After a disappointing finish to their season, losing in six games to the Denver Nuggets, the Portland Trail Blazers appear to be at an offseason crossroads, with questions about roster and coaching changes lingering over their future.
Following their 126-115 Game 6 loss where they blew a 14-point second half lead, the frustration was evident in their postgame availability, with Damian Lillard putting it bluntly that as they stand right now, the Blazers aren’t good enough.
“I mean, we didn’t win a championship, so obviously where we are now isn’t good enough,” he said. “I don’t know what a shakeup looks like or what changes will be made or could be made, but obviously as is, it wasn’t good enough. We came up short against a team without their starting point guard and shooting guard (Will Barton and Jamal Murray). … Obviously, where we are isn’t good enough to win a championship if it’s not good enough to get out of a first-round series with two of their best three or four players not on the floor.”
Lillard was spectacular in the series, putting together one of the greatest postseason performances ever in Game 5, a 55-point eruption that featured a playoff record 12 3-pointers. But reflecting the Blazers’ predicament, it wasn’t enough as Portland lost that game in double-overtime.
In Game 6, Lillard appeared to run out of steam — along with taking a blow to the head — shooting just 1-of-9 in the second half, including 1-of-5 in the fourth quarter as the Nuggets pulled away in clutch-time. It was a tough end to a series in which Lillard set a new mark for most 3s made in a playoff series (35), and also became the fourth player in NBA history with 200 points and 60 assists in a series, joining LeBron James, Jerry West and Oscar Robertson. And he did it all in six games.
The Blazers have been the rare picture of stability in today’s NBA, with Terry Stotts the fourth-longest tenured active coach with one team, leading the Blazers since 2012. Only Gregg Popovich, Erik Spoelstra and Rick Carlisle have been with their teams longer. The Blazers have had the battery of Stotts, general manager Neil Olshey and star Lillard in place for the past nine seasons.
But Stotts’ future is in question, with plenty of chatter about the possibility of a coaching change in Portland.
“My job security? I’m under contract for two more years. I’m sure, just like the end of every year, we’re all evaluated. Players, coaches, management — we’re all evaluated. So we’ll see what happens,” Stotts said. “We’ll see what happens, but all I know is I’m under contract for two more years.”
Under Stotts, the Blazers have made eight consecutive postseason appearances, the longest current streak in the NBA. They’ve lost in the first round five of those eight appearances, reaching the Western Conference finals in 2019, when they were swept by the Warriors. He’s one of two coaches in Blazer history with 400 wins, along with Jack Ramsay. He’s also the only coach Lillard has ever had.
“For our season to end on our home floor is disappointing. That’s as far as I am right now,” Lillard said. “I’m not thinking about none of the other s— like change or whatever, man. We’ll see what happens, but I haven’t even thought that far out.”
Lillard’s commitment to the Blazers has been unwavering, with him doubling and tripling and quadrupling down in that regard publicly over recent years. Lillard is 30 and signed a four-year supermax extension in 2019, keeping him under contract with the Blazers through the 2024-25 season.
“We didn’t make excuses and we still don’t make excuses. Disappointing ending, this isn’t what we wanted, but we don’t hang our heads. Just came up short,” Lillard said. “We didn’t do what was necessary to win a series and gotta keep fighting, keep working and keep coming back to battle. Regardless of how it ended, we’re always going to have our heads held high, have class and go about it like real warriors. We lost, they were the better team, congratulations to them. It’s back to the drawing board for us.”
Alongside Lillard in the backcourt for the past eight seasons has been CJ McCollum, a player often mentioned in trade scenarios but one Olshey has adamantly said he wouldn’t trade. McCollum expressed disappointment in his performance in the series, averaging 20.7 points on 46.2% shooting, but missed a few critical late shots in both Games 5 and 6. Asked about his future, McCollum politely declined to engage the question.
“My job is to get better. Work on my game to improve so that I can help the team,” he said. “My job isn’t to worry about those things.”
Nurkic, though, was quite candid about his apparent frustration, saying he was unsure if he would be back next season. The 26-year-old big man has a partially guaranteed contract next season and said he would take some time in the coming days to consider what might be next for him.
“In the right situation, yes,” Nurkic said when asked if he wanted to return to the Blazers next season.
What is the right situation?
“We’ll see. I don’t know yet,” he said. “Because this is not it.”
