Another man with principle: Blazer Wookiee
The New York Knicks are garbage. The Portland Trail Blazers took out the trash with a 118-90 dumptrucking Wednesday night, leading wire to wire and never letting up.
New York's complete lack of focus, defense and heart turned this game into an endless cycle of highlights that kept the Rose Garden crowd engaged for much longer than you might expect in a 30 point blowout. The Blazers tallied 7 dunks -- including a ridiculous 5 alley oops -- on their way to 46 points in the paint (23 of 36 shooting... give me a break). None was better than Brandon Roy's third quarter slam -- call it the Neck Chop Head Bop -- which immediately takes its place near the top of the list of his best dunks as a professional.
The dunk served as the perfect symbol of tonight's mismatch: brutal, demoralizing and the product of poor Knicks execution. After Juwan Howard missed a short reverse layup, New York failed to secure the defensive rebound, allowing the ball to bounce untouched in the paint, a cardinal sin. They also failed to put a body on Roy, who slipped in from the wing nonchalantly, gathering the ball with his right hand while preparing for instant lift off. "It was a loose ball," Roy told me after the game. "I was like, 'I think I can get the rebound.' So I just kind of ran in there and got it." Knicks center David Lee finally realized what was happening and tried to come from the weakside to contest the shot, but an elbow to the neck from Roy left him flailing in vain. "You know, the Knicks don't really got no shotblockers so I just went up, kind of caught him with my elbow a little bit," Roy smiled.
With Lee disposed, all that was left was an authoritative, unmolosted, above-the-rim finish. "After two days off," Roy cracked with a wide smile," I can jump a little bit. I had some legs tonight."
Aside from Roy's jokes there wasn't much fanfare in the locker room afterwards. The Blazers, especially the vets, tried to project a business-as-usual take after their win -- along with losses by the Memphis Grizzlies and the Houston Rockets -- officially clinched a playoff spot. Coach Nate McMillan was reflective, almost placid after the win. "We knew that it was going to be tough and it was going to be a challenge but it remained our goal to get [to the playoffs]," McMillan said with a blank expression. "And now we get that opportunity again and this is what it's all about. This is what we play for."
No opponents stand between the Blazers and the postseason. Just 7 games in 14 days: a formality of time. On December 5th at roughly 8:30 PM, I muttered aloud, frustrated, that I was now following a lottery team. I usually can't stand to be reminded when I'm wrong.
This time? It's all good.
Random Game Notes
- Paul Allen's Courtside Seats tonight: Larry Miller, Vulcan Flunky Bert Kolde and Kevin Pritchard. No Paul Allen. KP was back in the public eye for the first time since his press conference early last week. Wearing his signature pink tie, KP mingled with team staffers before the game and doled out backslaps and handshakes to fans just like the good old days.
- According to a team release, this year marks the team's 28th playoff appearance in 40 seasons. It also marks the 17th playoff appearance in 22 years of Paul Allen's ownership. Impressive ratio.
- Playoff single game ticket information from the team...
Available tickets for the Blazers' first two home playoff games will go on sale on Thursday, April 15th and 2PM. First round opponent, game dates and times will be determined no later than April 14, after the conclusion of the NBA's regular season. Tickets will be sold via trailblazers.com or by calling 1-888-716-5510. A maximum of 4 tickets for each game are available to each customer, subject to availability. Fans who have not previously ordered online are encouraged to set up an account in advance of the on-sale time to expedite the ordering process. Tickets will not be available at the Rose Garden box office. The 2009 NBA playoffs begin on April 17.
- By making both of his trampoline dunk attempts during the intermission between the third and fourth quarters, Blaze the Trail Cat managed to outscore Tracy McGrady 4 points to 2. McGrady played 20 minutes and finished with 2 points, 0 rebounds, 1 assist and 2 turnovers. He is one of 5 9 Knicks that played tonight (out of 9 total) who probably shouldn't be in the NBA next season.
- Eddie House? More like Eddie Duplex. Combine the body fat percentages of Eddie and Eddy and it would be a higher number than the body fat percentages of the top 8 Blazers added together.
