Steve from Seattle is our eyewitness correspondent from Key Arena tonight and he sends the following summary and pictures. He'll be a hard act to follow but we are also looking for someone to report from the Bay Area on Friday night. If that's you, let me know.
Sometimes, the box score doesn't reflect the actual tempo and character of the game. How can a team play opening night on the road, outscore the opposition in 3 of 4 quarters, win the stat battle in Field Goal percentage, Free Throws Attempted, Rebounding, and Blocks, and still be perceived as "stealing" the victory at the end of the game? Ask the Blazers - that's what they did on the road in their first of 82 games this season. They came out slow, and momentum seemed to favor the home team all night as the Sonics dunked, got lay-ups, and converted turnovers with ease much of the night - but in the game's final minutes, the Blazers, showing a lot of heart of determination, took this one and, to borrow a phrase from Seattle commentator Kevin Callabro, "painted it red and black."
And no one worked harder and earned this victory more than the team's shining new rookie, Brandon Roy, whose stat line (10 for 16 shooting with 3 boards and 2 assists) fails to convey the larger role he played running the offense towards the end, and the calm, veteran-like manner in which he did it. On a night in which he had everything and nothing to prove to an adoring home-town crowd in Seattle, Roy actually outscored his Seattle counterpart, All-Star Ray Allen, while holding him to 3-for-7 shooting in the first half of the game. The crowd cheered enthusiastically for Roy all night, and I saw some red-and-white Roy jerseys peppered throughout the green and white jerseys of the Sonics faithful.
Zach Randolph played a solid night, with 30 points, 14-15 from the FT line, and 10 rebounds. More impressively, he DOVE to the floor at one point to retrieve a loose ball, flipping it to his team-mate underneath the basket...very impressive leadership by the newly-elected captain.
Having said all that, other than the toughness, determination, and execution down the stretch, Portland had its problems. Their pre-season bugaboo, turnovers, improved in this game but came in infuriating spurts, totaling 16 leading to 23 Seattle points - many of them dunks or layups by Chris Wilcox, who seemed to inflict his will at ease against the undersized Portland team. Outside shooting, the team's nemesis the past few seasons, showed little improvement tonight, as they were 2-10 from behind the arc. More importantly, although they came back and really played with fire down the stretch, they came out flat to start with and seemed impassionate at times, settling for outside shots and jumpers and hanging their heads a few times after repetitive turnovers...
Shining surprises of the night:
- Ime Udoka - perhaps the key play of the night was his sneaking in for an offensive rebound off a missed Outlaw FT late in the game which lead to him going to the line, essentially sealing the win as he calmly hit both shots to put the Blazers up by 3. Great poise, shot selection, decision-making, and FT shooting all night...
- Juan Dixon - berated Jarrett Jack late in the game for some decision-making, and hit 8-10 from the field for a quiet though significant 18 points. Provided a huge amount of leadership through his play and his words with team-mates.
- Jamaal Magloire - played with poise and energy, hitting 3 of 4 for the night, getting a nice dunk in traffic, 5 boards, 3 blocks, and only 2 turnovers....much improved performance now that the season has started "for real." Perhaps the former All-Star has awakened?
- The coaching staff really believed that the team could win, and were gesturing wildly during the game's final minutes, holding impassioned huddles before free throw attempts, and truly doing all they could to fire the team up to hang on for the victory...it was inspirational to see former NBA greats on the sideline doing all they could to guide the young players on the floor to see through their experienced eyes...
I predict that the Blazers will win a nail-biting tight game tonight if they do the following things:
- Turn the ball over 10 times or less (They committed 16 turnovers)
- Exploit the Sonic defense, especially in the paint (They did, especially towards the end)
- Win the free-throw battle (i.e. attempt more free throws) and rebound battle (Blazers hit 28/35 FT - Sonics hit 18 of their 20; Blazers out-rebounded Sonics 40 to 34)
- Outscore the Sonics in the third quarter (Blazers won the third quarter by one point)
- Steve, Seattle Foreign Correspondent
Post-script: I would like to say that while I cheered for the Blazers tonight, I now live in Seattle and would be very sad to see the Sonics, now in their 40th season in Seattle , move to Oklahoma City . There could be a great injustice potentially taking place in Northwest basketball, and I encourage all NBA fans, regardless of which hometown you cheer for, to do what you can to support the Sonics to stay where they belong - in the Northwest. No one really wants to see the "Sooner-Sonics," do they? See www.saveoursonics.com for more info.