Portland Trail Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge led the home team to a 164-157 victory over the away team in the Rip City Basketball Classic held at the Chiles Center at the University of Portland on Sunday night. It was awesome.
There were waltzing, life-sized Teletubbies in the stands, a Dougie-ing, Michael Jackson impersonating child for a halftime show, Blazers season ticket holders courtside, The Basketball Jones livening up the media scrums, 5,000 fans sitting right on top of the action, 17 of the most good-natured professional athletes you'll ever find in one place, and highlights galore. The only thing missing from this charity game was Brandon Roy, who was scheduled to play but didn't even make an appearance. That turned out only to be a hiccup rather than a mood-killer, as the long-anticipated, sold-out game otherwise went off without a hitch, the two teams combining to pour in 42 three-pointers and literally dozens of dunks.
This was not NBA basketball, but it was a damn fun replacement. Lots of lobs, not too much off-ball defense, lots of one-on-one dribbling displays, a nice dose of open court action and plenty of ill-advised passes and jumpers. The rosters were smartly set so that the storyline could be Oklahoma City Thunder stars Kevin Durant and James Harden versus the Blazers (plus honorary future Blazer Jamal Crawford). Durant, who never quite got into his can't-miss zone, did enough to turn the game into an exciting back-and-forth tussle, but the home team pulled away down the stretch thanks to a spectacular put-back dunk by Crawford in the game's closing minute and some timely stingy defense.
If you were looking to glean nuggets of potential NBA game-impacting play there weren't many. Raymond Felton and LaMarcus Aldridge were on the same team but ran most of their two-man game to get Aldridge open for pick-and-pops in the halfcourt and only really got to the lob action on uncontested fast breaks. Wesley Matthews continues to demonstrate the work he's put into his offensive arsenal, as he used crossovers and stepbacks to set up in-rhythm jumpers over the long-armed Durant, and also displayed a few nifty moves going to the basket that ended in below-the-rim finishes. Chris Johnson was incredibly active on both ends, as his boxscore (see below) indicates. He also had the defensive highlight of the night, reaching well above the rim to stone-cold reject an Aldridge dunk attempt. Former Blazers big man Jeff Pendergraph, now more than a year removed from tearing his ACL during the 2010 preseason, played without any knee sleeves or braces and put back a few dunks with authority. He even stepped out to hit a jumper, the likes of which Blazers coach Nate McMillan never would have allowed. Armon Johnson mostly provided precocious pep and enthusiasm.
But this was Aldridge's night and he provided a little bit of everything. He gave out giant checks to his charities during timeouts and halftime. He finished dunks of every variety with grace. He hit his patented mid-range jumpers and stepped out to drain college three-pointers. He cleaned the glass without much competition. He drew extended cheers every single time his name was announced.
Aldridge went home the hero, for his all-around play, his generous charity donations, his thoughtfulness in bringing a game to Portland and his follow-through to make the game a reality. There were misty eyes in the stands. There were hand-written signs expressing support to the players. More than anything, there were a lot of people -- on the court and in the bleachers -- who miss the NBA.
Aldridge's post-game message was simple -- "Thanks for your support and hopefully I'll be playing soon" -- and, given the circumstances, it was perfect.
Random Game Notes
- Here's a courtside view of what the crowd looked like.
- Pro-tip: If you want to photograph Raymond Felton you better set your camera to landscape mode.
- Needless to say, the genius plan of reverse jinxing Felton by mentioning cupcakes 402,342 times during the offseason in the hopes that he would turn up for his Portland debut in the best shape of his life did not work. Here's a blurry shot of Felton so you can be the judge. Here's a cleaner look from Brent Wojahn of The Oregonian.
- Some time in the last week or two, Wesley Matthews tweaked his ankle. Good news: He says it was not the ankle he spent all of last season hobbling on and the entire summer rehabbing, but the other one. He said he will be fine. (He always says that but he seemed serious.)
- Matthews played chest-to-chest defense against Durant multiple times and picked him on a late possession during an attempted cross over.
- Armon Johnson reminded me a bit of Dante Cunningham today, in that his personality totally blossomed at the start of his second season. He was literally bouncing around the court during pre-game, too excited to control himself.