- I think Sergio Rodriguez took more shots during pregame warmups tonight than he put up in every pregame warmup combined during his last two years as a Blazer. Despite the fact that half of his three point warmup attempts came with his foot on the line, his stroke is finally coming around, especially from a confidence perspective. Cleaner, more consistent. His routine was varied and fast-paced filled with the types of shots he might take and make in a game, which is more than you can say for his buddy Rudy Fernandez. Once the game started, Jerryd Bayless often looked lost trying to guard Sergio, especially during the first quarter, but his weakside help defense was doing him no favors. Given Sergio's continued struggles this year I'm not sure why the Knicks would talk themselves into bringing him back next season and I'm not sure why he would talk himself into wanting to stay with them. Just ride the golden parachute to Spain.
- During and after tonight's game, multiple fans seated in different sections reported on twitter that Rose Garden ushers had told them that they had been instructed to remove any Pro-Kevin Pritchard signs and t-shirts. A courtside usher told me after the game that he had not received that edict and noted that his pregame instructions included no mention of a change to their signage policy, which limits the size and shape of signs to prevent obstructed views. After Nate McMillan's press availability, a team official stated emphatically that they had not and would not implement such a policy.
Nate McMillan's Post Game Comments
Reflect on making the playoffs?
I think it's a great accomplishment to have that opportunity to play postseason basketball. That's what it's all about. At the beginning of the year, losing so many guys, we knew that it was going to be tough and it was going to be a challenge but it remained our goal to get here. And now we get that opportunity again and this is what it's all about. This is what we play for. We still have games remaining that we are going to focus on. Tomorrow as far as we're concerned it's still an important game against Denver and we want to continue to work to win games and see if we can move up. We've been able to clinch and now let's see if we can move up and continue playing good basketball.
Any celebration with the staff or team tonight?
Not really because we ... this is just the first step. And the goals we set at the beginning of the season, things were looking a little shaky early because of so many injuries but I really believe if you play this game the right way, which these guys have done, you stick together, which they've done, you're going to give yourself a chance to win games. And they did. We had to have guys step up and raise their level of play at different times. From Andre to Brandon to LaMarcus, these guys who were in our normal rotation, and then our young guys, Bayless and Nicolas and Dante and Jeff all had to step in and be productive, and they were. And gave ourselves a chance to be in this position.
As easy as you're going to get tonight?
Tonight's game was a mental game, a mental challenge in the sense that New York, record wise, they hadn't been winning games and they lost a number of games. For us mentally we need to come out and be about business. I thought the guys took that approach, they came out right from the start, that first unit jumped right on them, executed both ends of the floor. I told our guys you should play three quarters tonight and that was pretty much the game plan. Get 3 quarters in and let's get some rest and get out of here and get to Denver. They were able to do that. I thought the fourth quarter, which normally at times when you have a lead like that, the game can get sloppy, I thought our guys stayed sharp and worked on execution. So business approach tonight.
Camby changes the team?
Well we have that big guy back there who is doing the things we've been trying to get. Joel did a great job last year. Greg and Joel were starting to give that this year and then we lost our bigs. Now we're able to make a move to get a big because we knew we needed a guy like this to give ourselves a chance. Camby's been everything we've needed. Blocking shots, defending the basket, rebounding the ball, he's knocking down the shots. I think he basically our guys are getting excited on the defensive end of the floor. When you have Nicolas and Camby out on the floor it's a lot of length out on the floor. Nicolas, Camby, LaMarcus, Brandon, that's a lot of length out there. They're starting to get a feel for each other.
Playoff ready? Battle tested?
Well we've got a few games remaining until we get there. We just want to continue to play well, continue to try and win games. We can try to talk about moving up in the standings, win ballgames. I think they're in a good rhythm right now. We can get better, we're going to need to get better. So that's the focus. Tomorrow night, going to play Denver and seeing if we can get that game against Denver on the road. They've dropped a number of games so they're going to be ready to go.
Does it feel longer than 3 or 4 months since Oden and Przybilla went down?
It does seem longer. I thought about that with my leg, my injury. I'm back walking and feeling good but it seems so long ago when all of that happened. And it was. These guys have been able to just stick together and believe and not feel sorry for themselves. They've continued to work and continued to rally together and they've put themselves in a good position.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter