Let me tell you a little story.
I used to follow my dad around a lot back when I was in kindergarten. His job had him traveling a lot so when he got home I wanted to spend time with him. One day I was sitting out in the garage watching him work on his car when I saw him pump up one of the tires. I thought that was fascinating. Who knew there was air in there? And that little pump thing was so simple. Up and down, up and down...I didn't understand engines or carburetors but I sure got that! Dad even let me pump a couple times. It was cool.
So, down the street from our house lived a third-grader named Patty. Patty and I used to bum around a lot. A couple days after my lesson in the garage I pedaled my bike down to Patty's house. She came out and we started walking down the street. Flush with my new knowledge I could barely contain myself. "Patty, I know how to blow up a tire!" With the usual skepticism that third-grade girls display towards younger men she retorted with, "No you don't!" I insisted that I did. She wouldn't believe me. Of course this was an affront to my honor. There was nothing to do but prove it. "Watch my bike!" I said. "I'll be right back."
So I ran back to my house and grabbed the pump from where it leaned against the garage wall. I was on my way out the door when a realization struck me. You can't pump up an already-full tire. It would pop like a balloon! It has to be flat first. Fortunately I was a fairly quick problem-solver. I turned around, got a chair, climbed up onto the counter, reached up onto the wall, and got my dad's big shiny ol' hand saw. With pump in one hand and saw in the other I trooped determinedly back down the street and straight into the annals of tire-pumping-up history. Or so I hoped. I knowledgably explained to Patty why it was foolish to pump up an already-full tire, set the blade of the saw to the back wheel, and sawed away. Just about the time I was setting the pump up here comes my mom running down the street, perhaps alerted by one of my older sisters, who were quite the tattletales, especially where five-year-olds and sharp tools were involved.
As it turned out, mom took a rather dim view of my demonstration. She was fairly certain that dad would as well. I was confident that he would understand, though, having initiated me into the knowledge of tire pumping to begin with. I figured our first order of business when he got home would be to figure out what kind of tape we had to put around that tire to make it inflatable again. I wondered if he would let Patty watch while I pumped it up. Then we'd have a laugh and a big, manly hug together.
So here's the point of the story: Up until this very night that was the biggest spanking I'd ever seen in my life. I believe we now have a new one for the record books.
Oh, I know there have been bigger point differentials. We had a game against the L*kers a few weeks ago that made a most satisfying "THWAP!" But win or lose, that game didn't mean that much to L.A. Utah needed this game, not only for the standings but to prove something to themselves and us. Utah's also a good team. This was a playoff-type atmosphere. For all of that, Jerry Sloan's pre-game speech might as well have been, "Y'all go up to your room and wait until your father gets home!" The Blazers took them behind the woodshed, the belt came out, and there was wailing and gnashing of teeth for 48 minutes straight.
You knew the Jazz were going to have issues when Brandon Roy hit a couple of jumpers right off the bat. It wasn't like they let him free. Ronnie Brewer was doing everything he could. Roy just made some tough shots. As soon as they started shading over in concern for Brandon we just destroyed them with penetration. Cuts, passes, LaMarcus spin-dribbling out of the post to the bucket...the Jazz couldn't keep us away from the rim. Everybody who was single-covered in the paint scored. So they threw more people into the fray which then left the three-point shooters open.
That's when all hell broke loose.
The Blazers ended up hitting 4 of 5 threes in the first period. With the floor spread that far the Jazz couldn't do anything to stop them. As the first half wore on and the Blazers were still hitting above 60% you started to see Utah's resolve melt away. The Blazers kept the pressure on with quick-hitting offense, either fast-breaking or scoring off of the secondary break. With the exception of a brief lull when the second unit came in for the first time the barrage just never let up. And by "never" we mean "never, ever the whole game long".
The Blazers also helped each other out on defense from the first minute of the game. The Jazz shot well but seldom freely. Most importantly, any time a Utah player got into the lane he faced two defenders. Utah took a lot of shots over the top tonight and that's not their game.
Portland outrebounded the Jazz as well and forced as many turnovers as they committed.
The name of the game, though, was hustle and energy. The Blazers overwhelmed Utah and that's all there was to it.
