch with their only for-sure game coming against the Blazers in Portland’s home finale): home wins aren’t going to be a picnic either.
That’s why I think Sunday is easily the best excuse for a moral victory the Blazers have had this season. Here’s somebody who might agree:
Shoutout to my lil bro @willthethrillb5 for having a career night!
— Lamarcus Aldridge(@aldridge_12) April 8, 2013
One quick thing:
- There are four guys who get all the media attention in Portland’s locker room. I’m sure you can guess which four. However, there are always the odd games out when somebody else, somebody unexpected, gets the TV cameras and the audio recorders jammed in their faces. Will Barton got that treatment Sunday. I can remember a game when Shavlick Randolph had the same thing happen to him. One of my favorite locker room memories of that type came a few seasons ago. Some unexpected Blazer (I think it was Patty Mills but I couldn’t confirm that with anybody I talked to) had a huge game, and as tends to happen, he was mobbed by video cameras and reporters. On his way out of the shower and to his locker, Nicolas Batum stuck his head over the top of the scrum and asked loudly so everybody could hear, “Is that Brandon Roy over there?” Sunday, in a similar fashion, LaMarcus Aldridge, on his way from the shower to his locker, shouted “Where’d you eat today,” to Will Barton as he was answering questions. Barton has never had more than one or two reporters ask him post-game questions all season. He strung his post-game from the time the locker room opened until nearly every other Blazer had already packed up and left.