Portland head coach Nate McMillan sat in his office at the practice facility Wednesday morning alone.
He had just addressed the media about the Trail Blazers’ Game 6 elimination matchup against the Dallas Mavericks at the Rose Garden Thursday.
He sat behind his desk, clicking through his phone. A replay from Monday’s 93-82 loss in Dallas played on a TV in front of him. His door was closed.
About 15 minutes past and the door opened. McMillan walked over to Patty Mills like a principal about to hand out a detention slip and greeted Mills with two simple words.
Mills’ head nodded in agreement as both individuals exchanged a few more words and sealed their conversation with a handshake.
It was a moment of truth and revelation for a team on the verge of elimination. If the Trail Blazers (2-3) weren’t going to be ready when they take on the Mavs (3-2) Thursday at 7:30 PM, they’ll be out of the playoffs for the third straight year.
And what's more heart aching–it would be their third first-round dropout.
“This is a must win,” said McMillan. “We know we have to play our best basketball game tomorrow.”
Fact: In the last two years, Portland’s playoff runs have ended in Game 6.
Fact: The last time the Trail Blazers played a Game 7 was in Dallas during 2003, when the Mavs’ 107-95 win advanced them the second round.
“This is a different year,” said McMillan. “We have the opportunity. They’ve beaten us five times, we’ve beaten them four and each team has won at home. So we need to just take care of business tomorrow night at home.”
McMillan is right, this is a new year. A new opportunity. And a new fight.
The tables have been turned yet again as the Mavs, who had staggered dangerously against the ropes after the Game 4 loss, have put the Trail Blazers in their former position.
“We have to leave it all out on the floor and play better than we did [in Dallas],” said LaMarcus Aldridge.
Aldridge, whose offensive production has declined in all five games, will have to play better. He's scored 27, 24, 20, 18 and 12 points.
He will have to attack Dallas’ tight zone. He will have to rebound.
And on defense, he must endure a toughest assignment on the floor, limiting Dallas’ Tyson Chandler, who dominated the glass with 20 rebounds in the Game 5 win, and also the Mavs’ go-to scorer Dirk Nowitzki, who’s averaging 26.2 points in the series.
Thursday is the time to be ready. There are no more chances.
“Everybody has to take it personal,” said Aldridge of Thursday’s challenges. “We have to take on the challenge of rebounding. He’s tapping them out so it’s kind of like 50/50 balls so we have to grab them.”
But it’s not only a gut check for Aldridge, it's also for the entire Portland squad. That's right, Wallace, Camby, Matthews, Miller, Batum, Fernandez, Roy, CJ, Barron and Armon.
"It's a defining moment of the team if we can bounce back from a tough loss," said Aldridge.
Will Portland's season end on Thursday or will the Trail Blazers force a Game 7 for one last shot to beat the Mavs in Dallas?
The Trail Blazers won’t go into this challenge alone. When they take the court Thursday night at 7: 30 PM, the fans will also be ready.
“Having that extra 20,000 behind you,” said Aldridge. “It plays a big factor.”