The Portland Trail Blazers tied their franchise record for three-pointers made Thursday night with 21 treys versus the Bobcats at the Moda Center. Portland set the record on December 14 against the 76ers in Philadelphia and took only a couple of weeks to tie that record, making them the first team in NBA history to make at least 20 three-pointers twice in an NBA season. It’s a reminder that just because something hasn’t been done before doesn’t necessarily mean that it can’t be done.
Even at full strength, the Trail Blazers were having a hard time keeping up with the Golden State Warriors in the first game of their second round, best-of-seven playoff series. But that task got significantly harder after reserve guard Gerald Henderson, who is averaging 7.3 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.5 assists in the 2016 postseason, was ejected after a series of altercations with Warriors center Anderson Varejao that occurred late in the third quarter of Portland’s 118-106 loss Sunday night at Oracle Arena.
The first incident took place at the 3:29 mark of the third. Henderson and Varejao collided during the run of play, sending Varejao tumbling to the floor. As he was falling, he seemed to extend his leg out in an effort to trip Henderson, which ultimately proved successful. Henderson immediately got off the floor and into Varejao’s face, prompting the officials to call assess technicals to both players.
“I bumped him — not on purpose — he tripped me on purpose,” said Henderson. “I fell hard, I didn’t like it, so came together, that’s what happens.”
But that wouldn’t be the end of the tete-a-tete between Henderson and Varejao. Though Varejao was on the bench, that didn’t stop him and Henderson from continuing their less than cordial discussion, which the officials apparently noticed, as both players were once again awarded technicals, resulting in double ejections.
“The ref threw me out from across the way. I guess he could hear what I was saying from across the court,” said Henderson. “We were talking since the first technicals happened, but there’s a lot of talking going on out there. For both of us to get kicked out of the game, it was surprising.”
Despite the tense moments, Henderson said postgame that there was no lingering animosity while noting that he was more mad at himself than at Varejao.
“I been put it behind me,” said Henderson, who finished with five points and three assists in just under 17 minutes. “We lost the game, that’s the only thing that matters. I was pissed I got thrown out, we still had a chance to win the game. I got ejected, I’ve got to be smarter, regardless of if I thought I should have got kicked out or not.”
After struggling in the first few games of their first round playoff series, the play of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum in Games Three, Four and Five has been one of the main reasons the Trail Blazers hold a 3-2 advantage versus the Clippers. Mason Plumlee has arguably been Portland’s most valuable player, and both Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless have delivered game-changing performances at times during the series, but the attention Lillard and McCollum draw from the Clippers’ defense has allowed for their teammates to have a chance to shine in the postseason. And despite L.A.’s defensive gameplan focusing almost exclusively on stopping Portland’s starting backcourt, Lillard and McCollum are combining to average just over 40 points a game during the 2016 playoffs.
Given that, and the fact that they even made the playoffs, let alone are a game away from winning Portland’s second playoff series in the last 15 years, TNT analyst Charles Barkley declared on last night’s edition of “Inside The NBA” that Portland’s backcourt is second only to Golden State’s, the team the Trail Blazers would face should they advance to the next round.
First off, let’s just state the obvious: Pretty much nobody thought the Portland Trail Blazers were going to make the playoffs when the season started back in October. Some statistical models had Portland as one of the eight best teams in the West this year, but I’m not sure there was a single human covering the NBA who had the Trail Blazers making the 2016 postseason.
So the Clippers television broadcast team of Ralph Lawler and Michael Smith saying the Trail Blazers would not make the postseason during Portland’s preseason game at Staples back on October 22, 2015 isn’t a surprise. But they seemed REALLY sure they would join the inauspicious group of teams that went from winning at least 50 games the season before to missing the playoffs, which obviously didn’t happen, as the Trail Blazers and Clippers will meet in Game One in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs Sunday night…
Lawler, one of the legends of NBA broadcasting, repeats over and over that the Trail Blazers have “no chance” of making the postseason. Again, this wasn’t really a unique opinion (full disclosure: I did not think at the start of the season that Portland would make the playoffs, though I knew they’d be much better than most predicted), but to come out so strongly about their presumed inability to make the postseason, only to have then end up being the first round matchup he’ll end up calling, is quite the twist of fate. And in Lawler’s defense, he did preface his statement by saying “You’d never know it by the way they’re playing tonight,” so that’s kind of a compliment!
Game One between the Trail Blazers and Clippers tips off Sunday at 7:30 pm on KGW and Rip City Radio 620 AM.
(And for the record, this is all in good fun and should be taken as such. You could fill the reservoirs at Mt. Tabor with all of the predictions I get wrong throughout the course of the season, so if you’re tempted to get pissed off at this kind of thing, please take a moment to reconsider.)