Watching the final game of the Portland/Houston series at the Toyota
Center, I was struck by how similar that game was to Game 1. Not Game 1
of the series, but the first game of the season in Los Angeles against
the Lakers. Maybe it was because I saw both games in person and had the
same sick feeling in the pit of my stomach walking back to the locker
room in Houston as I had wading through the Staples Center crowd back
on the first day of the season. Whatever the reason, I couldn’t shake
the feeling that we finished the same way we had started, despite the
passing of six months, at least a hundred practices and 88 games. And
considering the way both of those games turned out, it wasn’t a
pleasant realization to come to.
There were similarities on
the surface. For example, in both games the Trail Blazers scored 76
points and had relatively late change to the starting lineup. Both
games were highly anticipated and nationally televised (though the
Chicago/Boston triple overtime game made that only half true). But the
feel of Game 6, the sense that something was askew from the tipoff, is
what really reminded me of that first game against the Lakers.
I’ve been known to misread situations. Just because the losses felt the
same doesn’t necessarily mean they were products of the same problems.
After all, this team had come a long way since that first Laker game,
but as it turns out, I wasn’t the only person who saw the same signs.
saw some similarities,” said Nate McMillan of the first and final games
of the season. “It wasn’t so much a lot of differences. I saw a team
that could still get rattled, but had been able to respond after that.
We’ve been able to do that all season long, but some of what I saw in
(the first game of the season) I saw in our last game. Time just ran
out for us to prove ourselves again.”
Which is a real shame. All
season, the Trail Blazers had shown a resiliency that belied their
inexperience, such as when they snapped the 12-game losing streak to
the Spurs in the second game of the season after that first lost, and
you wish they could have had an opportunity to prove themselves again.
still a team that’s trying to establish themselves,” said McMillan of
the similarities. “There were all these expectations and all this talk
about the team and what we’re going to do and what we’re capable of
doing and the matchups.”
For McMillan, it wasn’t so much a team
that had played the same way, but a team that was once again thrown
into a difficult situation for the first time.
huge and until you go through it,” said McMillan. “You don’t know how
you’re going to handle it. So even though the first game was a
different moment and a different challenge for them than it was the
last game, it still was something they had never faced before. To face
the Lakers, the Western Conference champions, your opening night on the
road on national television and then to be in Houston, playing an
elimination game, it’s a different challenge but it’s still very
similar pressure where you have to step up and perform.”
the Blazers were unable to “step up and perform” in either game to a
level adequate enough to get a win, or even stay close, for that matter.
you saw the same things, you might ask what was accomplished throughout
the course of the ’08-’09 campaign? If Game 1 turns out the same as
Game 88, can you really say you improved and grew as a team? The answer
to that question, according to McMillan, is an unqualified “yes.”
did see growth,” said McMillan, “and we still see growth. The growth
will continue throughout the summer when you think back on those
moments and you think about how you felt Game 1 and you how you felt at
the end of the season and what you need to do to change those feelings
“The growth doesn’t stop just because we’re not
playing. If we continue to see them grow, we’ll see them working on
those things; making sure they have their game right, they’re taking
care of their body, they’re working on their game, they’re back early
ready to go. That’s the growth and maturity that you want to see.”