First things first: If Game 2 was a gut punch, Game 3 was a knee to the dick.
The final score was 110-99 Warriors advantage; But really the damage was a lot worse than an 11 point margin suggests. It was a gut punch, a soul crusher, a hope eraser. It was the type of loss capable of eroding any optimism a fan base might possibly possess.
The final seconds ticked off and I sat on my couch just dumbfounded over what I had seen. Two straight games saw the Blazers piss away a second half lead and now we face a real possibility of the Warriors turning out the lights on our season in four games.
I handled this loss like I would any other dick punch game: a shower, a beer, and an early bedtime. I’ve sat through enough of these to realize I’m no good to my family in that mood. I'm also a Mariners fan after all.
I woke up this morning feeling reenergized. Yeah, last night sucked- but we are in the Western Conference Finals and we got here without (in my opinion) our second best player. No matter what happens Monday or beyond, that’s a win in my book.
This morning I felt happy; At least I did until I started checking my phone.
Literally the first thing I saw today was a tweet by the Oregonian compiling an assortment of tweets and views from across social media. It was highlighted with a headline that said “trash brothers” and had Dames face altered to reflect the Jordan Cry face meme.
Then I flipped on Facebook to see a guy I used to work with write
“Dame was horrible felt like he was playing with a hangover. I know people are going to say great season which I would agree but I’m not satisfied. Warriors have heart, hustle, and great coaching. Dame and CJ need to be broken up we need to go after a big name free agent by either trading CJ or Lillard. I’m tired of waiting for something to happen. Very frustrated fan here.”
First thing you notice after you get over the grammar, is that even though the dude who wrote this might be an idiot- he is not alone. Scroll through Rip City related tweets and Reddits and you'll find folks who traded in their enthusiasm from a week ago for some ol’ fashioned Portland anguish. Last month, after Dame showed the Oklahoma City Thunder the door, he probably could have been unanimously elected as Governor of Oregon. His statue for outside the Rose Garden (yep, not Moda) was already being molded and cast. Today, I’m fielding texts about if it’s time to consider trading him for the rights to RJ Barrett.
In all honesty, that trade suggestion broke me.
So I’m going to provide some context regarding Damian Lillard and his run here in Portland and take a quick moment to remind everyone of what seems to be overlooked in the wake of Game 3.
The first thing I want to highlight is that we are talking about a man who has lead this team- his team- to the Western Conference Finals; Its first Western Conference Finals in 19 years. Even in the aftermath of last night, we are still four wins away from playing in the finals for the third time in franchise history. Don’t let the high from ousting Denver last week cloud your ability to remember that as recently as March we just wanted to get out of the first round.
Now, think about what he has to work with. Did we land a prized free agent last summer that helped us escape the first round this year? No. Does he even have another All-Star on the team? No. Our guy has been going to war with a roster made up of CJ McCollum, castoffs, and development projects. And for as much as we all love CJ, our guy has never even been particularly close to joining Dame at the mid-season showcase. He is a talented scorer and a wonderful human; unfortunately, being a humanitarian doesn’t help defend a pick and roll or improve court vision though. The other three teams still actively playing have a minimum of two All-Stars from this season on their roster.
Yet here we are, the Western Conference Finals!
Sure, three games in and we are getting speed bagged by the Warriors. But if we want to be honest, isn’t that to be expected? The Warriors have been historically great over the last half decade. This is a team that is vying for their opportunity to play in the Finals for the 5th consecutive year. This is the same team that waxed Lebron so hard in three of the last four finals that he forgot he wrote a letter and promised to retire in Cleveland and left to go find new teammates. Years from now, we are all going to be talking about these Warrior teams with the same admiration that we do the 90’s Bulls, 80’s Lakers and the 60’s Celtics.
It's great that you’ve allowed this team to reset your expectations, but it's also important to remember to look at the big picture. Knicks fans of the 90’s weren’t asking for Patrick Ewing's head when he got rolled by Jordan in the playoffs, so why are we doing that to Dame?
It's easy to feel beaten down this today, but remember the state of the team when LaMarcus Aldridge left? LaMarcus was, and remains to this day, the most talented teammate Damian Lillard has ever had. And in time, following Wes Matthews blowing out an achilles leading up to LaMarcus leaving us holding the bag, the 2015 Blazers went from a team that could make a run at the WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS to a team forced with a rebuild.
Only that didn’t happen. What did happen was the same thing that we would eventually realize would always happen: Damian Lillard took a team projected to be lottery bound and dragged them to the playoffs.
All teams hit a bump in the road. Dwayne Wade’s Heat ended up in the lottery on a couple of occasions during his prime. One time it landed them Michael Beasley. The other time, he just recruited Lebron James and Chris Bosh to come play with him. Retooling a roster is a lot easier when you acquire assets like lottery picks.
But Dame, unlike Wade, has not allowed Neil Olshey that luxury. Which is probably why Neil ended up panicking in 2016 and handing out $250 million in contract commitments to Allen Crabbe, Meyers Leonard, and Evan Turner. He needed to get his hands on, and retain, as many assets as possible to help this roster grow.
Over commitments and misinterpreting potential like that has crippled many franchises in the past. The New York Knicks, whom are constantly in a state of paying for past sins, have made the playoffs one time this century. Portland, who is at a considerable disadvantage when it comes luring talented free agents to relocate, should have been settled with a reoccurring lottery date since those free agent contracts were handed out. But we weren’t. Why? Because of Damian Lillard.
Instead, every year, just as he did in 2016, he drags the roster given to him to the playoffs; And this year, we are in the WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS.
Look, I get being upset. I’m right there with you. But if you are looking for someone to blame, it needs to be on someone other than Dame. Think about this: Anthony Davis was drafted 1st overall the same year that Dame was drafted 6th. Davis, despite ample evidence that he is a bitch, is widely considered one of the five best players in the NBA. He has acquired this title even though he has only made the playoffs on two occasions in his career. Lillard, often an afterthought when it comes to the hierarchy of talent in the NBA, has only MISSED the playoffs one time in his career.
The national narrative might not ever give Dame the love he deserves until the moments they have to (what up, PG?) But never, and I mean fucking ever, should his heart, ability or production ever be second guessed. We probably shouldn’t even be in the position to be down 3-0 right now, but when your team has Damian Lillard, all things are possible. All his accomplishments aside, there is a real argument to have that he is probably the best player this franchise has ever had.
This series has not gone the way that I had hoped. It has not been the perfect demonstration of Lillard and all his powers. We don’t appear to be primed to cut the head off this Warrior dynasty. It sucks to say that, but it’s the reality. That being said, regardless if the series continues past Monday or not, this season was an unmitigated success. This team, like those of the last five years before it, have outperformed even our loftiest of expectations- but none of this happens without Dame.
If we lose on Monday, or Wednesday, or ever again- I implore anyone reading this to take a deep breath, go drink a beer, and take a shower. Take a walk around your block. Don’t say some crazy shit on Twitter because you’re disappointed. Nobody wants a championship parade in downtown Portland more than Damian Lillard; so stay the hell off the ESPN Trade Machine. We owe him our loyalty.
Blazers in 7.
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