That is one word that comes to mind when reflecting on the Portland Trail Blazers 2018-19 season.
This year’s Trail Blazers squad has been through a lot. From owner Paul Allen passing away just three days before the regular season started, to losing Jusuf Nurkic to a season-ending leg injury with nine games remaining in the regular season.
The Trail Blazers have overcome a lot this season, but Portland was not able to overcome the willpower of the reigning champs, the Golden State Warriors, on Monday night. The Warriors took Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, 119-117 in overtime.
Portland did not go away quietly though.
As the Trail Blazers captain Damian Lillard put it immediately following Game 4; guys stepped up throughout all the adversity.
“We lose our owner [Paul Allen]. We dealt with injuries, CJ [McCollum] missed a lot of games at a crucial stretch in the season, and we just kept answering the call, and that takes a group of guys to maybe go from not playing minutes, stepping up, giving us good minutes, trusting each other, leaning on each other. It takes a real group to be able to come together in those hard times on more than one occasion, and I thought we did that,” Lillard said.
On Monday night, Trail Blazers center Meyers Leonard stepped up in a big way for the second straight game after starting for the second consecutive game.
Leonard injected much-needed energy into the team, and into the Moda Center crowd.
“I just went out there and played confident,” Leonard said.
Playing with confidence is something Leonard has not always done. He will be the first to admit, it has been difficult for him to be self-assured on the court throughout his career.
For anyone who has not followed Leonard’s seven-year NBA career, it may be difficult to fathom that there have been times over the past few seasons that Trail Blazers fans have booed Leonard.
But, chants of “Meyers Leonard” erupted midway through second quarter of Game 4 after Leonard had already scored 20 points on the night.
Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was happy for his big man.
“Again, he, in the first half, was outstanding, 25 points,” Stotts said. “And, he was playing with confidence. He certainly had an impact on the game, much like Game 3, and again we needed him and he played well and I’m happy for him.”
Leonard had 25 points at the break and ended up finishing with a new playoff and regular season career-high 30 points. ‘The Hammer’ also pulled down 12 rebounds.
Monday night marked Leonard’s second double-double of his postseason career.
Another role player who had stepped up for the Blazers various times throughout the season and playoffs was Seth Curry.
Curry has preached all season long how his teammates know their roles and he continued to do so after the Blazers season had come to and end.
“Everybody worked hard, everybody did their job, everybody played their roles… Everybody in this locker room should be proud,” Curry said postgame.
Curry also gave a lot of credit to Leonard.
“Meyers was great. He was great this whole series. He played with confidence. When he was left open, he knocked the shots down,” Curry said.
“For a guy who didn’t play at times through the playoffs, to get his number called in the Western Conference Finals and show up like that says a lot about who he is,” Curry said.
Leonard played a total of 61 regular season games this past season and played in 10 of the Blazers’ 16 postseason games.
But to quote Lillard, "it’s special" that Leonard was given his biggest opportunity in the Western Conference Finals.
“I think tonight was special. I just remember in the first half, I looked up and in my mind, I remembered him just making a bunch of shots, and then I looked up and I was like, this dude got 25 points and I was like, he really killing right now,” Lillard chuckled.
“I think that just goes into what I said earlier, all season long, we have had things happen and guys have had to step up, and he’s a prime example of that,” Lillard said. “Not just this year, but over the last seven years, a lot of people have had a lot to say about him and what he doesn’t do and all those things… They get online and they say things and they don’t really know what goes on behind closed doors. They say things without knowing...knowing, but without taking into consideration that we’re people… They just beat you down, beat you down, beat you down, and I think he’s been through that.”
There’s no question, this Blazers team has a special bond and Leonard made sure to mention that postgame.
“Unfortunately our season is over, this is a very special team, guys that really care about each other and come to work every single day, ready to go,” Leonard said.
On the night the boos turned into ‘Meyers Leonard’ chants, the 2018-19 season’s playoff run came to an end. Yet, don’t forget the a confident Meyers Leonard could be the Blazers starting center for 2019-20 season with Nurkic not back from injury and Enes Kanter likely not on the roster.
Rip City might be chanting a lot more for Meyers next season.