Damian Lillard put away the Houston Rockets with his game-winning three at the buzzer, ending an incredible series that looked as though was going to go to a seventh game. But no, Lillard had different plans when he caught an inbound pass from Nicolas Batum with 0.9 left on the clock, sending the Rockets home for an early vacation and sending the Portland Trail Blazers to the next round of the playoffs.
The crowd goes wild, the Blazers go wild, and Lillard grabs the microphone and exclaims “RIP CITY” to the crowd at the Moda Center.
The shot was eerily similar to a Brandon Roy three pointer against the Rockets in 2008. The only differences were that Steve Blake threw the inbound pass and there was 0.8 left on the clock in that game. But Lillard’s basket means much more than Roy’s. When that ball fell through the net as the buzzer sounded, it broke the longest drought for an NBA team not getting past the first round of the playoffs.
The Blazers hadn’t advanced in the playoffs since the 1999-2000 season when they beat the Minnesota Timberwolves. To put that into perspective, the Trail Blazers starting lineup that season consisted of Scottie Pippen, Damon Stoudamire, Steve Smith, Rasheed Wallace and Arvydas Sabonis.
The Blazers were the first team in the West to advance to the next round. Their next opponent is the San Antonio Spurs, the top ranked team in the West. Ranking probably doesn’t mean much in these playoffs though, besides the fact that the higher ranked team gets home court advantage.
During the regular season Portland and San Antonio squared off four times, with the Blazers taking the first two games and the Spurs winning the last two. It’s hard to predict what will happen in this series. The Spurs are the reigning Western Conference champs with redemption on their minds, but it took them seven games to close out their first round series with the Dallas Mavericks.
Even though the Spurs will go in as the favorite, I give the Blazers the upper hand in this series. San Antonio’s depth might cause issues for the tight rotation Portland plays, but the Blazers should have an advantage matching up their starters against the Spurs. The only matchup that I think will be close will be Lillard and Tony Parker, and considering how Lillard has been playing in these playoffs it’s hard to pick against him.
These playoffs have arguably been the best ever, at least so far with the first round just getting over for all teams. This series doesn’t look to disappoint fans. The Blazers should feel refreshed from the extra rest the got from finishing the Rockets in six, while the elderly Spurs have to turn around from their game seven win Sunday and play again Tuesday. I predict the Trail Blazers will win in six, carrying them to their first Western Conference finals since that same 2000 team that lost to the Lakers in seven. Don’t blink an eye in this series though; you might miss another historical moment.