Philadelphia 76ers’ Danny Green out for game after straining calf early in Game 3
Green exited with 8 minutes, 15 seconds remaining in the first quarter with Philadelphia up 6-4. Matisse Thybulle subbed in for him.
The three-time NBA champion averaged 4.5 points through the first two games of the second round, shooting just 1-for-9 from 3, but dished a career-high eight assists in Philadelphia’s 118-102 win in Game 2 to help even the series 1-1.
Thybulle scored four points in the first quarter, Furkan Korkmaz poured in 11 and Dwight Howard added two to give Philadelphia’s second unit a strong start after Atlanta’s reserves outscored Philly’s bench 32-0 in the first half of Game 2.
LA Clippers’ Serge Ibaka undergoes back surgery, to miss rest of playoffs
Ibaka has not played since Game 2 of the first round due to his back issues. The 31-year-old had been a key offseason acquisition for the Clippers but was limited because of his back, missing 30 straight games near the end of the regular season and LA’s past seven playoff games.
He averaged 11.1 points and 6.7 rebounds per game in the regular season.
The Clippers trail the Utah Jazz 2-0 in their second-round series, with Game 3 on Saturday (8:30 p.m. ET, ABC).
The truth behind Michael Jordan’s infamous NBA Finals ‘Flu Game’
If you were to print a book ranking Michael Jordan‘s career-defining moments, you’d run out of ink by the time you reached his first retirement. Despite that, his iconic performance in Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals has to be somewhere near the top of the list.
After the game, His Airness opened up about battling an ailment throughout the game.
“I almost played myself into passing out,” Jordan said. “I came in and I was almost dehydrated and it was all just to win a basketball game. I couldn’t breathe. My energy level was really low. My mouth was really dry. They started giving me Gatorade and I thought about an IV.”
The “Flu Game” officially turns 24 years old on Friday, but it was brought back to the spotlight when “The Last Dance,” ESPN’s 10-part docuseries on the Jordan-led Bulls dynasty, aired last year.
“The Last Dance” director Jason Hehir says Michael Jordan spat on his pizza out of spite after his teammates ordered dinner without him the night before his infamous “flu game”.
After watching the ninth episode, which highlighted that game, former Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins shared how he was inspired to “Be Like Mike” and compete through an illness:
– My 2nd year in the league…
– Wildcard playoffs vs the Texans…
– I got sick af…
– 102 Temp…
– Had to switch my rooms so I wouldn’t get @ajgreen_18 sick…
– All I was thinking is, I’m going MJ Flu game on em…
I had 2 catches for 15 yards..
& a fumble.
— Andrew Hawkins (@Hawk) May 18, 2020
During the episode, it was revealed the nickname for the game may need to be adjusted as Jordan identified a Utah delivery pizza as the cause of his sickness.
“So, it really wasn’t the flu game,” Jordan admitted. “It was food poisoning.”
While MJ’s performance served as a source of inspiration for Hawkins, there were some varying thoughts about Jordan’s diagnosis.
Can we stop with ” Flu game MJ “?? It sounds cool but he had food poisoning lol…Rumors say he was hungover👀 https://t.co/x97QUczImT
— Marlon Humphrey (@marlon_humphrey) July 7, 2020
— Lane Johnson (@LaneJohnson65) May 18, 2020
The cause of Jordan’s illness sparked controversy years before “The Last Dance” aired as two interviews cited food poisoning as the likely culprit.
“You know, Ronnie Harper always thought it was a bad food type of thing,” Phil Jackson said in a 2012 interview.
In 2013, Tim Grover, MJ’s former personal trainer, spilled the beans about what happened that fateful night in Utah.
“So we order a pizza, they come to deliver it, five guys come to deliver this pizza. And I’m just … I take the pizza, and I tell them, I said, ‘I got a bad feeling about this.’ I said, ‘I just got a bad feeling about this.’
“Out of everybody in the room, he was the only one that ate. Nobody else … then 2 o’clock in the morning, I get a call to my room. I come to the room, he’s curled up, he’s curled up in the fetal position. We’re looking at him. We’re finding the team physician at that time. And immediately I said, ‘It’s food poisoning.’ Guaranteed. Not the flu.”
The retelling of the story during last year’s documentary shined new light on the episode.
soooo the “flu” game was actually the “food” game?!?
— Chiney Ogwumike (@chiney) May 18, 2020
Although we now know the true story, the “Food Game” just doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.
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