The NBA Playoffs is down to its final four teams: The Golden State Warriors, Milwaukee Bucks, Portland Trail Blazers and Toronto Raptors. The Association’s season after the season is also well on its way to finishing in a pair of sweeps prior to the Finals.
That’s a little underwhelming, don’t you think?
It’s unfortunate that the Blazers and Raptors have their backs against the wall. Both teams arguably have the most compelling narratives in these playoffs. Portland entered the 2019 post-season as the only underdog with home court advantage. Against the Oklahoma City Thunder, who sported MVP candidate Paul George, Damian Lillard forged into battle without his esteemed convoy—CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic, both injured, the latter deemed out for the remainder of the season and likely much of the next with a compound left leg fractures. What follows is the obliteration of OKC, succinctly captured by a Lillard 40-foot long bomb and the most childish wave in league history.
The Raptors journey has been much the same. Toronto has been written off each season, usually falling at the hands of LeBron James. Though the Canadian team is home to Kawhi Leonard, the NBA’s third best player, the Raptors were nearly upended by the Philadelphia 76ers. And Toronto was fighting for much more than a shot at the championship this season. The Raptors’ NBA relevancy is under attack by its own star, as Leonard’s next contract could send the Six spiraling out of future Playoff seeding.
Thus far the Blazers and Raptors have saved their seasons in dramatic fashion. Portland’s seven-game series with the Denver Nuggets came down to a contested McCollum midrange pull up, while the Raptors Game 7 finale rested on a high-arcing, quadruple bouncing Leonard fadeaway.
But here both teams stand, facing seemingly impossible two game deficits at the hands of the Association’s most complete teams. Valliant efforts aside, I can’t help but think that these Conference Finals are already a wash.
This time a year ago the Conference Finals were a battle ground. The Warriors and Houston Rockets split the first two games, giving credence to the Rockets potential as Golden State’s dismantlers. And while the Boston Celtics-Cleveland Cavaliers series started 2-0 in favor of the Celtics, history had a habit of being kind to teams featuring LeBron James. Both series resulted in Game 7 thrillers, even if the most likely outcome, a Warriors-Cavs Finals came to fruition.
The narratives aren’t as interesting this year. There’s no Finals four-peat on the line for the Cavs. Likewise, the Blazers aren’t built to beat the Warriors like the Rockets were. Rather, Portland is an unlikely bunch of heroes looking to use their playoff run as way to build up its roster in anticipation of the Western Conference’s reformation this summer.
I can’t predict the future, and if I could I wouldn’t spoil it. The Blazers and Raptors deserve every chance to mount a comeback. But unless Portland and Toronto become the NBA’s next top destinations, their travels to the Conference Finals won’t be remembered for long.