With the regular season over and the NBA playoffs rapidly approaching, I’d like to take a look back at a single moment that entirely changed the Portland Trail Blazers’ post-season outlook. On March 9th, the Trail Blazers squared off with their soon-to-be first round matchup, the Houston Rockets. Portland seemed to have a win in hand late into the game, but Houston was able to come back and force overtime, where they clinched the season series 3-1 with a 118-113 victory.
But what if they hadn’t? This is no idle dreaming, as a single call could have changed the outcome. The play in question came with 11.3 seconds remaining in the 4th quarter. The Trail Blazers were ahead 106-103 and the Rockets had possession. Jeremy Lin inbounded the ball to James Harden in the corner for what would be the game-tying three, which, of course, he made in true superstar fashion. So what’s the problem?
Lin took over six seconds to inbound the ball! The five seconds allowed came and went before Harden even began streaking to the corner. The play should have resulted in a rather obvious turnover and nearly certain Portland victory, not an extra period while the Rockets had momentum on their home court. I understand not wanting the game to be decided by such an anti-climactic error, but that no-call ultimately cost the Trail Blazers home court advantage in the first round against the very team they faced that night.
Portland and Houston finished with identical regular season records (54-28). Because the Rockets took that game back in March, they won the season series and were awarded 4th seed while the Trail Blazers came in 5th. Perhaps more importantly, the Trail Blazers would have a two game lead on the Rockets with a positive and negative win/loss conversion attributed respectively (55-27/53-29). If that call was made correctly, Portland would be granted 4th seed in the West and home court advantage in the first round.
Of course, there are a number of things that could have gone differently throughout the season to avoid this unfortunate reversal in the standings (winning easy games against the Kings, Sixers, and Magic for starters), but this solitary event is one that should have gone differently from an objective standpoint. Rules are rules, and no amount of effort on the court or lack thereof can change that.
The healthy thing to do here is to look past it. After all, officiating isn’t perfect and you can’t change what happened. I’m a fan of whining over such things in my personal life, so when Jason Hortsch brought this memory to my attention, it rekindled my saltiness regarding the incident. The little things do add up and they do matter. The officials relocated their whistles, shortly after allowing the inbound play, to call Damian Lillard’s sixth foul on a Patrick Beverley flop. The rest is history.
As stated, the healthy thing is to move on, but what is healthy is not always fun. It’s time to stir up the ol’ blood lust now that Portland has reclaimed ‘playoff team’ status. The past is through, but the future is ripe for the taking. The games begin for the Trail Blazers and Rockets on Sunday night at 6:30 p.m. PDT; ideally without need for a stopwatch.