Underdog role suits Trail Blazers

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


Video: Spurs-Blazers series preview

PORTLAND, Ore. — So far.

That’s what Damian Lillard said when somebody asked him if that 25-foot, just-before-closing-time, crackling bolt of lightning on Friday was the biggest shot he’d ever made in his life.

It tells you all you need to know about the 23-year-old with the killer grin and assassin’s calm.

It also tells you all you need to know about the Trail Blazers, most of whom have come so far individually to become this team.

“It’s just kinda who were are. I know Damian has talked about being underdogs — Wes (Matthews) being undrafted,” said coach Terry Stotts. “Damian coming from a small school. Some guys feeling like they’ve been a little roughed up in their careers. I don’t think it’s really anything that we foster. I think it’s just grown organically.”

Grown from a chip that they all carry around on their shoulders into a big stick of righteous indignation that the Blazers have used to prod themselves to a different place.

The second round of the playoffs.

“You ask me if I’m counted out?” Matthews said. “Of course. I’m always fueled by being counted out and we’re gonna be counted out of this next series.”

The Spurs have won three of their four franchise championships, been to the The Finals four times and played in the Western Conference finals three on other occasions in the 14 years since Portland last won a playoff series.

Yet the Blazers can hardly wait to take their “nobody-loves-us” burden into San Antonio for Game 1 on Tuesday night.

It is a well-polished routine and they know it by heart:

  • Lillard was under-appreciated and under-recruited coming out of high school and had to play his college ball at Weber State.
  • Matthews was undrafted by the NBA out of Marquette in 2009.
  • Veteran star LaMarcus Aldridge had to fight for respect through five NBA seasons before he was finally selected for an All-Star Game and is still routinely overlooked in the All-NBA voting.
  • Nicolas Batum was just a 19-year-old Frenchman with no more than hope and a light resume when he arrived in Portland in 2008.

When it was mentioned that Robin Lopez isn’t even regarded as the best player in his own family, Batum doubled over laughing.

“Yes, it’s funny,” he said. “Good, not great. It’s who we all are. We all have been through a lot. We have all had our ups and downs to get here. Even L.A. was snubbed for all those All-Star Games. Nobody expects anything from us. Except for the ones in here.”

The Blazers were back on the court at their practice facility after a day to soak in the city’s joy over their accomplishment. Not that many took the plunge.

“I did pretty much the same things I always do,” said a beaming Lillard.

He went home. He relaxed. He watched replays of his shot “maybe 5 or 10 times” and he listened to an almost non-stop string of text messages buzz in on his cell phone.

“I’ve gotten so many videos of it sent to my phone,” Lillard said. “I watch it because every version is different. The thing I enjoyed the most about it was just seeing everybody’s reaction. You got to see how bad our team wanted to win that game.

“It wasn’t about me. You saw the coaches excited that we’re going to be moving on. My teammates running all over the floor. The crowd. I think a couple fans almost ran on the floor. I’m just happy we were able to get that series done. Because the last thing we wanted to do was go back to Houston.”

It was all glorious fun while it lasted. But now there is more serious work ahead against the defending Western Conference champions and the No. 1 seed.

“It’s over with now,” said Lillard. “It’s not like the moment is going to go away. We haven’t gone past the first round in 14 years, so people won’t forget it. But our team, we’ve got to move on from it, and we’ve still got games to play. Our goal wasn’t to make a big shot and be happy with that. I think, if anything, that made us want to get more done.”

The Blazers will continue to wear the underdog role as if it were an expensive fur coat, wrapping themselves up it and preaching that it’s still a cold, disrespecting world out there.

Yet beneath there is a silk lining of self-reliance and growing fearlessness.

“Anytime you win, you’re going to get confidence,” Matthews said. “To win in the fashion that we did, where the games were always tight and nothing was safe, we learned a lot. I think that was a learning process for everybody about how valuable all these possessions were and how fragile it could be and a wrong bounce could send you to a Game 7 that you don’t want to be in. Now, I don’t think there’s a limit.”

