The Blazers defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 104-99 Sunday afternoon in Game 1 of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. Led by guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, they stormed back to a No. 3 seed this year. Portland might have a small-market franchise, but that fan base's love for their team packs a mighty punch. You could nearly feel Thunder coach Billy Donovan - who had once famously mouthed the words "Can't play Kanter" in a playoff game against the Houston Rockets - grinning on the visiting bench.
The Thunder will be kicking themselves as they could've stole Game 1 if they didn't allow the Trailblazers to get off to such a hot start. Afterwards, Kanter talked about the reception he will have at the Chesapeake Energy Arena: "I think they are going to cheer for me, but it's a playoffs game". If the same George that showed up on Sunday shows up throughout the series, the Thunder will see an early exit this year.
"[Kanter] was the MVP of the game, especially down the stretch getting us second opportunities, third opportunities". "Great looks all night". "... It was so frustrating because I just wanted to go out there and win". Four days ago I couldn't even lift my shoulder. "Fast-forward to today, it was the first day I shot the ball".
"Tomorrow we'll get shots up and get back in tune", George continued. "We'll try and get the same looks that we got tonight". And while the Rockets' roster has been largely revamped excluding their core, Utah returns with essentially the same rotation that authored one of the bigger surprises last season. They shot 39.8 percent combined from the floor and an even worse 15.2 percent (5-of-33) from 3-pointer. George had 26 points, 10 rebounds, and four steals, but shot just 8-of-24 from the field and 4-of-15 from three.
And it was the Blazers' newest acquisition, a player once deemed unplayable in the playoffs and "too old" to play on the NBA's worst team, who proved to be the difference in helping the Blazers end a 10-game postseason losing streak and maintain home-court advantage in this best-of-seven series.
Jusuf Nurkic's injury was certainly a blow for the Blazers.
After eight straight playoff losses over the past two years, the Portland Trail Blazers finally got a win.
It truly has been a significant role reversal from his time with the Knicks.
Kanter added, "A couple of days ago, I looked up in the mirror and I said 'Man, I am blessed to just be here with an incredible organization and unbelievable teammates.' They trust in me".