For the second-straight season, the Golden State Warriors eliminated the Portland Trail Blazers from the playoffs.
Golden State’s dominating Game 4 performance on Monday night secured the sweep, and Portland has now lost eight of their last nine postseason contests against the Warriors. Simply put, Damian Lillard (27.8 points) and C.J. McCollum (22.5 points) didn’t have enough firepower around them. Because of their woes, regular season included, Lillard has become enthralled with downing the Dubs.
“You have to be obsessed with that because you know that they’re so good that they’re going to be there,” said Lillard to ESPN’s Chris Haynes. “That’s who you’re going to have to get through to get to where you want to get to. That’s what it is.”
Portland lost all four games during the regular season by an average margin of 19.5 points. The Blazers aren’t the only team to get smacked by Golden State routinely, but Lillard verbalized an unusual comparison when talking about the two.
“You also got to understand that if you ever want to get out of the West, you’re going to have to go through them. And for me, I understand that’s what it is. It’s always been that way in the NBA. I think about when the Pistons were just beating up on [Michael] Jordan. [They] were just kicking his butt every year, and he had to get through them if he wanted to get to where he wanted to get to. That’s just what it is. [The Warriors are] going to be there. They’re going to be there every year. We have to look at that and understand that we got to be better. We have to go get better, and come back better as a group if we want to move past them.”
The 1989 Pistons remain one of the greatest teams ever, and that is one of the groups that Dame is talking about. He’s not Michael Jordan, and the Blazers aren’t the Bulls, but it’s the same idea. During the 1989 season, Chicago lost all six regular season games they played against their division rival. Detroit won by about 8.6 points on average. That Bulls team was right on the cusp of taking the next step, but it was still a one-man show. Scottie Pippen was young, and Jordan was responsible for most of the heavy lifting.
In Portland, there are two stars, but no one has been able to step up and assist Lillard and McCollum. Acquiring Jusuf Nurkic was huge, and he was instrumental in their playoff push, but he was only there for not even half of the season.
The Bulls didn’t make the leap until 1991 when they swept the Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals en route to their first championship. Some of that was luck on Chicago’s side. Both Jordan and Pippen were beginning to peak as Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer began to regress. Additionally, Phil Jackson worked his magic.
The Bulls surrounded their two stars with role players who knew what their jobs were — rebound and defend. Horace Grant and Bill Cartwright gave them solid minutes on offense, but everyone knew they were on the floor to grab boards and protect Jordan. It worked.
Lillard and McCollum don’t need guys to be their bodyguards. We don’t live in that age anymore. What they do need are serviceable defenders because Portland was consistently one of the worst defensive teams this season and Lillard and McCollum are used so heavily on offense that they’re not able to give sufficient energy on the other side of the floor for the length of their minutes. The third option for them is likely to be Nurkic, and, fortunately, he brings an entirely different dynamic to them.
Despite the crushing loss, McCollum isn’t worried about the team’s future. “I think we still have a lot of room to grow,” said the fourth-year guard to Hoopshype. “I’m only 25 and Damian is only 26, so we haven’t hit our prime yet in terms of mental and physical strength and being able to slow the game down more as you’re seeing from some of the stars around the league who are in the 28-to-29 age range. I think we can get better all around; you’re never a finished product. The ceiling is definitely very high.”
He, like Lillard, posted a career-high scoring average this season and was one of the NBA’s most efficient scorers. McCollum’s ability to hit from all three levels makes him an outstanding complement to Lillard, who likes to shoot from deep and attack off the dribble.
Portland has most of the tools to be a threat to Golden State as well as the rest of the West. It’s on Terry Stots to work with his team to bring it all together. And, of course, a little bit of luck won’t hurt.
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