TakeQuake Part Four: Portland will win, I’m totally sure

[Chorus]

“Damian Lillard makes 30-foot running pullup jump shot” (ESPN, “Thunder vs. Trail Blazers — Play-by-Play,” 04.14.19).

Rhetorically, this sentence is far from spectacular. Substantively, however, its majesty tells you all you need to know about the NBA Playoffs thus far. And as just one delusional columnist of The Miscellany News, I cannot wait to tell you why.

I.

There was a time, back in my middle school days, when the Blazers were the NBA’s team of the future. In just two drafts (’06 and ’07), they’d stockpiled Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Oden. Roy was the Rookie of the Year in 2006, Aldridge had already begun showing signs of the all-star power forward he was bound to become and Oden was the best prospect the draft had seen in years. We were all set. The ten-year-old me was more than ready to ride the growing wave to vicarious glory.

But fate had other ideas; Roy and Oden’s knees ultimately proved to have the fortitude of a 2 a.m. Taco Bell shell, and the Blazers’ glimpse of potential glory vanished alongside my adolescence.

Mediocrity followed. But even mediocrity has its moments of bliss (there’s an analogy to be drawn to my college career here, but I’m not drawing it), and that bliss was usually ignited by one man in particular: Damian Lillard.

The Blazers selected Lillard with the sixth overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. Once this season’s All-NBA Teams are announced, he will have compiled two second-team selections, one first-team selection and a third-team selection. Over the past four seasons, he has averaged 26 points, five rebounds and seven assists on 44/37/90 splits (reference: Stephen Curry has averaged 27-5-6 on 48/43/91 splits).

But, as is clear from the Blazers’ lackluster postseason track record (we have won two playoff series since 2000), Lillard’s individual accomplishments have not brought about collective success. The cynicism regarding Lillard’s ability to lead a successful franchise came to a head exactly a year ago, when the ’Zers were unceremoniously swept by the New Orleans Pelicans.

After this truly disheartening series last spring, there were rumors that Terry Stotts—who has not coached a Blazer team to a losing record since taking over as head coach in 2012—would be pushed out. The Stotts-Lillard combination, indeed, seemed doomed to suffer in the annals of the NBA’s middle; they led a team that was not quite good enough to make a run in the playoffs, but certainly not bad enough to optimize the chances of striking gold in the draft.

Even I, someone so easily tricked into believing in my beloved ’Zers season after season, began to wonder whether Lillard and Stotts were merely the enablers of a broken infrastructure. I wondered if they were just good enough to obscure the scent of structural failure that has defined the Blazers since they won their last championship in 1977.

I felt the cynicism of the previously broken-hearted fan wash over me again just a few weeks ago, when the Blazers’ budding third-wheel reached down for his lower leg in utter agony.

[Chorus]

“Damian Lillard makes 30-foot running pullup jump shot” (ESPN, “Thunder vs. Trail Blazers — Play-by-Play,” 04.14.19).
Rhetorically, this sentence is far from spectacular. Substantively, however, its majesty tells you all that you need to know about the NBA Playoffs thus far. And as just one delusional columnist of The Miscellany News, I cannot wait to tell you why.

II.

The Blazers are beating the Oklahoma City Thunder 3-1. Historically, being up 3-1 in a series—no matter the round—means you are almost guaranteed to win (shoutout to my Warriors-fan friends Tony Caletti, Devan Gallagher and Chris Dietz). I am so glowingly and delusionally optimistic that I might just change my last name to Buttigieg.

If/when the Blazers beat the Oklahoma City Thunder, they will play the winner of the Spurs-Nuggets series. Against both the Spurs and Nuggets this season, the Blazers were not at their best (2-2 against San Antonio and 1-3 against the Nuggets). But Damian Lillard is playing at such a transcendent level right now that I don’t think it matters. I think the Blazers can handle both teams with the artful ferocity they’ve channeled to pick the Thunder apart.

If they win that series against the Spurs or Nuggets, then my Blazers will almost certainly play the winner of a matchup between the two best teams in the NBA: the Houston Rockets and the Golden State Warriors. Hopefully, playing the winner of that series will be like facing Takeru Kobayashi in an eating contest…immediately after he just completed a different eating contest.

Hopefully, either James Harden or Chris Paul or Stephen Curry or Kevin Durant or Klay Thompson will be depleted to an extent that the Blazers’ lack of star power will prove an asset, not a liability.

And then, they’ll be in the NBA Finals. And at this point in the article, I won’t even bother trying to provide my rationale. Because they’re going to win. Because the way they’re playing right now, they’re better than both the Bucks and the Celtics, their two most likely opponents.

Ultimately, my hopes and dreams lie not with the Blazers agglomeration of skilled castaways and peaking-at-the-right-time role players. My hopes and dreams lie with the fact that CJ McCollum is hot, Terry Stotts is smart and Damian Lillard is Damian Lillard. And sometimes, it really is that simple. Or at least things are at their most enjoyable when they seem just that simple.

[Conclusion]

After Lonzo Ball was selected with the second-overall pick by the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2017 NBA Draft, his father LaVar Ball boasted: “It’s a wonderful feeling, but I already knew it was coming…”

When the Portland Trail Blazers win the 2019 NBA Finals, I will be saying the exact same thing.

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