In a Nutshell
The Blazers recover from a horrid first half in which they make the Thunder look like God's answer to basketball, getting down with gritty defense and decent rebounding in the third period and cruising home in the fourth. Sparkling performances from Rudy Fernandez, Nicolas Batum, and LaMarcus Aldridge plus the usual contributions from Gerald Wallace and Andre Miller save the ship from sinking,
Without the aid of notes, which I didn't want to take in-arena, I can't do the usual thorough recap. Bear with me.
The first period started as all first periods of Portland-OKC matchups do: with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook looking like they'd never miss a shot. Seriously, it's like the Thunder come out looking to prove something and then after 12 minutes say, "Point delivered. We're done." Normally Portland can ride that wave to the shore and then start fighting back but in this case the tide swamped them. The main culprit was rebounding. Anything the Thunder missed, they rebounded. Anything the Blazers missed the Thunder also rebounded. It seemed as if there was a gravity well in the key that affected only Portland's sneakers. Nobody got more than half an inch off the ground for a rebound. The Thunder would send two players for every one Blazer around the ball and just snatch it away. Well, except on those rare occasions when Portland already had three guys near the ball to only one in blue. In those cases they dispensed with sending extra men and just let the one guy in the middle of all the Portland uniforms snatch the ball away all by himself. How ugly was it? End of first period: OKC 12 rebounds, Portland 2. Yah. Wait, there's more. Halftime stat: OKC 9 offensive rebounds, Portland 5 defensive rebounds. When the other team's O-rebs double your D-rebs you are in TROUBLE. That there is some rebounding dominance. And you know what happens to the Blazers when they don't rebound, right? That's right. Losing. The irony of all of this was that Coach McMillan started Wallace and Marcus Camby, presumably to address this issue. Bzzzt. Didn't work.
Fortunately the Blazers regrouped in the third period. Wallace, Fernandez, Miller, and Batum started playing tenacious defense while Camby, Wallace, and occasionally Aldridge swept the boards. To this point the Thunder had feasted on Westbrook drives, Durant jumpers, and the ever-present Ibaka Specials, hereby defined as the wide-open shots you get because the defense is paying so much attention to your teammates, making you look and feel like a superstar. (Plus, of course, they had those offensive rebounds to fall back on.) Keeping Westbrook out of the lane solved most of those problems. Without the need to suck multiple people inside to watch and/or foul Russell the Blazers could get a hand in Durant's face and prevent Ibaka Specials altogether. When the Thunder had to manufacture their offense they started missing. With Portland now grabbing rebounds that led to faster, more fluid offense. Kendrick Perkins getting into foul trouble helped immensely...one of the turning points of the game. Another was a technical foul taken by Nate, after which the officials seemed inclined to see things Portland's (and especially Rudy Fernandez's) way. All of a sudden the Blazers were the passing, cutting, three-hitting, put-back stuffing, high-energy team we've come to love. OKC scored 11 in the third period and despite some rather predictable offense in the fourth, Portland surged ahead and never let them back in it. 98-91 was your final.
I don't know what caused the agony in the first half but it's good that Portland corrected or this would have been a blowout. Energy and effort are so important to this team. Getting to play against Nick Collison doesn't hurt either.
Just random impressions for the live viewing here:
LaMarcus Aldridge is money on that pick and pop. He also did a pretty good job of recognizing smaller or slower players on him and backing them into the lane and executing a move. He's definitely the force behind this team's offense now. Remove him and the Blazers become an easy cover.
Rudy Fernandez had a spirited game, not only hitting shots but actually being pesky on the defensive end. He was left in the game through its critical moments, a sure sign that he's on target, He drew a bunch of fouls on OKC in that second half too.
Nicolas Batum is either into or out of a game. In the first half he looked out of it but he and Fernandez were among the key saviors in the second half. His drives are a wonder to behold and when his three is stroking he looks SCARY.
Gerald Wallace is everything advertised and more. This wasn't really a Wallace-centric game yet he still went as hard as he always does. That's a fantastic quality.
Marcus Camby can rebound and pass but he's not having the same impact he did earlier in the year.
Wet Willies, Nipple Twisters, Wesley Matthews Driving: Name three things that are seldom fun to experience.
Andre Miller's sense of timing is impeccable. When the Blazers looked a little shaky offensively down the stretch he just took over for a couple plays, calmed them by scoring points and spreading the lead back out, and then returned them to their normal programming.
Brandon Roy looks decent as long as he's handling and distributing the ball. Otherwise he just looks lost.
Stats of the Night
- Blazers give up 17 offensive rebounds
- Blazers only commit 4 turnovers though
- Portland 25-27 from the foul line
- By the way, did we mention that 500 KIDS went to tonight's game because of you guys?
Odd Notes and Links
Welcome to Loud City will not be quite so loud tonight.
I just remembered that I don't have access to the Jersey Contest admin pages from non-home computers, which means you'll have to wait until Monday for the next form and for JC scores for tonight's game.
Oh, and in case you're wondering, yes...it was AWESOME! A few new things happened for Blazersedge Night this year. First, since there were so many kids they couldn't all sit in one section, Instead they were spread around most of the upper deck of the arena. That means you had rocking and rolling going on EVERYWHERE! Look for 3 adults among 20 kids all doing some kind of dance and you just spotted a Blazersedge group. Second, maybe it was coincidence, but the giveaways and contests were more 300-level oriented tonight than I've ever seen them. Pizzas, t-shirts...I suspect some kids walked away with extras from the game usually lavished on the 100 and 200 levels. Even if it was coincidence it was a nice one. Third, these kids were all about the SIGNS! Signs here, signs there, signs everywhere! And for all of them (and there were plenty shown on the arena display) that said "Thank You Blazersedge"...thank YOU guys for making the experience so wonderful! It was an honor to have you at the game! I think your cheering made the difference. A special shout-out to the folks with the row-length sign that said, "Thank You Blazersedge.com, Dave You Rock!" I saw you up there! And finally we got a flood of thank you cards this year. I almost teared up on the MAX ride home reading card after card from big brothers and sisters, from families, from classrooms, from everybody. We got big, poster-sized thank you's and special little notes. We got singing cards and holographic cards and even a card from one person who couldn't go tonight but who said even being offered the chance made a difference. People were stopping and high-fiving me while waiting for the train home and my MAX car drove off with me looking out the window at a guy holding up his arm-span-length sign saying thanks.
We'll share more stories as they come in, but gosh folks...we did a good thing. I'm so happy that everyone could come and I'm so happy that the Blazers won for all of us! Will anybody every forget those Rudy Fernandez and Nicolas Batum rebound SLAMS? The whole arena came out of their seats! And the dancing and the scoreboard signs and the everything was all great.
Special thanks to Dan Son who coordinated our tickets and to Lisa Swan, our Blazers ticket representative. Seriously, if you ever need to do ticket business with the Blazers ask for her by name because there is nobody better. Thanks to Shanna and her husband for probably winning this game for us, to Leo for being a great next-door neighbor, and to everybody who made this day special.
Blazers win! All is right with the world.
P.S. Lots of people in Sonics gear tonight. They have not forgotten...