Blazers season comes to an end in 125-121 loss to the Warriors
May 11, 2016, the Portland Trail Blazers’ season finally came to an end at the hands of the 73-9 defending champion Golden State Warriors. The Warriors needed the sharp-shooting of Klay Thompson, who scored 33 points in the first three quarters, as well as some 4th quarter magic from Stephen Curry to fend off a furious Blazers team, 125-121.
CJ McCollum was excellent down the stretch and finished with 27 points, eight rebounds and five assists. Damian Lillard started off hot but he struggled in the second half, finishing with a team-high 28 points.
The conversation around the Blazers has already started to change and perhaps in a few months the conversation surrounding them won’t start with all the players they lost last summer. They pushed the Warriors in one of the most difficult five-game series’ that I can remember. According to ESPN, the Blazers led for 137 minutes of the series and the Warriors led only 95! The Blazers led most of the quarters in the series but the Warriors always found that little something and made Portland pay for their small mistakes. Other than Game 1, the Blazers have a legitimate claim that they could have won every game.
The Blazers obviously learned lessons in this series and now, we have to wait to see how much they can learn from this experience. Will it be a failure if they lose in the first round next year? No, that’s just how it goes sometimes in the NBA. Just ask the model franchise down in San Antonio. But what the Blazers got was experience to see that their best was good enough to bring the best out of the champions. They could use another big guy. They could improve as a team defensively. But my goodness, let’s just recognize how good they were.
The Chris Paul and Blake Griffin injuries helped them, but they were already pushing the Clippers in Game 4 before they got hurt. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are just has difficult to stop in the playoffs as they were in the regular season. Al-Farouq Aminu went up another level and Allen Crabbe did, too. And I haven’t forgotten the Clippers series, Mason Plumlee and Maurice Harkless. Veteran guard Gerald Henderson has earned himself a look from contenders and could even find himself back in Portland if the price is right. The Blazers have a lot to be proud of and the fact that they were “overachieving,” in the minds of most of us, probably sells what these guys did short.
These guys aren’t a cute story anymore. Lillard and McCollum just get buckets and love to play in the biggest moments. Aminu doesn’t get shook in the playoffs, even against the NBA’s Alpha Dog, Draymond Green. Crabbe still has that cool breeze. I’m excited to see what they have planned in free-agency and suddenly, everybody else is too.
Don’t forget that they were 11-20 back at Christmas and blew leads like it was their job. They did that in the playoffs and they didn’t learn that lesson against the Warriors quick enough. Judging by how well this team is able to learn from their mistakes, they will be a problem in the playoffs for years to come.
The Blazers, predictably, fought hard and took a lead right out of the gate. They had the Warriors on their heels but the Warriors have always had help when that happens and it came in the form of Thompson.
And to think Thompson picked up his second foul, forcing the Warriors to play Leandro Barbosa early in the first quarter. He scored 33 points in three quarters despite playing just four minutes in the first! Thompson not only got buckets but he made everything difficult for Lillard all series long.
The Blazers almost immediately took their lead up to double-digits after Thompson left the game, making it the fourth consecutive game that the Warriors trailed by double-digits. But then as the Warriors do, they completely erased the deficit and took the lead.
When Curry took a rest with 1:28 left, the Warriors led by two points. Portland took advantage of not having Curry or Thompson on the court and took a small 3-point lead after 1.
The Blazers maintained their lead and actually extended it with CJ McCollum at the controls of the offense. Most importantly, though, Portland’s defense against the Warriors was solid. They didn’t allow Thompson to go to work easily, giving them an eight-point cushion when Curry returned with under eight minutes left in the half. Almost instantly the game changed and the Warriors went on a 5-0 run that forced Stotts to bring Lillard back.
The Blazers continued to play as if they didn’t care the Warriors had 73 wins or that the series was over after Curry’s Game 4 win. The Blazers continued to take the fight to the Warriors even as Thompson was shooting the lights out. Curry didn’t look as god-like as he did towards the end of Game 4 early on but Thompson was fantastic, helping the Warriors keep pace with Portland.
The Blazers led by three at halftime, and their prospects appeared to improve when Golden State’s Andrew Bogut left the game with a right hamstring injury. But it’s never that simple against the Warriors and they did just fine without their starting center. Even Anderson Varejao gave them good minutes. But most importantly, the Warriors had Thompson.
Thompson and Green kept the Warriors afloat without Curry and Thompson was a buoy for his team once again. He had 33 points through three quarters with most of those shots coming with tough defense. Crabbe worked hard against Thompson but Thompson just kept making stone cold shots. A Curry step-back 3-pointer put the Warriors up by two points heading into the 4th quarter.
The Blazers second unit had to withstand a couple of blows, including a 3-pointer from Speights, who hit three on the Blazers in Game 4. It followed a familiar script. The Blazers were right there with the champs and then they weren’t. They went down seven with under seven minutes left and it was pretty clear that the Blazers were in danger of getting knocked out. But the Blazers only go out by TKO.
McCollum put the team on his back as it looked like Lillard couldn’t get going with the Warriors defense fully focused on him. McCollum had the match-up with Curry and was the only thing keeping the Blazers alive. Curry hit some haymakers and still McCollum had answers.
Portland didn’t have enough answers at the end and that was okay. This is how it goes. Remember when you were hoping for Ben Simmons a couple of months ago? Teams don’t make deep playoff runs without feeling the pain of getting close. The Blazers may have lost in five, but now, nobody can tell themselves they don’t know what it’s like to almost reach the top.
We won’t know what this series meant for the Blazers because we don’t know what’s next for them. Usually, the first step to becoming an elite team is knowing what it takes to beat a champion. The Blazers have taken that step, at least a year ahead of schedule.
This season is worth remembering on its own but now the Blazers have had their improbable season punctuated by the pain of being so close.
Knowing this team, I’m excited to see where that pain can push them next.