Maybe there never has been, at least in their own minds.

“We were up 3-1 on Houston,” Lillard said. “To be honest, after the first game, we felt like we were going to win the series. I think getting it done, we proved more to other people than we proved to ourselves. There’s no reason now to think it can’t go on.”

33 Comments

  1. ron says:

    I don’t know who is going to win.
    Either way a team wins who plays fun basketball, team basketball, and has no big ego’s on the floor or bench or coaching staff.
    So whoever wins, go on and beat those narcisists and egomaniacs from Miami.

  2. TTKIN says:

    SA v POR might be the best series of this whole playoffs.

  3. lsjogren says:

    Spurs superior bench will win the series for the Spurs. But look out for the Blazers in coming seasons. They have the best starting lineup in the NBA, and even though their efforts to build up their bench did not succeed as well as a blazer fan would hope, it is easier to build a bench than a starting lineup and if they can make more headway on that by next season, look out.

  4. lsjogren says:

    I think the Blazers will give the Spurs a good fight. I think the Spurs’ superior bench will tip the balance in their favor.

    Blazers had the worst bench in the NBA last season. Their main off season goal was to beef up their bench, but the main thing they succeeded at was beefing up their starting five into what is arguably the best starting unit in the NBA. However, even with the acquisition of Dorrell Wright and Mo Williams, and the improved play of Thomas Robinson and Joel Freeland, their bench is still one of the weakest in the NBA.

    Spurs have got to be big favorites to win this series, but look out for coming years because it not as hard to build a good bench than it is to build a good starting lineup and if the Blazers can make more headway into improving their depth before next season then they are going to be a contender.

  5. bwl1996 says:

    dang…nothing but spurs haters in here, i cant believe you all are still counting out the spurs for that mavs series. i guess no one noticed they got their groove back in game 7 and are ready for a new series. portland is amazing, but they will not hold the sours back from getting into the conference finals. spurs have some revenge to get against the east, they wont back down to anyone. spurs in 6 or 7

  6. Stubbs303 says:

    This is going to be a fun series to watch. Portland has always been the underdog. If you haven’t been paying attention to them, you may be surprised. RIP CITY!

  7. LinGerized! says:

    Expect a great series. #GoSpursGo

  8. Garry says:

    I give Portland a ton of credit because they are an extremely talented team. What worries me as a Spurs fan is that Parker can’t defend Lillard and L.A is more physical than Splitter can handle down low if he is not in with Duncan. I like when people mention how the Spurs flop and things like that because it is a fact that there was a rule created to curb this. Ironically though, it is also a fact that the team that this rule was created to target has yet to have an “offender” be hit with a fine for flopping. Moving back to the series though, it should be an entertaining one that is too tough to call because Portland HAS played SA tough and them making it to the second round proves that they are THAT good! Hope the Spurs bring their A games and that it is enough…

  9. kkb1976 says:

    Spurs in 4

  10. Latigo Spurs Rapper says:

    I congratulate the Blazers for winning against the Rockets. They are a very good team. However, they will be up against a legendary team and so I see the Spurs winning in 6.

  11. Gillsy says:

    On paper with experience you would say the Spurs should win. But the big negative against them is that they took 7 games to get past the Mavs doesn’t help when you have old bodies. And the Blazers are a much better team than the Mavs. While the Blazers are much better for their run against Houston.

  12. m lussini says:

    Come on I understand that the Spurs are experience, but they are old and banged up ,Howard was a beast and Lopez had some success against him even Aldridge blocked him few times. Duncan is not going to be as effective as Howard. parker and Genobli will do their thing except Batum to take some time guarding genobli. it will be a long series, spurs get tired at the end

  13. Mdiaz says:

    Spurs have too much experience. They play together and play in the lines of their strength, Its going to be a great series. Portalnd will give competition no doubt, but i say the spurs will win in six.