- Jamal Crawford is one hell of a charity game player. He told me prior to the game he feels confident that he and Brandon Roy can play alongside each other in the same backcourt. He even said that he and Roy have had conversations about that subject. More on his thoughts about Portland as a free agency destination as soon as I have time to crunch the audio.
- Everyone tried to be a little coy about where Roy was and why he didn't show up. Aldridge said Roy had a family engagement and some of the Seattle players said Roy remained in Seattle. Roy did not play in this summer's H206 charity game, although he did attend it, but he said after that game that his doctor wouldn't clear him to play.
- I wouldn't bet against the Thunder making the next Western Conference Finals whenever there is another Western Conference Finals. Some developed telepathy between Durant and Harden, who have both been charity game warriors during the lockout.
- Most of the guys didn't want to talk about the lockout and those who did, even the minimum salary guys and free agents, mostly stood behind NBPA president Derek Fisher while expressing a desire to play ASAP. Matthews sincerely apologized to fans for the labor impasse. More quotes tomorrow.
- Durant wore this Nerf-inspired version of his latest signature Nike sneaker. Too sick. He was the first player out on the court to warm up. I heard a great story tonight about him showing up for a shoe commercial three hours prior to call time to get a full workout in, rendering the camera crew speechless.
- Durant, Matthews and others gave their jerseys away to fans and Durant signed autographs before and after the game. Here's a look at KD's post-game scene.
- Aldridge said after the game that he did not currently have any other group workouts with his fellow Blazers scheduled.
- Nike provided the jerseys and shorts for the game, which bore the letters "BBNS" -- a call to the sneaker company's lockout-inspired "Basketball Never Stops" ad campaign.
- More game coverage: Mike Tokito of The Oregonian (here); John Canzano of The Oregonian (here); Matt Calkins of The Columbian (here); Anne Peterson of the Associated Press (here). Huge media contingent at this game, similar to what would show up for an NBA playoff game (at least on the Portland side). Felt a little bit like the first day of school. Been almost six months since we'd been in the same place for hoops!
- The Basketball Jones pre-game show drew more than 100 people and exceeded my insanely high expectations. Photos and the audio podcast should be up on Monday. As I've written many times, watching, listening and reading as those guys have grinded for years to make their dreams come true has been a daily inspiration and it was great to see them get so much love in Portland. It was also great to see that they loved the city of Portland! Thank you for attending if you made it out there. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.
- Here's what Kevin Pelton wore to TBJ Portland. Yes, it's autographed. Thank you for asking. Oh, you didn't ask. He'll be glad to tell you anyway.
Box Score Stats
- TJ Ford -- 8 points, 3 assists, 2 rebounds, 2 steals, 3 turnovers, 4-6 shooting
- James Harden -- 28 points, 8 assists, 2 rebounds, 3 steals, 1 block, 10-21 shooting
- Steve Blake -- 19 points, 11 assists, 3 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 turnover, 7-11 shooting
- Kevin Durant -- 47 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal, 5 turnovers, 19-35 shooting
- Nate Robinson -- 9 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 3 turnovers, 4-9 shooting
- Chris Johnson -- 8 points, 16 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 4 turnovers, 4-6 shooting
- Josh Howard -- 9 points, 5 rebounds, 1 turnover, 4-12 shooting
- Jeff Pendergraph -- 12 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 turnovers, 6-7 shooting
- Terrence Williams -- 17 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 2 turnovers, 8-11 shooting
- LaMarcus Aldridge -- 42 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 block, 1 steal, 2 turnovers, 19-36 shooting
- Wesley Matthews -- 30 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 5 steals, 3 turnovers, 12-20 shooting
- Craig Winder -- 14 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 steals, 6-15 shooting
- Isaiah Thomas -- 15 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, 2 turnovers, 6-11 shooting
- Raymond Felton -- 19 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals, 1 turnover, 8-14 shooting
- Jamal Crawford -- 18 points, 8 rebounds, 10 assists, 1 steal, 1 block, 4 turnovers, 5-14 shooting
- Spencer Hawes -- 16 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 1 turnover, 7-12 shooting
- Armon Johnson -- 10 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 turnovers, 5-10 shooting
Nate McMillan's Post-Game Comments
Did you scrap?
Do you need to cut down on turnovers?
Did you see the defensive effort that you needed to?
Doesn't this lockout suck?
Is it fair to blame NBA commissioner David Stern for these empty gray boxes?
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter