Portland Trail Blazers Game Six Takeaways – What Now?

For three quarters, it looked like the Portland Trail Blazers were going to hang on for a seventh game in their series with the Denver Nuggets.  The cracks, however, started in the third quarter, spreading through the team like a river until there was nothing left.

A nightmare fourth quarter resulted in a first-round exit with a 126-115 loss.  Damian Lillard led the Blazers with 28 points, but on just 8-of-20 shooting from the field.  Lillard and CJ McCollum combined to shoot 5-of-19 from three.  

Here are the takeaways from Game Six:

  1. One Quarter Made the Difference

Portland had a seven-point lead at halftime and outplayed Denver throughout the third quarter, at one point expanding the lead to twelve.  Then the issues started rearing their head.  A nasty sequence of turnovers and offensive fouls helped the Nuggets cut the lead to three by the end of the period.  

Monte Morris and Nikola Jokic went off in the fourth as the Blazers could only watch and occasionally foul.  Morris scored 16 of his 22 in the period, and Jokic finished with 36 points.  Jusuf Nurkic only had one foul through three quarters but rapidly picked up four in the final period.  Norman Powell was in foul trouble most of the evening as well.  With no one left to stop him, Jokic had free reign of the paint and sealed the Blazers’ fate.

2. Can’t Always Be the Hero

Damian Lillard had an amazing series, Portland loss or not.  His 55 point explosion in Game Five nearly turned the tide of the whole series, and his performance through the series was the only reason the Blazers held on as long as they did.  But he was once again neutralized in the final period, forced to take bad jumpers and long prayers with hands in his face.  He ended up 1-for-5 in the final quarter.  The rest of the team could not pick up the slack, as the Blazers scored just fourteen points in the fourth.

3. What Now?

The Blazers organization has already said that Coach Terry Stotts could find his job in jeopardy if Portland could not make another miracle Western Conference Finals run.  This early exit bodes poorly for his future in the Rose City.  The blame should not be squarely on his shoulders.  The team had trouble this season, and the depth was not there.  General Manager Neil Olshey should field a level of criticism for Portland’s extreme lack of bench depth consistently during the Stotts era, as well as relying heavily on two guards that are average defenders at best in a league that punishes them for it.  With that said, Coach Stotts’ decisions throughout his tenure have been puzzling.  The failure to develop young players until several years is on his shoulders. The insistence on sticking strictly to certain rotations leaves the team unable to adapt to changing tides on the court on the fly.  He often placed valuable role players into his doghouse, enforcing his will at the cost of depth, leaving his starters tired and playing big minutes. Now the Blazers have to look ahead.  Norman Powell can walk away from the team with his player option, as can Derrick Jones Jr., Carmelo Anthony, Enes Kanter, and Zach Collins are free agents.  The heavy contracts for Lillard and McCollum have Portland pushed up to the cap.  It will be an offseason of change, and perhaps that is what the Blazers need.