Portland Trail Blazers – Logo Lillard Ends Oklahoma City’s Season, Sends Portland To The Second Round

Well dear readers, your fighting Portland Trail Blazers are officially playoff series winners and are on to the semi-finals! With Damian Lillard’s impossibly long range shot (37 feet!) over Paul George finding the net as time expired to close out an improbable comeback in game five, The Blazers and their fans are still alive in these seemingly wide open 2019 playoffs, where any and every team has a chance for the title.

Lillard’s amazing performance in the series officially woke the rest of the world up to what we in Portland already knew – he is a bad, bad, bad man and is no one’s equal. While we’ve been treated to so many great performances in the past, this one just felt different. Lillard has been labelled as the likable, nice guy star, but his play, demeanor, and actions in this series can only mean one thing – that he’s done being run over by the other guys. Lillard is here to win and damnit, he’s here to win now.

We now find this extremely motivated Lillard-led Portland team back in the second round, where they have failed to win more than one game during Lillard’s career. Can we expect a competitive series in the second round, and can they advance? Was the bad blood between Lillard and Russell Westbrook the catalyst, or has our resident superstar decided to take his game to yet another level, and put the league on notice?

To answer these thrilling questions and more, we brought Fireside Sports co-hosts Casey Mabbott (CM) and Bryant Knox (BK) out of cryosleep, threw hot coffee in their general direction, and asked them to give us their well rested and disoriented thoughts on what we’re seeing from this new and improved Blazers squad.

Without further ado, here is this week’s lightning round –  

1.       Portland’s win over Oklahoma City in game five seemed nearly impossible as the Blazers trailed by as many as 13 late in the game. Where do you rank the win and this series in Portland playoff lore?

(CM) I’d put it right up there with Portland’s first round victory over the Rockets in 2014, which is in the top 5 of franchise series wins in my opinion. On paper they probably shouldn’t have won either series, but a for the ages performance from their captain along with a less than 100% Paul George and a sputtering Russell Westbrook helped them grind out this one. I’ll admit that I had my doubts Portland could come back late in the 4th quarter given how the game had progressed, but they played great team basketball and proved they didn’t need Lillard and CJ McCollum to score every basket to do it. There is plenty being made on how dramatic the ending was, and the opposition is questioning the “quality” of Lillard’s shot selection, but the bottom line is that OKC’s sloppy play late in the game let them down, not any one play or any one amazing twice in a generation shot. This is Lillard’s team, this was Lillard’s win, and we are all now witnesses to Lillard’s greatness.  

(BK) This is up near the top if for no other reason than the shot itself, in a vacuum, might be one of the best shots in NBA Playoffs history. It’s literally one of just six walk-off buckets to win a series, and the last two belong to Lillard himself. But add in the context that Portland (Lillard, specifically) needed this badly. After being swept last season by the No. 6 New Orleans Pelicans, the Blazers (Lillard specifically) needed a series. And unlike 2014, this team has a real shot at advancing to the Western Conference Finals.

2.       Speaking of lore, game five ended eerily similar to when Damian Lillard sent the Houston Rockets home with a dagger three pointer as time expired in game six of their series in 2014. Portland already loves Lillard, what did this win do for his legacy?

(CM) I’ll just say that as a fan of the sport, everyone grows up wishing and hoping that their team will one day have a player that is apples to apples as good or better than the top five players in the league. No matter what has been said or done in the past, right here and right now, Damian Lillard is absolutely as good as any elite player in the NBA. The talent experts talk a lot about peak powers arriving at or around age 27, so with Lillard aged 28 through the end of this season, he seems right on schedule. His shot is scary good right now, like peak Steph Curry scary. And his willingness to attack on both ends of the court looks the right amount of crazy, like apex Kobe-good. But then he is also this charismatic and likable public persona, like Magic Johnson good. So you have a player that is the best versions of Steph Curry, Kobe Bryant, and Magic Johnson, but arguably none of their issues. That’s a downright scary player, and if Lillard can continue to live up to it, his legacy will grow to the level of their legacies. And maybe even one day – even bigger.  He’s a bubble hall of fame player right now, but if he keeps playing like this and even snags a title or two, they won’t be able to keep him out.

(BK) Lillard is going to go down as the greatest Trail Blazer of all time; I’m convinced of that. He’s not there yet—even those who feel after Game 5 vs. OKC that he’s already claimed that throne will agree with me if he falls next round to (likely) Nikola Jokic in 4 or 5 games. But it’s not a coincidence that he owns so many top-five spots on the team leaderboards, and it’s no coincidence he has arguably two of the top three moments in team history as well. This shot just solidifies what we already knew: that at some point, Lillard will go down as the best in team history—there’s just a bit more work to be done.

