Ben checks in with his report from press row:
This team won't let you get cynical. Even when we start the game in a stupor, miss our first eleven shots, and give up easy buckets and lane penetration on defense. Even when we dig ourselves impossible early-game holes, force our coach to scour the bench for someone who can hit a shot, and go the entire first quarter without a point in the paint.
Because just at the tipping point--the point where we are down 37-20 and 19,000 people are seriously considering ramping up their alcohol consumption, and fast-- something clicks, and Jarrett Jack hits a shot, and then Travis hits a shot, and then Brandon yo-yos K-Mart, and then he steals a pass and hits Blake for an open 3. Then the Nuggets blink and call timeout. What just happened?
Aside from the first quarter, tonight felt the most like the streak since the streak. Big contributions all around. Even LaMarcus, who had a tough time offensively, chipped in with 12 big boards. There were tons of extra passes, a scorching run from Martell, some quick hands on defense, loose balls bouncing our way and some late-game blood-pressure-building excitement. Just like the streak.
Alas, it was not to be. For the second time in a week, the Blazers went down at the hands of one of the best players in the league; this time the purveyor of bad news was Allen Iverson, who swished a jumper in the last second of overtime. Despite Jarrett's late-game stumble and Travis's missed free throw, it's impossible to be down about the team's effort tonight. For 3 quarters, we recaptured that December magic; hopefully we'll be treated to a full 4 quarters worth Wednesday night.
Nate on the team's execution: "Our execution wasn't good. Offensively nor defensively. Two things we thought we needed to do: take care of the ball--[we had] 18 turnovers-- and rebound the ball [we gave up] 21 offensive boards. They just totally dominated the paint--60 points in the paint. That was the difference in the game.
Nate on crunch-time decision making: "The level of intensity is going to go up. We gotta execute down the stretch. We gotta set our screens. We gotta use our screens. We've got to attack and move the ball."
Nate on Jarrett's ill-fated drive: "That's just a read, that's a situation where he had a break on Iverson, it looked like he was back, but everyone caught up to him. You don't want to turn the ball over, that's one thing you don't want to do."
Nate on Joel's playing time: "We need rebounding regardless of who is out there. We need scoring also. That lineup was working for us--LaMarcus, Frye."
Channing Frye on the competition: "The level of competition is really just stepping up. It's a new situation for everybody, and we are adapting and adjusting. We need to start off the game with a good start and set the tone.... We just need to set the tone from jumpstreet."
Brandon Roy on the Nuggets: "When we played them the first time, they kind of took us as a joke and [tonight] they came with in their best effort. We played well, we just didn't come up with the win. Allen Iverson made a big shot."
Random Game Notes:
-- The pregame music tonight was James Jones's selection: the Ballin' song by Jim Jones. This rather quickly became an ironic choice as James was not, in fact, balling tonight.
-- Despite having one of the best coaches in the league, the Nuggets run a ragged pregame warm up routine. Practice alley-oops, over the shoulder shots, you name it.
-- A Super Bowl hangover was in full effect: more empty seats tonight than I can remember seeing in weeks. Quieter crowd at the start too.
-- Although, I suppose it's tough to make a ton of noise when your team starts 0-11 from the field.
-- Random fact courtesy of the scoreboard: James Jones was recently in a spelling bee with Tom Potter. Hopefully, they asked Potter how to spell, "bureaucracy." Some of you may have heard JJ practicing his spelling technique on 1080 The Fan's afternoon show with Isaac and Big Suke. If I recall, the only word he missed was "Przybilla." James was getting into the whole bit too, asking for the language of origin and everything.
-- Another random fact courtesy of the scoreboard: Martell and Brandon have the most disgusting feet on the team according to their teammates. File this under "too much information."
-- Watching Nate and George Karl match wits is a treat. Nate was gesticulating throughout the game, taking time late in the game to coach Martell and Jack, and generally acting as if this was a must-win game. We're in good hands with Coach Nate.
-- We've got 3 pretty quality point guards but I think AI could get into the lane at will, even if all 3 were guarding him simultaneously.
-- During one of the timeouts, a fan was asked to shoot free throws blindfolded. He nailed one on his third attempt. Unreal. Mind you, this was shortly after the Blazers, who were not blindfolded, couldn't hit a shot for 6 minutes.
-- At halftime, I jotted in my notes, "hopefully Nate has one of his special speeches ready tonight." Boy, did he ever.
-- Weird statistical anomaly: after all the easy baskets we let in during the first half, as a team we had 7 blocked shots at intermission. I'm sure someone in BlazersEdge land can explain that one.
-- How many times does the ball end up in Blake's hands with the crowd on the verge of erupting? Tonight he had 2 or 3 opportunities to make the Rose Garden go bonkers. He couldn't deliver. At least he keeps shooting confidently, though.
-- Martell catching fire is so much fun for everyone. Although I suspect Martell is having the most fun of all.
-- Najera joins my list of least-liked opponents, earning a spot next to Matt Harpring. When Najera "took the charge" from Outlaw--a huge play--he reacted as if he had been shot by both John Wilkes Booth and Sirhan Sirhan. He lay on the ground, writhing in pain, holding his head, forcing the Nuggets' bench to jump into action to come to his rescue. As Najera is doing his best Christiano Ronaldo impersonation, the big screen shows the replay, which shows minimal contact at best. Even Vlade Divac would have been pulling cheetos out of his beard in disbelief at that one.
-- Did you catch the big smiles on AI and Melo's faces during much of the stretch? They knew they were in a dogfight and they were loving it. Melo would do better to keep the smile on his face rather than engage the referees with his screaming or trash-talking Travis as he was shooting his 2 free throws at the end of regulation.
-- Jack had the swipe of the game with a great steal and, as often happens, got a little ahead of himself on the fast break. Nate was quick to defend him postgame but we can only imagine what might have happened had Jack pulled that ball out and run a play. After the Nuggets called timeout after his turnover, Jack slapped the floor... hard. He wears it on his sleeve.
-- More Jack, more heart, more sleeve: tonight, after the locker room was all but cleared out, Jack took his shower bag and tossed it to the floor in disgust. 45 minutes after the play, he was still kicking himself.
-- McRoberts is back! As I'm sure you've heard. But, did you know that his locker is right next to Greg Oden's?
-- On a lighter note: Jason Quick was sporting a seriously black eye tonight. Hopefully it wasn't Coach Bellotti's wife that gave it to him. No, couldn't be, she only goes after Canzano.
-- Last but not least: I got a brief tour of the Blazers' Rose Garden workout room after the game. A related interview is forthcoming.