The fans came for Sean Marks, and they left disappointed. Only kidding. The Portland Trail Blazers ended a six-game losing streak by blitzing the Los Angeles Clippers out of the gate, and hanging on by a thread down the stretch for a wire-to-wire 100-91 victory on Sunday night, much to the Rose Garden crowd's Chalupa-loving delight.
This game will endure for its random acts of violence. First, and most memorably, Blazers center Joel Przybilla, who was greeted with a standing ovation upon his entry to the game, was flagrantly fouled by Brian Cook with 4 second remaining in the third quarter. The mid-air hit, which sent Przybilla flying to the ground, wound up earning Cook a Flagrant Foul 2 and an immediate ejection. It also set off a tussle under Portland's basket, with Clippers point guard Baron Davis getting into Blazers forward Nicolas Batum's chest, and Przybilla and Clippers big man Craig Smith apparently getting after it as well. All four were assessed technical fouls, and the sequence resulted with Przybilla splitting the free throws awarded him for Cook's flagrant foul, for his only point of the game.
"That will probably be the play of the year for me," Przybilla said in the locker room afterwards. "To have my teammates get my back. it means a lot. You see it a lot with teams when guys take hard falls, and teammates don't come to get their back. For guys to do that, for me it means a lot because it shows we all got each other's back in this locker room. We all want success for each other. We all want to win and we're all on the same page."
The foul caused an immediate arena-wide gasp given Przybilla's recent injury history, and it transformed into loud, loud, loud boos for Cook, who joins Trevor Ariza on the Rose Garden's Most Wanted list. The foul also led Blazers coach Nate McMillan to Usain Bolt from the sidelines into the fray, personally ensuring Przybilla's health and a general sense of law and order. Przybilla said the fall didn't concern him, because he's taken some big hits in practice. "I trust my knee, I know it's fine," he said matter-of-factly, and there is no reason to doubt him.
Matthews was the game's star, and his performance was reflected by a large media circle that engulfed his locker after the game, making for one of the few times Brandon Roy has dressed in peace over the last few seasons. The media eventually made their way to Roy, but the attention balance has leveled, if not actually shifted. Matthews delivered on the microphone when asked how big it was for the Blazers to break their losing skid. "Huge. There's not even a word for it... colossal? I don't know. It's big."
Big win, but it came with some worts. 15 turnovers, 43 free throws conceded and a terrible third quarter, which would have proven disastrous against a quality opponent. With Phoenix, Orlando, Phoenix and San Antonio on tap in the next seven days, there still remains plenty of cause for concern. But tonight was a brief breather from the descent into madness.
Random Game Notes
- I answered some questions for Timbo on Friday night, in case you're interested.
- Nate McMillan watch... Larry Miller has his back and Jason Quick reports three players do too. Here's my take on McMillan's future in Portland.
- Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin was fixing up his leg tights when I entered the Clippers locker room after the game. Griffin used a pair of scissors to cut off the end of some compression material that he slides over his calves and feet during team flights. Griffin told me that he feels wearing the compression tights after games helps him recover his bounce and keep his legs fresh, especially on the second half of back-to-backs. The Clippers host the Sacramento Kings in Los Angeles tomorrow night.
- The words "all star" were circling around Griffin before, during and after tonight's game. He went for 21 points, 15 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals. Also, about seven or eight feats of athleticism that no one else on the court could conceive of making. Just another day in his life.
- Blazers director of scouting Chad Buchanan made a rare appearance at the Rose Garden tonight, as he's been crisscrossing the country taking in tons of college games. Buchanan told me he's watched 23 games in the past eight days, a ridiculous games/day ratio made possible by tournaments in Hawaii and Las Vegas. Next stop: Europe, where he will check in on Victor Claver, Joel Freeland and Petteri Koponen, Portland's three overseas prospects.
