So through a confluence of incredibly fortunate events, three of my best friends and I were able to score courtside tickets at no cost. The seats were *siiiiick* -- two rows back, right behind the Nuggets' bench -- and in prime heckling territory, as I'll elaborate upon later. First, some general observations and player-by-player reviews, Dave-style.
- The fans in the Garden should be proud of their contributions tonight. Spontaneous cheering and clapping broke out when the Blazers went flat in the middle of the first quarter in an effort to galvanize the troops. I don't even remember if it worked, truthfully, but I was impressed with the savviness of our fans. They were on their feet for the entire fourth quarter making an ear-splitting din during every consequential Nuggets possession. I can't wait -- cannot WAIT -- for playoff ball to come back to the Rose Garden. If we get home-court advantage, even if just for the first round? Look out Western Conference.
- Too many three-point attempts from the good guys. I know, I know -- nine-for-28 is almost as good as shooting 50% on 2-pointers, yada yada. But too many of those attempts came after crisp ball movement left a shooter open on the weak side. The book's out on the Blazers: Denver was CHARGING out on the shooter to contest, and their defenders were contesting very well. If we head-fake and dribble-drive attack, it's gonna be a dunk or two free throws. Rudy and Trav in particular should make a note of this.
- Best defensive effort I've seen all year from the Blazers. To hold a team like the Nuggets to less than 43% from the field is outstanding. It helped that with the exception of Kleiza, their jump-shooters were ice-cold, but part of that is that the Blazers were packing it in and taking away their easy looks. How many times have we seen LaMarcus get hot from the perimeter after making a few chippies in the lane? Billups, Smith, and Martin never did damage from the paint, and as a direct result they never did damage from outside. Our transition defense, after being leakier than a sieve last night, was close to airtight. Don't have the fast-break points in the box score, but I'll bet dollars to doughnuts we held the Nugs well below their season average.
*Brandon*: Just another quiet 19 and six from the Natural. I elbowed one of my buddies when B-Roy was on the stripe in the fourth quarter and told him with a grin, "Check out Brandon's line." He replied, "When the hell did THAT happen?" Performances like this show Brandon's All-Starred-Ness every bit as much as his 52-point explosion.
My one beef with Brandon is that he's hesitating too much right now (by which I mean the last two games since The Game). In my layman's opinion, it's a combination of two things: he doesn't want to alienate his teammates by being too trigger-happy, and he's getting a second defender shaded to him or an outright double-team *literally* the second he touches the ball. As soon as he receives, he's going to have to get used to dropping Meticulous Brandon and becoming Instant Attack Brandon. Twice he attacked immediately after receiving, and twice he was on the line shooting two.
*LMA*: straight beastin' tonight. 22 points, eight boards, a block, a steal -- and most importantly, 8-9 from the line. For the last half-dozen games, LaMarcus has been establishing himself in the post and THEN moving outside for the pick-and-pop. He's drawing more fouls because of it. Great outing.
*Greg*: Yeeeesh. My only comment shall be this: we have GOT to come over the top of the screen whenever Greg's man is the screener. Every time our perimeter man gets screened, Greg has to shuffle to try to contain the ball-handler driving to the hole, and he's picking up a TON of ticky-tack fouls. I'm sure the refs are watching him closely on plays like those, because he's getting zero leeway. We have to make some kind of adjustment there until he's as mobile as he's gonna be.
*Nic*: Get well soon, Marty.
*Blake*: Great (and timely!) three-point shooting. Every time the Nugs went on a run, it seemed like Blake was stepping up with a dagger...
that is, when he wasn't turning the ball over. He had a few egregious -- and I mean truly head-scratchingly bad, that-pass-wouldn't-work-in-my-pickup-games-bad -- turnovers. Uncharacteristically sloppy with the ball tonight. He'll bounce back.
*Sergio*: comes back from his worst game this year with one of his finest showings. 16 minutes, nine points, four dimes, played within complete control, and had credible defense against Billups. His decision-making off the bounce was excellent, and if Blake hadn't been so toasty from downtown, we would have seen more of him.
*Rudy*: he's KJ-lite -- just call him El Microondas. 12 points in 22 minutes off the bench, including one step-back three with the shot clock expiring that blew the roof off the Garden. Not as many scrappy plays as we're used to getting from our Spanish wonderboy, but a fine performance nevertheless.
*Trav*: man. I love Travis, except for when I hate him, and there's no in-between. His line was lousy tonight -- 24 minutes, 5 points, 2 boards, 2-8 FGA, and limited presence on the floor. He missed three wide-open threes (see my above comment about attacking the rim) that you could argue are either gonna drop most of the time or is the first indicator of regression to the mean for him. Kleiza was dropping him on the perimeter like third-period French before draining his threes. Another frustrating Travis performance.
*Joel*: give the game ball to the Thrilla. You just can't appreciate how much dirty work this guy does in the paint until you're sitting two rows back. Limited Nene's damage on the offensive glass, had K-Mart in his back pocket all game, and grabbed a ridiculous 19 rebounds in his 40 minutes. From the second it *looks* like a shot is going out, Joel is boxing out on every -- and I mean every -- possession. It's a genuine pleasure to watch him work the glass on both ends.
*Channing*: played himself back into the rotation tonight. Five points, two boards, and a steal in his 10 minutes, plus excellent defense on the Nene-Billups pick and roll while he was in the game.
As for the heckling...we were in their heads. I've never before experienced the giddy, lightheaded feeling of having an NBA player turn around and stare you down for four seconds during a timeout. The Birdman did NOT appreciate the hair, tat, and drug jokes with which he was being relentlessly bombarded. My little brother told 'Melo that he heard the refs were snitchin' and could he do something about that, provoking a staredown. Dahntae Jones gave us the look of death when, as he was edging onto the court in the fourth quarter from the bench, we informed him that he'd been so bad, edging on was the closest he was gonna get to playing for the rest of the night. We heckled J.R. Smith and 'Melo to sit down for about five minutes, causing literally the entire Nuggets bench to get to their feet in a collective "screw you" to the four of us. Finally, my favorite exchange of the night went a little something like this (and I'm sorry in advance for the disguised swearing, Dave, but it's just too sweet to leave out):
My little brother: Hey BALKMAN, you're not gonna play, so take a SEAT!
Balkman: ::turns and grabs his crotch at us::
Anonymous fan #1: Hey @******, why don't you take a seat?
Balkman: Hey *****, why don't you **** my ************* ****?
Fan #2: Hey BALKMAN, didn't HEAR you, what'd you say?
Balkman: I SAID, WHY DON'T YOU **** MY ************* ****?
At which point security intervened and everybody around us delivered congratulatory high-fives. For those of you who listened to 95.5's 5th quarter report and heard the fan call in, talking about how the Nuggets' team had no class and was swearing at kids down the stretch in the fourth quarter...we were those kids!!! Proudest moment of my life thus far.
Phew, long recap. Hell of a win, and hell of an experience sitting courtside. Go Blazers.