The night was over before tip-off. The only way the Blazers could have dropped to sixth in the playoffs was with a loss to Denver and a Dallas win. But, behind a solid outing from 2017 League MVP Boban Marjanovic, the short-handed San Antonio Spurs knocked off the Mavericks before the Blazers game got underway. Win or lose, Portland would be facing the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round 4-5 matchup.
No longer needing a win, Coach Stotts gave his starters token minutes but left the bulk of the heavy lifting up to bench players like Pat Connaughton. And yes, I had to google the correct spelling of Connaughton’s last name because I’ve typed it so infrequently this season.
So yeah, not exactly fireworks for the last game of the season. The Blazers ended up winning 107-99. At least both teams still played hard.
If you didn’t watch this game, I don’t blame you. I only kept one eye on it myself. With Kobe’s last game and the Warriors chasing 73 wins, there was just too much basketball to watch.
It was mildly surprising that the Portland starters even came out to start the second half, but it was good to see everyone keep up a rhythm. Damian Lillard started the half with a set play to get a look from deep, and he sunk the triple to break Wesley Matthews’s record and become the all-time leader in threes made for the Blazers. Not only that, the three guaranteed him a scoring average of twenty-five points on the season, just the third Portland player to ever hit that mark.
And the milestones didn’t end there. Lillard also became the first Portland player to finish top ten in both assists and points in the league. Dame and CJ McCollum became the first Portland backcourt to each average at least twenty points a game. Meyers Leonard became the first Blazer to end the season in top ten in most handsomeness.
For a team projected to win 26 games, this was one hell of a magical season. With no expectations on them after losing four out of five starters over the offseason, this ragtag island of misfit basketball players kept overachieving and overachieving and overachieving. And somehow still ended up fifth in the Western Conference, the same spot they finished last season. Unreal.
Terry Stotts for Coach of the Year. CJ McCollum for Most Improved. Dame for one of the All NBA teams. Neil Olshey for Executive of the Year. Just give them all the awards now—after this impressive run, all of them deserve all the accolades for keeping this team both afloat and competitive.
The playoffs start Sunday night in Los Angeles. Let’s do this.