As the NBA playoffs are deep into the first round and the Portland Trail Blazers are watching from the comforts of their own homes, we take a look back over the course of the franchise history to the more memorable, or forgettable, playoff performances. The Trail Blazers have the unique distinction of having won their first NBA championship in their first-ever playoff experience.
However, there were other performances that clearly left a deeper cut in the fabric of the franchise. Here are the top five worst playoff performances in the program’s history.
5. 1992-93 season
The Trail Blazers began the 1992-93 season with an eight-game winning streak (8-0) and finished the season with an impressive 10-4 month of April. The team was also 14-6 in their last 20 games. In that last month of the season, heading into the playoffs, two of the team’s four losses were either by two points or less or in overtime. The team entered the playoffs with the fourth-ranked offense in the NBA at 108.5 points per game and earned a No. 4 seed.
Portland drew the fifth-seeded San Antonio Spurs, led by“The Admiral,” David Robinson. The Spurs limped into the playoffs with a 6-7 month of April and were only 9-11 over their last 20 games of the season. The Trail Blazers opened the series with two home games and looked to be a decided favorite to advance.
The first game, however, was a one-point San Antonio win at Portland. The Trail Blazers rebounded with a decisive win in Game 2. Unfortunately, the Spurs were able to win the next two games in San Antonio, including a 100-97 overtime win in the decisive Game 4. The Trail Blazers averaged nearly 10 points less per game in the four playoff games than in the regular season.
For two teams heading in opposite directions leading up to the playoffs, the Trail Blazers blew an opportunity to face the Suns in the conference semifinals and their season ended far too soon.
4. 1987-88 Season
The Trail Blazers entered the 1988 playoffs with a legitimate chance to win the NBA championship. They had the No. 2-ranked offense in the league at more than 116 ppg. They had gone 10-4 in the month of April and had averaged more than 127 ppg over their final 10 games of the season heading into the payoffs with the Utah Jazz.
The Jazz were the No. 5 seed and won 47 games on the season. The offensive prowess of the Trail Blazers, however, made them a legitimate challenger to make the NBA Finals. The series, however, did not go well for Portland as they only averaged about 104 ppg in the four games and dropped three straight after winning Game 1 at home.
Interestingly enough, the Jazz had the Trail Blazers’ number all season, as they took four of the five games against Portland in the regular season.
3. 1980-81 Season
The Trail Blazers finished the regular season with an 11-4 record in the month of March, which was at the time the final month of the regular season. The team was on a hot streak and drew the Kansas City Kings, who had struggled into the playoffs with a losing record of 40-42 on the season. In addition, the Kings were only 4-6 in their last 10 regular-season games. With Game 1 being played at home, the Trail Blazers looked to be a heavy favorite to advance.
Game 1 was an overtime loss to the Kings. The first round was a best-of-three affair in those days, so losing the first game, particularly at home, was a huge hole to dig out of. At the time, the teams would flip-flop home sites.
Game 2 was a nice win for Portland on the road at Kansas City. However, unable to seal the deal at home for the decisive Game 3, the Trail Blazers were ousted by the Kings. To enter the playoffs with such a strong finish to the season, facing a Kings team that had a losing record and then dropping both home games to lose the series 2-1 makes this one of the worst performances in the franchise history.
2. 2008-09 Season
The Trail Blazers were running hot heading into the NBA playoffs as they won their final six games of the regular season and had gone 13-3 in their final 16 games. Of the three losses, two of the three were in OT. Portland was one of the hottest teams to finish out the season and entered with a No. 4 seed against the fifth-seeded Houston Rockets.
Going into the playoffs, the Rockets had not won a first round series in the playoffs since 1997. Make no mistake about it, the Rockets were a very good team. They had Ron Artest, Shane Battier, Yao Ming, et al. The fact that the Trail Blazers, however, were on such a huge upswing to end the regular season made it clear that Portland was the favorite to take the series.
Other than scoring 107 points in a Game 2 win at home, the Trail Blazers were not able to get their offense rolling at all in the series. They were not able to score more than 88 points in any of the other games and were defeated by the Rockets 4-2 to bow out in the first round of the playoffs. For a team that had won 54 games in the regular season, this was highly disappointing.
1. 1977-78 Season
By far the most disappointing performance by the Portland Trail Blazers in the NBA playoffs came in the 1977-78 season, a year in which they were the defending NBA champions. Coming off a 1977 season that saw the team not only go to their first-ever playoffs, but win the NBA title, the team started the season with a 50-10 record.
Unfortunately, Trail Blazers star–and 1978 NBA Most Valuable Player–Bill Walton went down with a foot injury. The team went 8-14 over the last 22 games of the season and, after a first-round bye as division champions, were taken out of the playoffs in the conference semifinals by the fourth-seeded Seattle SuperSonics in one of the biggest upsets in NBA playoff history.
This was the beginning of the end of the franchise as Walton, unhappy with the management and physicians at Portland, decided to sit out the 1978-79 season so that he could enter free agency the following year.
From the point at which Walton got hurt, this became one of the most unbelievable collapses in professional sports history. The team, despite only an 8-14 record over those last 22 games, had won the Western Conference regular season by 10 games.
As the Trail Blazers sit and wait for the 2013-14 season to begin, they will be looking to find a way to dig their way out of a massive playoff funk. It has been since 1999-00 season that the team has made it past the first round of the playoffs. The team is also riding a two year streak of not making the playoffs and have only qualified three times in the last 10 years.