On Monday night, the Blazers play the Clippers in the “Rain City Showcase” exhibition, the first NBA game played in Seattle since a 2018 preseason game.
PORTLAND, Ore. — On Monday, the Portland Trail Blazers will travel to Seattle to play an NBA game for the first time since March 24, 2008. In that game, the last game played between the two teams, the Sonics blasted the Blazers 97-84 behind a game-high 23 points from rookie Kevin Durant.
The next season, the Sonics were gone, relocated to Oklahoma City and rebranded the Thunder.
Monday night’s game, the “Rain City Showcase” exhibition, is the first NBA game played in Seattle since a 2018 exhibition game between the Warriors and Kings. The game will be played at Climate Edge Arena, formerly KeyArena, home of the Sonics.
No, the Blazers’ opponent on Monday night won’t be the Sonics. Of course it won’t. There hasn’t been a Sonics team since they were taken from Seattle in 2008, a black-eye moment for the NBA. The opponent will be the Clippers — but nobody cares about that.
The significance is the location of the game. The NBA, back in Seattle! Are the Sonics far behind? There have certainly been rumors and whispers of rumors. But only time will tell when that wrong will be made right.
Monday’s game gives the opportunity to look back at the old Blazers-Sonics rivalry, a great geographical tug-of-war separated by just 174 miles. The two teams played 192 games against each other before the Sonics disappeared in 2008, with the Sonics having the slight edge in wins, 98-94.
Rivalries aren’t made during the regular season. There are great regular-season games in any rivalry (more on one of those below). But rivalries are really forged during the playoffs. So it was with the Blazers and Sonics. Two of the three Blazers-Sonics rivalry moments spotlighted below are centered around playoff matchups between the two teams. Well, that and one unfortunate draft night.
The Blazers and Sonics met four times in the playoffs, with each team winning twice. The middle two playoff series between the two squads weren’t all that competitive. In 1980, the Sonics beat the Blazers 2-1 in the first round and three years later, the Blazers returned the favor, sweeping the Sonics in the first round of the 1983 playoffs.
But the first playoff matchup between the two teams, in 1978, was a turning point in Sonics history, and the final matchup, in 1991, was a hard-fought five-game series that featured some of the franchises’ most iconic stars.
Here’s a look at some of the most memorable moments in the Blazers-Sonics rivalry:
The Sonics beat the Blazers in the 1978 playoffs, ending Bill Walton’s career in Portland and setting up Seattle’s run to consecutive NBA Finals appearances and its first championship the following season.
Blazers fans know the history of Bill Walton. Perhaps the most talented player to ever wear a Blazers jersey, he led Portland to its only NBA championship in 1977, winning league and NBA Finals MVP at age 24 in just his third NBA season.
The next season, the Blazers started 50-10 but on Feb. 28, Walton crumpled to the ground with a right foot injury. Portland’s season fell apart at the same time. Without their star center, the Blazers won only eight of their final 22 regular-season games. They still finished with the best record in the NBA at 58-24, earning a first-round bye in the playoffs. The Sonics were there to greet the Blazers in the second round.
After Seattle won Game 1, 104-95, in Portland, Walton returned from injury and started Game 2. But he played just 15 minutes before leaving the game with another foot injury. The Blazers went on to win Game 2, 96-93, but eventually lost the series in six games. Walton never played another game in a Blazers uniform. After the season, he demanded a trade, blaming the team for improper medical advice and care. It caused a rift between Walton and the Blazers franchise that only just started to thaw in the past few years.
While it was the end of Walton’s time in Portland and an unceremonious follow-up to the Blazers’ only championship, it started the Sonics’ run to consecutive NBA Finals and an NBA championship. Behind Gus Williams, Marvin Webster, Dennis Johnson, Jack Sikma and top reserve Fred Brown, the Sonics beat the Blazers in six games and the Nuggets in six games to reach the NBA Finals, where they lost in seven games to the Washington Bullets.
The next season, the Sonics returned to the NBA Finals and played the Bullets again. This time, led by finals MVP Dennis Johnson, the Sonics won in five games, capturing their first and only championship.
The Blazers and Sonics meet in the first round of the 1991 NBA playoffs, with Portland prevailing in a hard-fought five-game series featuring franchise icons like Clyde Drexler, Terry Porter, Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp.
Before the playoff matchup, the Blazers and Sonics met early in the regular season and played perhaps the best Blazers-Sonics game of all time.
It was Dec. 1, 1990 and the 14th game of the season for the Blazers. Portland was off to a roaring start at 12-1. But against an upstart Seattle squad, the Blazers found themselves trailing by 14 points, 77-63, at the start of the fourth quarter. They rallied to tie the game at the end of regulation and then overcame deficits in all three overtimes before the Blazers finally prevailed, 130-124, in triple overtime.
The Blazers won despite a terrible night from their best player, Clyde Drexler, who scored 13 points and missed 16 of his 20 shots from the field. Terry Porter gave Portland a lift, scoring 38 points, including a desperation 3-pointer to tie the game at the end of the first quarter. Xavier McDaniel was brilliant in defeat for the Sonics, tallying 41 points.
That regular-season classic set up a great series when the two teams met again in the first round of the playoffs.
The Blazers were the top seed in the Western Conference, having won a franchise-record 63 games. They won the first two games in Portland. But the eight-seeded Sonics, a talented young team led by rookie Gary Payton and high-flying second-year forward Shawn Kemp, put up a fight, winning Games 3 and 4 in Seattle to force a decisive Game 5 at Memorial Coliseum. The Blazers won Game 5, 119-107, and then lost to the Lakers in the Western Conference finals.
Drexler led the way for the Blazers in the series against the Sonics, averaging 25 points, 7.6 assists and 6.4 rebounds. The Blazers got great contributions up and down the roster, with six players averaging double figures in the series: Jerome Kersey (16.4), Terry Porter (15.2), Buck Williams (12.2), Clifford Robinson (11.6) and Kevin Duckworth (11.2).
Payton averaged 4.8 points and 6.6 assists and Kemp 13.2 points and 7.2 rebounds in the series. Eddie Johnson led the Sonics with 24 points per game.
Honk once for Oden, honk twice for Durant: The 2007 NBA draft should have been a franchise moment for both squads. Instead, it serves as only a cruel reminder of what could have been.
Portland lucked into the No. 1 pick in the 2007 NBA draft, the Sonics had the second selection, and at the top of the draft were two of the most highly touted prospects in NBA draft history in Greg Oden and Kevin Durant. The debate over which of the two should go No. 1 to Portland was fierce. Remember the billboard? Honk once for Oden, twice for Durant.
We know what happened with Oden. The Blazers drafted him and 105 games — 82 with the Blazers — and seven knee surgeries later, Oden’s career was over. What was supposed to be a championship-level team built around Oden, Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge fizzled before it ever got a chance.
How good would that team have been? We’ll never know, but it’s worth noting that Portland won 50 of the 62 games Oden, Roy and Aldridge played together. That’s an .806 winning percentage or 66 wins over a full season. The Blazers’ franchise record for wins in a season was 63. Oden, Roy and Aldridge? If healthy, that team could have been a dynasty.
Durant went second to the Sonics. And though he’s gone on to a Hall-of-Fame-level career, that’s just torture for long-suffering Sonics fans. Durant played one season in Seattle with the Sonics and then it was over. The Sonics were no more, and Durant played the next eight seasons in Oklahoma City with Thunder emblazoned across his uniform.