By Mark Strotman | | 3 mins
Blazers Still NBA West Underdog After Lillard’s Winning Shot
It was the shot of the year. It will forever be known as The Wave. And Damian Lillard’s 37-foot 3-pointer to knock off the Oklahoma City Thunder in Round 1 of the NBA Playoffs will go down as one of the clutch shots of all-time.
Dame. Called. Game. ? pic.twitter.com/8Z0skeDbZE— Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) April 24, 2019
It was bigger than just a game or series win. The shot silenced Russell Westbrook, redeemed a Trail Blazers team which was inexplicably swept last year against the New Orleans Pelicans, and it showed a glimmer of hope that maybe Portland can keep advancing.
Trail Blazers Looked Convincing
They were nearly underdogs in NBA betting when the series began with -118 odds against the sixth-seeded Thunder (who were -106). It made sense, with the Blazers missing Jusuf Nurkic and with C.J. McCollum returning from a knee sprain just days before the end of the regular season.
But the Blazers owned the five-game series from start to finish. Even the Game 3 victory that Oklahoma City took felt more like the team with its back against the wall coming out strong at home than any real momentum shifting in the series.
Portland responded by taking Game 4 on the Thunder’s home floor and then closing it out in Game 5, with Lillard dropping 50 points and that wild buzzer beater on Westbrook, Paul George and the Thunder.
The Blazers still aren’t getting love from oddsmakers as they face an uphill battle in the incredibly tough Western Conference. They’re still just +1400 to win the West, behind the obvious Warriors and Rockets but also the Denver Nuggets, the second seed who are still playing in the first round.
But with Lillard playing like this – his 33.0 points per game were most among any player in the NBA Playoffs’ first round – who knows how far he can take Portland.
The Blazers will get to avoid the Warriors and Rockets in Round 2 and face a far easier opponent in Denver (or San Antonio if the Spurs win Games 6 and 7). And if the Blazers can get to the West Finals, they’d face a Rockets or Warriors team that will be exhausted from the previous round. With a red-hot Lillard leading the way, anything seems possible for the Blazers.
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Thunder Bow Out as Dark-Horse Pick
With Oklahoma City bowing out, one of the true dark horses in the West is gone. They looked like anything but a No. 6 seed, having won 49 games, ranking second in defensive efficiency and touting two superstars with the ability to take over a game or a series.
For their part, Westbrook and George played well in the series, especially in Game 5. Even with a sore shoulder, George averaged 28.6 points and 8.6 rebounds in an NBA-high 40.8 minutes. Westbrook was inefficient but still averaged 22.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 10.6 assists. The two had combined for 65 points on 49 percent shooting in the final loss.
Still, this will go down as a total collapse on the Thunder’s part. For a team with a $145 million payroll not to make it out of Round 1 an indictment from top to bottom.
It’s also tough to see Oklahoma City getting much better considering how strapped the team is financially. Westbrook’s high usage, low efficiency style isn’t changing anytime soon. It’s tough to see them being a smart NBA futures bet in the West next season.