Road Takes: Great Season Comes To An End As Spurs Finish Blazers In Game 5
Tonight it ended.
It was the 2013-14 Portland Trail Blazers’ ride that saw them become one of the league’s most watchable teams both in style and personalities.
They won 54 games, they made it past the first round of the playoffs for the first time in 14 years and they made sure that a generation that had only heard of it before experience the phenomenon known as “Blazermania.”
In short, the Blazers lost in Game 5 much in the way they lost the first three games of the series. They made mistakes and when they did, the Spurs let them feel it.
It’s been bad shots, it’s been offensive rebounds but on Wednesday it was turnovers.
18 turnovers to be exact which led to 20 points with Kawhi Leonard continuing to destroy the Blazers as he has in the first four games of the series finishing with 22 points.
As another testament to their depth, the Spurs won this game with 0 points from Tony Parker who left the game in the first half after playing just 10:05.
The Blazers role players who had performed well to extend the series in Game 4 didn’t find the same success in San Antonio. Will Barton and Thomas Robinson both had much quieter performances.
The Blazers stayed even after the first quarter behind some solid defense but the Spurs dominated the second quarter. Portland closed the gap but a poor start to the 2nd half hurt any chances at a comeback after being down 7 at halftime.
But back to the season.
The Blazers were projected by pundits and computer projection systems to be a fringe playoff team at best that would compete for a 7th or 8th seed. LaMarcus Aldridge predicted the Blazers would get the 7th seed and they did their All-Star two better.
Aldridge had company on the All-Star team for the first time in his career when Lillard made the team. Aldridge also assumed the mantle of leadership more this season and it was a big reason why the Blazers won 54-wins and the way he elevated his game in the playoffs was a sight to see.
Then, of course there is Damian Lillard. Lillard, he of the shot with 0.9 seconds that lifted the Blazers from the postseason purgatory they had been in for the last 14 years. Lillard continued to play above his years in the playoffs, elevating his game accordingly in the postseason.
Nicolas Batum also made a leap in the postseason, showing up on both ends when the Blazers needed him to and hitting big shot after big shot. Wesley Matthews brought the Blazers their swagger and their belief by being an example of work ethic and tough-minded play.
And of course there was the biggest addition of the offseason in Robin Lopez, adding size, toughness and serious competitive spirit that inspired the Blazers all season long.
And when the Blazers were on, they were as beautiful to watch as a sunset in the valley.
Yes, it’s over now and it didn’t end quite in a blaze of glory.
But the point here is that the ending isn’t how this Blazers series should or will be remembered.
82 games is an eternity and the Blazers, thanks to Terry Stotts, found a mentality that guided them through the great times when they had the NBA’s best record and the tough times, like when they lost to the Orlando Magic back in March.
The Blazers also made a small, but incremental jump on the defensive end. They went from 26th (bottom five) to right around the league average, something that should not be taken for granted considering how egregious the Blazers were defensively in 2012-13.
They had a great first round win that was decided by a nail-bitter every night but with how loaded the West was, the Blazers who love those moments will have to come to love them even more.
After Game 3, the Blazers were frustrated but even in the loss, it was Lillard–the one often said to be older than his years–who provided the best wisdom the Blazers can take from their loss to the Spurs.
“For us, it’s about growth,” he began.
Tonight’s result was irrelevant.
There were pains and there will be an offseason of work ahead (defense and depth will be focuses again), but there’s no mistaking that this team has grown in front of our eyes with a run that few–if any–saw coming.