It’s all over but the shouting. The Blazers tried as well as they could to protect home court and, in the process, bring down their deficit in the Western Conference Finals to a single game, but their effort at the Moda Center yesterday ultimately left much to be desired. As in Game Two, they greeted the opening tip with purpose and kept the pedal to the metal in the first half. And, as in Game Two, they then saw fit to coast on a seemingly comfortable lead — a no-no given the relentless nature of the Warriors. They played not to lose when they should have kept playing to win, a recipe for disaster against the defending champions.
True, the Blazers are known for not quitting. In fact, their never-say-die disposition is precisely why they’ve managed to exceed themselves in the 2019 Playoffs. It’s certainly how they ran roughshod over the dangerous Thunder starring Paul George and Russell Westbrook and thereafter prevailed over the superior Nuggets featuring do-it-all Nikola Jokic. Unfortunately, the Warriors are notches above their previous opponents, leading scorer Kevin Durant’s absence notwithstanding; they’re heavy underdogs against the holders of three titles in four years on the strength of historically dominant numbers from end to end.
Granted, all the Blazers have always asked for is a chance. They’re so used to being written off and second-guessed that they’ll no doubt brandish the prevailing view of their current situation as added motivation. Considering their relish in showing up naysayers, they’ll be leaving nothing in the tank tomorrow. Well, it’s about time. And it’s not a question of whether they can compete in spurts, but of whether they can keep plugging on until the final buzzer. Relatively short on talent, they’ll have to go long on resolve. And, with the Warriors loading up on their usual workhorses, they’ll need to mix their campaign with a healthy dose of trust in others on the bench.
The Blazers do have cause to continue riding on the shoulders of leading scorers Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. After all, their one-two punch has driven them to where they are. On the flipside, they’re compelled to rely elsewhere for points in the face of the Warriors’ constant trapping of their principal playmakers. And if there’s anything the first two quarters of both Games Two and Three showed, it’s that they do have safety valves to lean on. Tomorrow, consistency of ball movement will be key. Under pressure, they’ve so far shown an alarming tendency to resort to isolation sets.
Again, it’s all over but the shouting. There’s no way the Blazers will win four straight matches versus supremely confident competition. Nonetheless, their response to the challenge before them figures to shape their future. They’ve overachieved, but naturally want to forge ahead. And, as with all the others in the league, the blueprint for continual improvement lies in their processing of experiences, the losses included.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994.