The Blazers shot almost 62% from the field tonight, hit 10-18 three-pointers, and shot 21-25 from the free throw line. Portland out-assisted the best assist team in the league 32-20. The Blazers had 10 steals to Utah's 7 and 5 blocks compared to 1 for the Jazz.
--Brandon Roy set the tone tonight, and not just with his jumper. Roy was passing early. More importantly his defense was as active as I've seen it in months. He was one of the guys helping out his teammates when the Jazz penetrated. You don't always see fast feet from Brandon on that end of the court. Everybody caught the energy. Roy finished the game 10-14 with 25 points, 11 assists, 6 rebounds, 2 steals, and a block.
--After Brandon opened the door halfway, LaMarcus kicked it off of the hinges. He was running the court like a dime-stacked kid runs after the ice cream truck. He found himself some nice goodies at the end of those trips too. His constant forays to the rim left him 10-16, 6-6 from the foul line for a game high 26 points. He added 5 rebounds and 2 assists.
--Then, after Brandon stunned the Jazz with some pops to the head and LaMarcus landed some body blows, Nicolas Batum came in and kicked them straight in the crotch. The preoccupied defense left seams that he cut through, seemingly effortlessly. His dunks and layups doubled Utah over and they never recovered. He also did the usual pesky defense thing plus got his hands on some rebounds and tips. 7-10 shooting, 17 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, a steal, and a bunch of incredulously shaking heads in the Utah broadcast booth.
--Steve Blake only took 4 shots tonight but he made 3, including both of his three-point attempts. He Rudied them up with a three hit after a turnover that made Jerry Sloan call a fantastically angry timeout in the first quarter. More to the point, he had 9 assists including some great penetrating passes of the kind usually reserved for Sergio. 10 points total.
--Joel Przybilla had 9 rebounds, 2 steals, and a block in 25 minutes. He would have had more of everything but he had a little incident with Carlos Boozer in the third quarter. Boozer drove hard and Joel stepped in to take the charge, which he did successfully. Carlos dipped the shoulder and added a little mustard, which was the first spark for the fracas. But then after the charge was called Boozer dumped the ball off to his left in disgust, which happened to be just where Joel had landed. Watching the replay I don't think Boozer intentionally threw it at Joel. But that doesn't matter. Joel doesn't like getting the ball thrown at him. Joel doesn't go for this "dodge, duck, dip, dive, and dodge" crap. Joel just rearranges your face. So...the camera catches Joel getting up and following Boozer down the court yelling, "Throw that ball at me one more time...!!!" And yes, there are words edited out of that sentence. He repeated that phrase like it was a Chris Rock punch line, right up to the moment that he and Boozer went grill to grill. The refs and some point guards stepped in and both men got technicals. Evidently they didn't stop jawing (and evidently the words got more spicy) because they both got tossed before play had a chance to resume. And that was that. After years of getting sand kicked in our faces stuff like this is still pretty nice to see.
And just as the Dodgeball crew made it after the demise of Patches O'Houlihan so, too the Blazers prospered even in Joel's absence. This was largely due to the play of the bench.
--Greg Oden got 11 minutes tonight but he packed a lot into those 11 minutes. He had 4 offensive rebounds and 8 overall while throwing Jazz centers around like they were paper dolls. He attempted 6 shots and made 4, also going 4-5 from the line for 12 points total. He had 2 blocks including a halfway-down-the-court spike of a Deron Williams layup attempt that would have been a sweet fast-break starter had he kept it inbounds. He had 4 fouls, which helps explain the short minutes. But with this kind of production it's all good.
--Travis Outlaw shot 6-13 but in real time it looked like he couldn't miss. The Jazz just couldn't keep anyone in his face. An escape dribble and a leap and he was shooting free and relaxed. He added 4-4 free throw shooting for 17 points overall.
--Sergio Rodriguez hit a couple threes and made some nifty passes for 8 points, 4 assists, and 2 steals in 19 minutes.
--Channing Frye got 4 points and collected 4 fouls in 12 minutes.
--Bayless, Randolph, and Ruffin played 3 minutes apiece. Jerryd hit a layup plus the foul and a looping floater for 5 points in garbage time. Ruffin got a rebound.
This game provided a glimpse of what the Blazers are going to look like consistently 2-3 years down the road. It's going to be scary indeed.
If you're brave you can head over to SLCDunk and check out the fallout.