3.       The Blazers supporting cast really stepped up in this series, the whole roster looks like a different team from the last two years. What and who would you credit with the change?

(CM) In all honesty, this roster as assembled probably shouldn’t be winning on paper, but they genuinely love each other on and off the court. You don’t see the level of leadership we’re seeing from Lillard from a lot of other superstars around the league, and it’s been fun to watch this group continue to gel. I’m not sure the level of overall talent and the lack of a truly elite defender will measure up against the opponents to come, but it’s been a great ride so far and the players seem to be enjoying this as much as the fans, can’t ask for much more than that.

(BK) Honestly? Lillard. McCollum, with the exception of his foul-troubled Game 5, has been great and Enes Kanter has provided a reliable option on offense and on the glad…but it’s really come down to Lillard being the actul, literaly, not-eve-a-little-bit-hyperoblic best player in the league during the postseasonn.

4.       Portland draws the winner of the Denver-San Antonio series, with game one on Monday. How do you like their chances to advance to the conference finals for the first time since in nearly two decades?

(CM) If Paul George had been at or near full health for most of the first round, I’d be very confident, but he wasn’t, and that makes me nervous that Portland didn’t face a top level opponent. If I’m seeing shades of 2014 in Portland’s victory, I’m also seeing shades of 2014 in how nervous I am for the second round. Gregg Popovich scares me even if the Spurs as a team do not, and I’m nervous about the talent and athleticism in Denver, even if their coach doesn’t elicit fear from my sports heart. These playoffs are wide open so it’s truly any team’s tournament, but without a third scoring option I am concerned that Portland won’t be able to keep up. Can Lillard continue to shoulder the scoring load regardless? I’m sure he can, but if the opposition has ideas about slowing him by forcing him to pass, there are legitimate doubts that his supporting cast can continue to shoot the ball well when the pressure heats up. I’ll continue to be cautiously optimistic, it’s in our DNA as Blazer fans to assume the end is just around the corner even if we finally have a top 5 player leading the charge.

(BK) You’re not wrong about Paul George, but I just can’t say it enough: I’m riding with Damian Lillard. I just am—againn.

5.       If you had to choose a superstar point guard to carry your team through these playoffs, who would you rather have between Damian Lillard, Steph Curry, or Kyrie Irving?

(CM) Next question! But seriously, I’ll take this current version of Lillard over the field, no matter who is in it. Dude has been shooting lights out, playing nasty, blasting in to the lane, shooting long distance threes that would make the Curry family drool, and casually outplaying the Oscar Robertson of this generation like it’s no big deal. As good as Irving and that other Curry are, I have serious doubts they could drive this team the way Lillard does, and I think maybe only prime years Jordan, LeBron, and Magic could do as good of a job. He’s at that next level hall of fame level, and if his supporting cast can keep up, there’s no unbeatable juggernaut this year, so why not Portland? This is not a knock on the other superstars out there, it’s just a confirmation of how good Lillard has become and that he has made his teammates better and turned Portland in to a true contender, the mark of a true superstar. Lillard has quickly gone from a rising star in this league, to one of our favorite Blazers ever, to an amazing player, to our favorite Blazer ever, to the point now where we’re wondering when he’ll bring home a tittle, and how many he’ll end his career with.  This guy seems to have no ceiling, and I can’t say the same for those other guys riding alongside a team of all-stars. If you think Lillard is impressive now, just imagine what he could do with some of the other rosters these other superstars get to play on.

(BK) Shockingly…I’m taking Lillard. Kyrie Irving needs to re-earn the trust of NBA fans everywhere with championship-caliber play and leadership late into the postseason; Stephen Curry is, of course, the safe pick, but Patrick Beverley and the LA Clippers have him struggling at the moment; and Damian Lillard is the MVP of the playoffs. Easy choice. Next question.

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About Casey Mabbott 223 Articles
Casey Mabbott is a writer and podcast host born and raised in West Philadelphia where he spent most of his days on the basketball court perfecting his million dollar jumpshot. Wait, no, that’s all wrong. Casey has spent his entire life here in the Pacific NorthWest other than his one year stint as mayor of Hill Valley in an alternate reality 1985. He’s never been to Philadelphia, and his closest friends will tell you that his jumpshot is the farthest thing from being worth a million bucks. Casey enjoys all sports and covering them with written words or spoken rants. He has made an art of movie references, and is a devout follower of 80's movies and music. I don't know why you would to, but you can probably find him on the street corner waiting for the trolley to take him to the stadium or his favorite pub, where he will be telling people the answers to questions they don’t remember asking. And it only goes downhill from there if he drinks. He’s a real treat.