- Joel Przybilla on the standing ovation, which included chants of his name started by, who else, section 314: "It was something special. It's been a long recovery for me and my family and we've been through a lot the past year. The support from this whole city, this organization, it means a lot."
- Przybilla struggled tonight: 1 point, 1 rebounds, 5 fouls in 9 minutes, and a number of offensive rebounds conceded to the Clippers. Of course, a gradual return is to be expected. I asked Przybilla for a progress report update, where he stands health, conditioning and basketball wise with two games under his belt. His answer: "I don't think I'm too far away conditioning-wise. I think it's just getting into that basketball form. You've been off it so much, away from basketball, it takes awhile to get that feel back. That confidence and comfort on the basketball court. Right now I feel good but I'm not where I want to be." How long will that "feel" take to come back? Przybilla: "I don't know. I've never had a serious injury like this. Talking to Jay, our trainer, there's not a lot of guys who have had this injury I've had. Especially twice. There's really no timetable. Everything is in unchartered territories. We're just taking it game-by-game, limit me to 12-15 minutes every game so far, so there's no pressure on me to play a lot of minutes."
- Blazers rookie Luke Babbitt was seen getting into a nice Audi sedan after the game. No truth to the rumor that the Audi logo was inspired by Babbitt's box score lines. 0 0 0 0.
- The Blazers nearly succeeded in perfectly executing a two-for-one to close the first half tonight. They took a timeout with roughly 40 seconds left on the clock to set up a quick Patty Mills corner three, which he made. They then got a stop on defense and put the ball in Roy's hands with the clock running down. He couldn't deliver, but the attention to detail made up for Friday night's first half disaster, which media observers were still chuckling about tonight.
- Some of these futile, errant Brandon Roy drives to the rim are turning into the basketball equivalent of a drunk dancing walrus scratching his nails on a chalkboard.
- Author Wayne Thompson signed copies of his BlazerMania book at the Oregon Historical Society today, and said he was pleased by the turnout. With three weeks until Christmas, it's time to take the plunge if you haven't already.
Nate McMillan's Post-Game Comments
Take it any way you can get it
You're going to have to. We will. At this point. It wasn't the prettiest third quarter. But the fourth quarter we made plays. We made things happen. What I said before the game, in a situation like this, you've got to make it happen. It's not going to just happen for you. I thought Dre came up with some big steals late in that game. We made some buckets when we needed to. And we made our free throws. It's still a game where we shoot 39% from the floor but was able to get it.
Here we go again feeling?
Well, you know, as I told the guys, I thought we started to turn the ball over and just needed to calm down. Slow down. We were getting good stuff when we were executing. Setting screens and using our screens. Moving the ball. We got our stops. Transition was really good in the first half, but again we go back into the second half and we start to walk the ball down the floor and play a possession game. We want to keep that tempo faster if we can.
Rebounding from Batum and Camby
I thought both guys were great tonight. I thought Camby just did a real nice job of defending, rebounding. Nic was on the boards, I think he had 11. A nice job of getting himself open and shooting the ball. I thought he passed up a shot or two, gave us a nice flow, gave us some scoring off of that bench. The main thing I thought, defensively, he played a key part.
Well, just with everything that's gone on in the last couple of weeks, having a lead. Basically, this game looked very similar to the other games, you just know you've got to win it, you've got to win one. You've got to play through it and work your way through it. I thought our guys tonight did that. We got stops, we made plays. Just putting teams away, sustaining what we start off doing. Of course, we have to do a better job.
Coaches kept players on bench during scrums
Yeah. They go to the video. Anybody who comes off that bench is suspended, fined. It's important that the assistants... that's the first line of defense on that. It happened a couple times. You keep the guys off the floor.
Relief in the locker room?
Winning helps. Again, it wasn't a pretty third quarter. The fourth quarter we kind of had to find our way, we had the lead, we had to keep it. They did that. It's something to build off of. Break this losing streak and now hopefully we can start a winning streak.
-- Ben Golliver | email@example.com | Twitter