The most peculiar season in Trail Blazers history came to an end on Saturday, some 311 days after it started.
The Los Angeles Lakers sent the Blazers home with a 131-122 win in Game 5 to close out the series 4-1.
The year ended without their franchise player, without fans in attendance and in a gym 2,500 miles from the “home” team’s storied arena. The season stretched more than ten months and saw the Blazers navigate a lengthy injury list, the addition of a Hall of Famer, a global pandemic and the reintroduction of their star center.
That winding tale had its final chapter Saturday inside the bubble at Disney World where the Blazers, who were without point guard Damian Lillard, didn’t have enough firepower to stay with the Lakers.
CJ McCollum was brilliant just as he had been when Lillard missed time early this season. He finished with 36 points, six rebounds and seven assists, keeping the Blazers within shouting distance until the closing minutes.
And in what might have been his final game in a Blazers jersey, Carmelo Anthony had 27 points and seven rebounds. His addition in November provided a needed jolt for a team headed the wrong direction. His future with the team is uncertain, but he proved he could still be an NBA contributor when the Blazers signed him after he had spent 10 months out of the league. Saturday was a fitting tribute to the Melo Experiment, offensive skills, defensive lapses, the full package.
In a season defined by injuries, fittingly the Blazers were extremely shorthanded for the final contest of the 2019-20 campaign. Just two players, McCollum and Hassan Whiteside, who started the season opener, started in the season finale. Jusuf Nurkic, who didn’t make his season debut until the season restarted in Orlando, started alongside Whiteside and finished with 16 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and five steals. Nurkic was a major part of the Blazers impressive push to make it to the postseason. He had been away from the game for 16 months following a gruesome left leg injury in March 2019, and his reintroduction immediately improved the team on both ends of the court.
The full story of this Blazers season wouldn’t be complete without Gary Trent Jr., who emerged as a rotational mainstay in January, turning into a dependable shooter and dogged defender. Trent Jr. added 16 points and his usual mix of hustle on Saturday.
And yet McCollum’s explosiveness, Anthony’s pump-fake heavy arsenal, Nurkic’s stat-stuffing and Trent Jr.’s energy weren’t quite enough. The Blazers put together an inspired offensive performance, but as had been the case for virtually every game in the series they simply had no answers for LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
The Lakers stars combined for 79 points on 28-for-37 shooting. James dominated early, Davis closed the door late. When Trent Jr. tied the game at 109 with 6:52 left, Davis came to life to end the series, scoring 11 of Los Angeles’ next 14 points to give the Lakers the lead for good.
That’s how it ended. Ten months, six days and thousands of miles away from where it started, the Blazers' strange, elongated season came to a close.
The Blazers knew they were going to have a thinner bench when Damian Lillard left the Disney campus earlier this week after sustaining a right knee injury. But a new name was added to the injury report about an hour before the game started as Wenyen Gabriel was ruled out with a right quad tendinitis. Gabriel joined a long list of unavailable along with Lillard, Zach Collins and Nassir Little, leaving the Blazers with just nine available players at the start of the game.
Whiteside dislocated his left pinky finger in the first quarter, temporarily leaving the Blazers with just eight available players before he returned in the second quarter.
Honoring Clifford Robinson
Former Blazers forward Clifford Robinson passed away on Saturday at the age of 53. He was honored with a moment of silence prior to tip off and the Blazers players also honored the man who spent the first eight seasons of his 18 year career in Portland. All the Blazers players wore headbands for the game, a nod to Robinson’s signature on court look.
Maybe it was the hotel?
Portland came out on firing in the restart schedule going 6-2 in the seeding games, pushing past Memphis in the play-in round to reach the playoffs, and then stealing Game 1 from the Lakers. After 10 very successful games in Orlando, the Blazers changed hotel accommodations, moving from the Yacht Club into the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. After the hotel change, the Blazers finished their season with four straight losses.