They won 51 games this season and ended up with the fourth-seed in a loaded Western Conference. But the injury curse once again struck a team that’s been all too familiar with these scenarios over the years.
And now, yet again, there is a great deal of anxiety about the future of the franchise. Several key players — most notably LaMarcus Aldridge — are set to enter free agency this summer, and Aldridge, for his part, has been understandably circumspect about his plans.
Portland got bounced out of the first round of the playoffs in five games by a Memphis Grizzlies team that’s just starting to warm up. Nobody gave the Blazers much of a chance going into the series, and that turned out to be an apt assessment.
Still, Blazers fans stuck with them to the bitter finish. And that’s because they’re fiercely loyal (often to the point of clannishness), half-delusional, forever chasing the chimera of NBA immortality, the types of fans you want on your side when you’re facing a 3-0 deficit against a team that’s beaten you seven times in a row. Fans who believe beyond all logic and reason that this time — this time — you can find a way to win, because you have to, not just for yourselves, but for the home crowd that’s there, booing and jeering the opposing team mercilessly, erupting at every made field goal, chanting “DEFENSE” in unison on every possession, screaming at the refs after every call, and just generally flooding the arena with Dionysian energy.
That’s what Blazers fans are like. This was my second year covering Portland in the postseason, more specifically my second time covering a Game 4 in which the Blazers were facing elimination (as they were last spring against the Spurs), and my second time watching the Blazers feed off the Moda Center crowd like it was the Coliseum in ancient Rome to get an improbable victory and force a Game 5 on the road.
On both occasions, the Blazers played with a sense of urgency that had been inexplicably absent in each of the previous three games. Although, I suppose, as Samuel Johnson once alluded to, nothing focuses the mind quite like the sight of the gallows.