Media Row Report: Blazers 103, Thunder 95

On Friday night, I wrote about how quickly and thoroughly the Rose Garden went from insanely loud to deathly quiet in the locker room.  Tonight, that was not the case.  After the Portland Trail Blazers put away the Oklahoma City Thunder 103-95, the same deafening chorus of cheers that spread through the entire Rose Garden crowd -- "Mar-cus Camby! Mar-cus Camby!" -- found its way to the locker room too.  

The voice?  LaMarcus Aldridge, who from a few locker stalls down sing-song shouted his appreciation to his new center, before offering his services as a bodyguard to protect Camby from the media swarming around him.  Camby, the prototypical "seen it all, done it all" NBA vet, looked almost bashful as he tried to play off of Aldridge's teasing and then he took an extra minute to fix his tie and sweater in the mirror before taking questions.     

"I haven't heard anything like that [chant] since I was in the [Madison Square] Garden," Camby finally said. "It felt real good, it felt good to be appreciated. They should have been chanting our whole team's name."  At times, especially during the second half, it felt like Camby was the whole team: In 36 minutes, he torched the Thunder for 30 points, 13 rebounds, 3 assists, a steal and a block and he hit the deck numerous times on defense scrambling for loose balls.  By comparison, Oklahoma City's bigs, Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka, combined for 14 points, 6 rebounds, 0 assists, 1 steal and 2 blocks  in 47 minutes.  Total domination.

The Blazers needed every last point, rebound and defensive stop from Camby, as they learned less than an hour before the game that Brandon Roy suffered a torn meniscus in his right knee, leaving his status uncertain for the playoffs. "Just terrible," Nate McMillan called the news after the game. "It's been a bad year as far as injuries with our group and it's just something we've had to deal with all year long. It seemed like every few hours it got worse. We know what the situation is, we'll rest him this week and see if he can go."

Roy's absence was glaring because it left the Blazers without their go-to scoring counter for Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant, who lit the Blazers up for 21 points at the half before finishing with 30 on the night.  But Roy's role was filled admirably by committee: Rudy Fernandez and Martell Webster combined for 18 points on 12 shots and Andre Miller dominated Oklahoma City's young point Russell Westbrook on both ends, finishing with 22 points, 7 assists and 4 steals. "It was a good team effort by everybody," Miller said afterwards, "the offensive rebounding kind of kept us on a rhythm."  Camby, of course, led the way with 5 offensive boards.

The team effort was as mental as it was physical, as the Blazers once again faced a super-charged Rose Garden atmosphere.  Whereas Friday night saw both team and coach crack under the pressure, tonight the players whined less and locked down on defense more.  The most explosive sequence took place with less than three minutes to go in the game, as LaMarcus Aldridge looked to finish a fast break dunk but was tackled from behind by Nick Collison.  "I didn't see nothing," Aldridge told me after the game. "Usually I look back [in that situation] but I figured we were up 6 or 7 so they were going to just let me get it. I was going up to finish it and he just came out of nowhere and tackled me." Shrugging his shoulders, Aldridge concluded, "It was a flagrant foul. No harm done."  

After Aldridge sank one of the flagrant foul free throws and Camby scored on a momentum-changing tip-in on the ensuing possession, the Blazers enjoyed a 12 point lead, which would prove to be insurmountable. Aldridge's calm after such a violent, ugly play -- both during the game and during his postgame comments -- was impressive.  The team's poise in battling back from a double-digit deficit, keeping its collective head at the critical moment, made the difference.  

And that bring us back to Camby, who is pushing the guy from the Dos Equis commercial hard for the title "Most Interesting Man in the World."  With decade-old Chinese tattoos, a diamond pinky ring and every trick of the basketball trade at his disposal, there is no Blazer from recent memory with whom to compare him.  Everything -- tip outs, defensive assignments -- is thought out in advance.  Even, it turns out, his unique habit of high fiving teammates using the back of his hands instead of the palms.  "Been doing that since Denver," Camby told me as he headed out of the arena after a night that saw him score more points than he has put up since December 2005.

"But why?," I asked.  

"Not everybody washes their hands, let's put it like that,"  he replied, cracking a huge smile.

Marcus Camby is not Brandon Roy, nobody is.  But he led his Blazers team to their 50th win of the season.  He did it in style.  And he did it sanitarily.

Random Game Notes

  • The backlash against traditional stats seems to increase by the month now that more and more fans are settling in to the new world order of pace-adjusted stats.  So I got a chuckle when I noticed that a "Nate McMillan for Coach of the Year" flier put out by the team included the following bullet points near the bottom of its convincing case: "Leads the Western Conference in fewest points allowed per game" and "Leads the Western Conference in fewest rebounds allowed per game" and "Ranks second in the Western Conference in fewest turnovers per game."  I can almost hear certain segments of the internet yelling in response, "But what are their per-possession rankings?!?!?" 
  • Courtside seats watch: Paul Allen attended the game with Larry Miller and Vulcan Flunky #1A Bert Kolde.  KP was not seated with the group again.
  • While preparing to answer questions after the game, LaMarcus Aldridge asked that no television cameras film him until he put his shirt on because he didn't want any kids to get tattoos after seeing his. 
  • Did you see Brandon Roy exhorting Nicolas Batum during the first half?  I think the television broadcast caught it.  Pretty awesome. Batum finished with 12 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists and then had to wade through the media crowd that surrounded Camby to retrieve an iPod he forgot in his locker.
  • James Harden on Martell Webster.  When a bearded man dunks in your face does it leave a rug burn?
  • File this under the "No One Cares" department but I had an ACL reconstruction that, after I tweaked my knee again playing hoops, needed to be scoped to remove torn meniscus.  So, B. Roy: I feel your pain.  The amazing thing to me about that process was how soon I felt 100% after the meniscus removal surgery.  It couldn't have been longer than 2-3 weeks. Obviously there was a strength building aspect to the recovery and, equally obviously, there really is no comparison when you're talking about a professional athlete. But still.  Despite the impending surgery, Roy should be able to make nearly full use of his offseason.  So that's a bright side.

