I had forgotten what a losing locker room looked like, felt like, sounded like.
Joel Przybilla was kicking at television camera cords that were running across the ground in front of his locker. Shavlik Randolph was despondently text messaging on his cell phone. Jerryd Bayless was accidently dropping his (Gucci?) toiletry bag, nearly spilling its contents, and mumbling to himself over his carelessness. Brandon Roy was surrounded by the media hordes, explaining, for once, what went wrong. LaMarcus Aldridge, a calm man, looked and sounded genuinely upset, as if the absurd effort it took to put up 25 and 13 no longer mattered because of the game's final moments. Steve Blake was glaring at the crowd of cameras that were spilling over into the side of his locker, muttering at a chair that was in his way.
The little things in life that don't bother you on a good day or on a normal day, drive you absolutely crazy on a night like tonight.
How did it come to this scene? It was a worst-case scenario for closing out a basketball game. The Blazers were leading 108 to 100 after LaMarcus nailed one of many jumpers with 2:20 left. Then our offense turned Chernobyl and our defense turned into Tom Cruise on Oprah's Couch. When the dust settled, Jameer Nelson, Rashard Lewis, and Hedo Turkoglu, even with Trout all up in his mug, had nailed 3 pointers to put the Magic over the top, against all odds, 109 to 108. As Hedo's shot went through the net, the Rose Garden went dead silent. The crowd filed out, silently, quickly, avoiding eye contact. It was awful.
Was this a game that the Blazers had in control and shouldn't have lost? Yes, of course. At the end it was. But for long stretches of the game, starting 16 seconds into the first quarter when Greg Oden picked up his first foul on Dwight Howard, it felt like a game we were destined to lose. Howard started off very tough inside and his teammates were hitting from everywhere. The Magic finished 14 of 27 from deep on the night.
We hung in the game thanks to stellar bench play. Przybilla went for 11 and 11, besting Superman on the boards and nearly matching his point total. Sergio and Rudy did their Spanish thing. Travis reached double figures. We even pulled away in the second half, briefly, thanks to Brandon's season high 30 points (plus 9 and 5) and LaMarcus's 12 of 17 performance, which showed why many, myself included, thought he might be an All Star during training camp. It seemed like he couldn't miss.
In the end, it wasn't meant to be. The final act was a desperation 3/4 court heave from Brandon which never had a chance. As the entire Magic team spilled onto the Rose Garden floor, dancing in a big group in one corner, a distraught Roy was consoled by General Manager Kevin Pritchard as he walked off in the opposite corner. After the game, I asked Brandon what KP said to him. Brandon just looked off into the middle distance of an emptying locker room and said with blank eyes, "I don't even know."
It was that kind of night.
Random Game Notes
- I realized that I haven't yet given y'all the order of the lockers in the home locker room. So here goes... On the left side as you enter, from front to back: Przybilla, Randolph, Rudy, Sergio, Ike, Martell, Bayless, a blank locker, Brandon. On the right side as you enter, from front to back: Trainer Bobby Medina, Shooting Coach John Townsend, Raef, Blake, LaMarcus, Nic, Greg, Channing, Travis.
- Never will you see the difference between local writers and national writers more clearly than in tonight's postgame with Nate. After Freeman, Eggers and Katie Brown snapped off questions about the late-game execution and Nate's postgame speech, ESPN's John Hollinger asked Nate two questions about Greg Oden's post play against Dwight Howard. Keep in mind, Greg played 11 minutes, had 2 points, 1 rebound, 1 turnover and 4 fouls. He did not play a single fourth quarter minute and his impact on this game was exactly as large as you might expect from reading his stat line. This isn't meant as a knock on Hollinger (After all, he's got Steven Hill ranked #1 overall so I ride with that), I just thought that was interesting. Two different worlds. One coach. One room.
- Pregame there was more frenzy than normal thanks to the breaking news about Martell Webster's bum foot. News spreads like a virus among reporters. Especially injury news. It's like watching 20 simultaneous games of "telephone" at once. At what point does the game "telephone" change its name to "group email"? It's almost 2009.
- Right this minute, as you read this, hunched over your beer gut with one hand in a bag of cheetos (yes, I can see you...) I believe you possess the same game-readiness as Anthony Johnson. I think I've seen him running in an over 50 league at Tualatin Hills Park and Rec. Maybe it was someone else. Probably it was him.
- JJ Redick was wearing a redickulous scarf after the game and advised one of his teammates, "How you gonna pay 400 dollars for some jeans and they aren't even custom jeans?" One of life's eternal questions.
- Both Anthony Carter and Jameer Nelson were downright jubilant in the Magic locker room postgame. Carter said to no one in particular, "Brandon Roy, that man is unstoppable, it's like he's playing NBA Live" and Nelson was cracking on his teammates for not being able to guard Brandon. The kinds of jokes you can make when you win.
- Tonight's warmup song was selected by Travis: "Go Hard" by DJ Khaled featuring T Pain and Kanye West. I tried to find a sample lyric but there literally was not 2 consecutive bars in this song without a swear word. Sorry.
- During the game introductions, the "honorary captain" (some random kid from the crowd) punked out Jameer Nelson by not returning his high five. Funny stuff.
- For some reason the arena decided to bring back the REALLY LOUD DRUMMERS who sit in the back of one of the 200 level sections and don't seem to understand that it's a bad idea to DRUM REALLY LOUD when we have the ball on offense. The Blazers went 0 for 3 in the first half on possessions in which the drums were banging. The drums shut up in the second half.
- On the scoreboard, the players were asked to name their favorite crush. Frye said Jessica Biel, a bunch of guys said Rihanna, and then LMA brought the house down by saying "It WAS Jessica Alba... but then she had a baby." Yes, he went there.
- Tons of signs in the crowd tonight. A few... "Orlando, The Magic Belongs to the Blazers," "With Rudy We Can't Be Stopped" and "Viva La Rudylucion" (great sign!)
- Some enterprising fans in the last row of section 304 started chanting "MVP" when Brandon was at the line. Good job guys.
- Apparently Joe's Outdoors is selling "I Heart Rudy" t-shirts. Might want to go get one of those.
- When Sergio came out of the game tonight, it very well might have been the loudest cheer I have ever heard for him in the Rose Garden.
- I was joking before the game that Sergio's nickname should be "One For Three" because that seems to be his FGM/FMA every night. He tripled up on that tonight, going 3/9.
- The Magic were really picking on Sergio, trying to isolate and post him up throughout the third quarter. He held his own on numerous occasions. Also, Sergio's 7 assists against 0 turnovers look very, very nice.
- Sorry to harp on SRod so much, but I noticed after one of the alleyoops to Rudy, he was pumping his first enthusiastically. Then in a flash, his hand was raised and he was calling out the defensive set as his teammates hustled back. Was very nice to see him thinking ahead like that in a close game.
- I was also commenting before the game that it seems like Nic Batum has fallen back to earth. Is it fatigue? Is the book out on him? He finished with 0 points, 2 rebounds, 3 dimes, 3 turnovers in only 16 minutes. He was having trouble with Orlando's wings. Something to keep an eye on for sure, given Martell's new injury.
- Speaking of Martell, he was in pretty good spirits after the game, given the circumstances. He was back in his boot and giving/receiving a lot of hugs in the locker room corridor. Tough, tough break.
Nate's Postgame Reaction
All things considered, Nate handled tonight's loss much better than I expected. He didn't seem overly disappointed or shocked. In that kind of postgame atmosphere, the tension can be high. Nate was very much in control of his emotions, very straightforward in his delivery, and, I suspect, already planning what he was going to go over with the team during practice tomorrow. Here's what he had to say...
Nate on the result: "We got to execute. We had that game under control. We've seen start to double team Brandon and get the ball out of his hands. We had the play set to get a guy to the middle and attack that. If you get a guy to the middle, it's 4 on 3 back there. And we didn't execute. We didn't get a shot off that last possession. Then, defensively, you need to get a stop."
Nate on whether the team got too comfortable with an 8 point lead: "I don't think we got too comfortable, we didn't execute. Any time there's a double team you get a man in the middle. We called our timeouts to set that up. We've seen that from teams, teams are saying, they're defending Brandon, they are sending 2 at the end of games and forcing someone else to make the play. Ok, we'll take that, spread, space the floor, we have our shooters on the floor, we attack that, and we didn't get a shot off, that's a big possession."
Nate on how the final offensive possession broke down: "We didn't get to the middle. We didn't execute. We didn't get to the middle which forced a double team and we didn't get a shot off."
Nate when asked whose fault it was: "We just didn't get to the middle."
Nate on Blake calling a timeout because he couldn't get the ball in: "He knew that he had a timeout. I thought we have to come to the ball and get ourselves open. I thought that was a bad mark, I thought Brandon dribbled the ball down further. We used the timeout, it's all about executing."
Nate on the Magic's offense: "They were hot. We got sucked in a few times on penetration. Lost the guys on the perimeter and they made some 3s. We knew they were a team that plays inside to Howard, or penetration that forces the collapse, and then they shoot a ton of 3s."
More Nate on the Result: "You have that game. We had that game under control. We just gotta execute. When we got possession of the ball, our offense was working, they go to a trap at halfcourt, and we're going to have an advantage. We need to get an attempt at the basket. Then defensively, get a stop."
Nate on whether inexperience contributed to the meltdown: "We've been in the situation before. We just didn't execute the play. I wouldn't say it was inexperience, we've just got to execute."
Nate on Greg versus Superman: "Howard does a good job of defending the basket and blocking shots. Greg got in foul trouble early with Howard. Our small lineup with LaMarcus at the five, worked during our last game, and in the fourth quarter we went to that, and we got back in the game and was able to take a lead."
Nate on how Greg did keeping Dwight away from the hoop: "I need to see the tape. As far as I remember, Howard had him deep a few times, when he's down there, he's going to score or go to the free throw line. We didn't want to give away any layups. We wanted to put him onthe free throw line. Get him off the block first. But he had pretty deep post position."
Nate on Sergio's Game: "I thought Sergio did a good job. Coming in and creating some offense for us. Making things happen and getting us back into the game."
BE SURE TO CLICK THROUGH FOR PICTURES...
-- Ben (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Orlando Magic player Marcin Gortat has a tattoo of the Jumpman Logo with a basketball on his leg. You want to argue whether Kobe is better than Jordan? Call me in 10 years when a random Polish baller has a KB24 tattoo on his leg. Not happening.
Patrick Ewing is kind of large, looking gooey in his black warmup shirt. He was wearing a sweet fedora when he came in off the team bus.
-- Ben (email@example.com)