  14. A says:

    The spurs are a great team, my second favorite team. You have to love what Pop has done with that team. But, I am a Blazers fan! Go Blazers.

  15. JM says:

    Blazers will beat the Spurs in 5 games…

  16. John Johnson says:

    Are you all serious? The Blazers are in serious trouble and will need a miracle to pull off a round 2 upset.

  17. Winston says:

    Portland goes from playing the worst coached team in the NBA with the worst team players to the best coached team with the best team players. Coach of the year won’t make the dumb mistake of not consistently using a true point guard and letting an unproven playoff player continue to take 20 plus shots a game shooting barely 30% while turning over the ball 4 times a game while blaming his teammates and holding the ball until there’s only 5 seconds on the shot clock.

  18. yoel says:

    I think in this series experience will count the most, against mere, big, talent.
    But the Spurs will decide, by the way, their own fate

    I predict that either the Spurs will crush the Blazers in 4 (as it happened in the finals in 07 against cleveland) or if the underdog can manage the pressure we’ll see great surprises (as it was for Memphis in the first round 2012).

    • Kalbo!! says:

      Expect more articles to come from the NBA in compromising the spurs to pull them down… exactly what happened last round.. and now happening again even before the start of the first game of the 2nd round.. It’s making me sick!

  19. Rojo85 says:

    I see the Blazers beating the Spurs in this series. The Blazers confidence is so high right now after most people counted them out against the Rockets, and the Spurs kind of squeaked by the 8th seed Mavs. Plus, the Blazers have had the Spurs’ number the past few years as well. I’m calling for a huge upset. Something about this Portland team seems pretty special. Lots of comparisons to the ’77 championship team. Seems fitting too that they are wearing the Dr. Jack ’77 patch from here on out. Always have respect for the Spurs, but I’ve just got a feeling about RIP City this year.

  20. okc2014 says:

    Don’t know who will win Spurs/Portland series. But it will be intriguing to see who wins the 1st game. Set the tone!

  21. timdgourley says:

    This is Good (blazers) vs. Evil (spurs).

    People are tired of the flopping, incessant whining, and thuggery.

    Out with the old, in with the new. Blazers in six.

    • ciugaz says:

      The Blazers have one of the best starting five of the league…I agree they can definitely beat San Antonio and i bet will happen in six games.

    • dg says:

      Evil? Thugs? Really? You obviously don’t know anything about the Spurs. Stop trolling.

  22. Portlander says:

    Rip City baby…………..Go Blazers and DON’T MESS WITH OREGON
    4-2 again.

  23. thespectator says:

    id like to see blazers come out the west..would be crazy..

  24. birdie says:

    Always against the Spurs. Can’t stand the nba.com bloggers.

    • NewYorker says:

      But the guys in the studio are always for the Spurs. And I mean, I understand, Barry played for the Spurs and coach Pop, so he knows their game. I picked the spurs to win before the 1st round and I predicted the Blazzers will beat the Rockets. Now, I might change my mind after seeing the 1st round. I think Rip City has a chance.

    • MrHegemony says:

      “Against the Spurs?” Naw, man. If you read between the lines, this article is all about how everyone expects the Spurs to beat the Blazers – just like everyone gave Houston 5 – 6 games in the first round. Damian Lillard made the greatest shot of these playoffs so far, and you know what was on the front page of NBA.com the next day? OKC/Memphis, Clippers/Warriors, and Spurs/Mavs. To find anything about Lillard’s shot, you had to scroll down…and down.

      The Blazers have been the real underdogs this entire post-season, if not the regular season too.

  25. Brainundrum says:

    This series will be a close, tight, hard fought battle. Both of these teams are extremely talented and I’m not 100% sure who will advance. With that being said… GSG #DRIVE4FIVE

    • Nico says:

      This is the truth. Pop is the greatest coach ever, Stotts is just getting started… This series is gonna be fun. These playoffs remind me of the Western Conference of the early nineties, stacked teams fighting and grinding it out. Rip City wins at home in 6 or Pop masterminds another series.