When the clock struck zero in the fourth quarter Monday night in Portland, it was readily apparent that the Blazers were out-classed by their Western Conference counterparts.
The Golden State Warriors held a 28-point first quarter lead in a game that reminded most of us what it was like to play NBA2K with cheat codes.
When all was said and done, Golden State handed Portland a 25-point season-ending loss, completing the four-game sweep in a series that lacked any real competitiveness.
While most of the focus has been on Golden State and how the two-time defending conference champs seem to be hitting their stride, Portland is left wondering what the future might bring.
Following the game, John Canzano of The Oregonian posted an article concluding that culture issues remains the most prevalent problem in the Pacific Northwest.
“Tuesday’s exit interviews should be with the Moda Center ushers, security staff and ball boys,” the scribe opined. “Because as much as we’d like to make the shortcomings of the Blazers organization about the broken roster, the organization’s culture is busted, too.”
To be fair to Portland, this team just barely inched into the playoffs with a strong late-season run. It was taking on a Warriors squad that won 67-plus regular season games for the third consecutive season. If Canzano wants to point to culture issues, he should also include a look at the talent gap between these two teams.
When discussing the article we linked above, Blazers general manager Neil Olshey seemingly wasn’t having any of it. In fact, he took time out of his season-ending press conference to tell us exactly how he feels about Canzano’s stance.
And it was pretty darn glorious.
Olshey: Clearly the motivation was to abuse privileges as a media person so he could get tickets for his relatives and pics with Steph Curry pic.twitter.com/2NeUYbybaE
— NBC Sports Northwest (@NBCSNorthwest) April 25, 2017
We’re not here to fact-check whether Canzano actually attended two regular season games. Heck, Olshey could have been using that to make a broader point.
What we do know is that the Blazers’ general manager went to bat for his head coach and roster. He made sure that anything thrown out there suggesting that culture is an issue within the organization is blatantly false. He did so with a rip-roaring laugh that would make the light-hearted Warriors themselves proud.
Olshey’s overall point is also well understood within the context of the scribe’s hit piece following Monday’s loss in Portland.
“Ask Charlie (long-time Blazers staffer) what he thinks the most impressive thing about the Warriors is. Bet he doesn’t start the conversation with how gifted and deep the roster is. Bet he talks about Curry’s leadership. Or the way Golden State majority owner Joe Lacob positioned himself along the locker-room route after the sweep, fist-bumping his players, but refusing to smile,” the article read. “We’ve all seen Olshey out-dress and out-groom the league, so I’ll bet Charlie noticed that Warriors GM Bob Myers arrived at the arena on the team bus, disheveled.”
Again, we don’t know everything about the goings on in Portland’s locker room and within the organization. But to compare an up-and-coming franchise to one that’s been the model of success around the NBA over the past three seasons is absurd. There was a time not too long ago that the Warriors themselves were seen as a laughingstock.
Culture is what needed to be changed there. And it did when current owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber bought the team from its dreadful past ownership group. It changed when the Warriors sent Mark Jackson packing after a successful season, only to replace him with a players’ coach in Steve Kerr.
Maybe this is the larger point Canzano is attempting to make. But the comparison is unfair and lacks any real substance. Damian Lillard is the Blazers’ star. He gets along with his teammates. He’s active in the community. For all intents and purposes, he’s what is right about the NBA. The same can be said for backcourt mate C.J. McCollum and the rest of those on this young team.
Portland simply lost to a much more talented squad. And while it was not competitive, culture is not the issue that led to the embarrassment we saw Monday night. It’s all about the process of building a championship team.
It’s the same process these Warriors went through after losing to the Clippers in the first round, a loss that took place under nearly the same culture we see today.
The Blazers don’t have a culture problem, they have a Warriors problem. And until that is fixed, narratives will be thrown our way attempting to explain it away.
At the very least, Lillard himself knows exactly where the problem is and wants to fix it.
“You have to be obsessed with that because you know that they’re (the Warriors) so good that they’re going to be there,” Lillard said after Game 4’s 25-point loss. “That’s who you’re going to have to get through to get to where you want to get to. That’s what it is.”
That’s the mentality you want. That’s the guy you want to help lead your franchise in the right direction. If culture is an issue, that means Lillard has played a role. Are we really ready to throw this talented class act under the bus? I didn’t think so.