Nate McMillan's Post Game Comments

Marcus's Performance

Great. He's been great since he's joined the team. Last night he had a big tip in to be a deciding factor in that game. Tonight, just a great job of controlling the paint on both sides of the court, rebounding the ball, defending the basket, communicating, doing everything you would want a veteran to do. Both he and Howard since joining this club is bringing what we need at this time. Those guys to understand the moment. They know how to play in the moment and tonight he knew it was a big game and he stepped up to the plate. Shooting the ball, knocking down his free throws, defending the basket, great job.

Is 50 wins special?

50 is. That's a benchmark in this league for teams having a good year. When you're able to win 50 games in this league, it's tough. Everything these guys have gone through this year, they haven't made excuses, they just continue to go out and play. Today, we got the news about Brandon and Rudy had to step in, Martell, our bench we needed those guys. They just continue to play. They don't make excuses, they continue to work, they get tighter, they find ways to win games.

 Special win because of playoff implications and beating Oklahoma City?

Yeah, it was special in the sense that we knew that it was an important game. We get the tiebreaker. It's 50 wins for us. We can't drop to 8th spot. So a lot was riding on this game. The fact that we had just beaten the Lakers and Brandon is out, we needed guys to step up and they did. So, yes, it was a special game. I thought the second half we started to play our game, the defense tightened up. Offensively we scored 60 points. We get 60 in the paint. We were aggressive throughout this game.

Adjustment on Durant in second half?

I thought we did a good job. Sometimes our guys get caught up in 'it's me against you.' And it's not. We weren't playing our rules on the defensive end of the floor. We started to play our rules, if there was an opportunity to switch out, switch out and deny. We don't mind LaMarcus being on Durant. Nic got in foul trouble, Martell did a nice job. We kept him off the free throw line, he had 9 free throws in that first half. Only one in that second half and that was a big key. We wanted to just body him, wear him down and I thought our guys did that.

But you double teamed him too?

We started late. We wanted to get a double team on him. We were still switching with our 4 man but any time Camby or the 5 man was close we wanted to double team him if he got into an isolation on certain parts of the floor we wanted to double team him.

Brandon's situation

Just terrible. It's been a bad year as far as injuries with our group and it's just something we've had to deal with all year long. It seemed like every few hours it got worse. We know what the situation is, we'll rest him this week and see if he can go. See if he can do something. That will be dependent on how Brandon feels.

Will you weigh how well you play without Brandon into the decision of whether to play Brandon in the playofffs?

Well we will see when that time comes. If he can go, if not make those adjustments. We've had to do it all year long. Guys have stepped up. Andre Miller, we haven't said anything about him, he was unbelievable again tonight. LaMarcus is really stepping up and showing a leadership role. So this group is really tightened up as far as being together during adversity that they've faced all season long.

Avoiding Los Angeles

Those are the defending champions. Whoever we face, whether it's Dallas, Utah or whoever is at that 2nd or 3rd spot, it's going to be a tough one, a tough match-up. The defending champions, you don't really want to face those guys in the first round because they're the defending champions. Even though they've lost some games, you know that they're going to get their stuff together, you expect them to. They probably will be healthy going into that first round. So you try and take your chances somewhere else.

Heard a chant of a player's name as loud as that?

Our fans are great. They understand and they know good basketball. And Camby has been playing good basketball. And they rewarded him with their appreciation tonight by starting that, I think that's great. I thought it was appropriate, what he has done and just the last two games he had a big tip in last night. That was a deciding factor in that game and then tonight the plays that he made.

Did you handle the calls better tonight than previously?

Well, something we're working on. We've talked about that. It's going to be that type of atmosphere. Calls are not going to go your way. You've got to be able to calm yourself down and get to the next play. I thought we did a better job, I thought we started to get caught up in the officiating a little bit tonight. We tried to gather them back and calm them down and get the focus back on what they needed to do. But yeah, a better job than the Dallas game.

Offense has changed late in games

Well, we're going through LaMarcus. We're playing through LaMarcus and trying to post him up. I thought tonight they executed C4 is what we call it that play, we got a lot out of that play in the last minute or two. Andre did a good job of executing, got Nic one time, LaMarcus got single coverage, took his time, scored I think twice off of that. Normally it is Brandon but the pick and roll with LaMarcus playing the two man game.  With Brandon being out we normally try to play through LaMarcus or Miller. 

Winning when guys go down?

It's the players. They are getting opportunities and they are taking advantage of it. Then we have the rest of our guys like Camby and Miller and LaMarcus and they are raising their level of play. Martell, Bayless, Rudy, they are taking adfvantage of the opportunity to play and it's been a total team effort.

-- Ben Golliver | benjamin.golliver@gmail.com | Twitter

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