We Have to Talk about the Portland Trail Blazers While There's Still Time
Hello, and welcome to Blazers Playoff Journal, where we’ll irregularly check in with the Portland Trail Blazers’ post-season run. (For how much longer, we don't know!) On Tuesday, the Blazers lost the second of their best-of-seven series with the New Orleans Pelicans, 111-102. Tonight at 6 p.m., the Blazers play game three in New Orleans.
One big long deep breath
It’s just a game, it’s ok
But, man, WTF
Another game, another underwhelming performance from the Blazer backcourt. But in Game 2 it came into clearer focus just what a masterful job the New Orleans guards—Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday in particular—are doing in this series. In moments you’d expect a young team like the Pelicans to crack (especially after momentum shifts where the Blazers seem destined to pull ahead), these guys put their heads down, mind their rotations, communicate and put the Blazers on lock down.
It’s worth noting that Al-Farouq Aminu and Moe Harkless had admirable showings (I’d like to see the latter start in Game 3, if he’s in physical shape to do so after his recent injury), and that both Dame and CJ flirted with finding their rhythm late in the game. But there were stretches when Lillard seemed not only uninvolved in the offense, but totally disinterested in it. He looked injured or tired. But my suspicion is that he was frustrated, and that’s a word he used in the post-game press conference. Terry Stotts went small down the stretch, though both Nurkic and Ed Davis were available to play. The Blazers were the victims of a few bad calls at key points in the game, and the Blazers were just the less graceful team in the final minutes. But despite the final score, it felt like a more well-rounded performance from the Blazers than in Game 1.
What It Felt Like
It started out so great. There was a Judas Priest show next door at Memorial Coliseum, so the pre-game energy outside of the Moda Center was really interesting, and the Blazers encouraged the circus-like atmosphere with lots of pop-up activities. There were stilt-walkers, graffiti artists, pop-a-shot competitions, that silver statue guy who gives everyone the creeps. Next to him, I saw a familiar-looking decked-out Blazer fan who made me smile. It was Janet Weiss from Sleater-Kinney. At first I did the good Portland thing and just kept walking, but then decided I’d nerd out and ask to take a photo of her. She insisted I be in the photo (which, yeah, that probably feels slightly less like being treated as a zoo animal) and I happily obliged. In retrospect, this was the highlight of my night.
The bullish pre-game energy faded fast as it became more apparent that the Pelicans were no one-trick-ponies. I thought the Game 2 crowd had a bit more spirit than the Game 1 crowd, though it was a sort of vitriolic energy mostly spurred on by a few key no-calls and questionable out-of-bounds decisions. I like seeing an angry Portland crowd, so this was right up my alley. It’s worth noting that Jrue Holiday was arguing with a fan throughout the game (“That’s what they pay for,” he’d say in the press conference), and on one of those cute timeout videos, Damian Lillard answered the question “What’s your favorite superhero movie?” with Meteor Man, which absolutely blew my mind.
The Pessimistic Takeaway
The Optimistic Takeaway
The odds are obviously not with NBA teams that lose the first two games of their series. That’s true of visiting teams who are about to head home, and it’s even a bigger longshot in situations like this one, where the high seed loses two. That said, this is a surprising team. They didn’t really congeal until after the all-star break and I still think they’re most comfortable when their backs are against the wall. So I wouldn’t be shocked to see them go to New Orleans and win one or even two.
In all likelihood, though, the Blazers are going to lose this series. And there’s an optimistic take for that, too. If you’re a fan of the Blazers, you’re a fan of underdogs. The Pelicans are true underdogs. They lost their second-best player—who happened to be one of the league’s most dominant big men—and they totally reinvented their style of play on the fly. And what came out of that reinvention has been absolutely stunning, beautiful basketball.
I sat in the post-game press conference on Tuesday, just stewing and feeling bad about the loss. And then Jrue Holiday came out. He’s a charming dude and a hugely underrated basketball player. He’s an easy guy to root for. Anthony Davis is an easy guy to root for, too. Even Rajon Rondo, who has been a passing savant since his Boston days but never seemed to fully click with other teams, is pretty easy to root for as he rounds out his game and finds his role as a leader with New Orleans.
I’m not suggesting we Portlanders hang up our pinwheels and don those horrendous Pelicans jerseys. But attempting to pull back and watch this matchup like a neutral observer every now and again is a truly worthwhile endeavor. This year’s NBA Playoffs are about as unpredictable as they come, and if the Blazers weren’t stuck on the losing end of things, ours would be a fantastically rewarding series to watch.