Oh my God! They killed Rudy! You bastards!
There are two stories tonight, the game story and the Rudy story. We'll cover both.
The game story is that we treated the L*kers like they were the Gr*zzlies. We kicked their asterisks. We started out the game shooting a few too many jumpers but soon after we went to work in the lane. Nic Batum and Joel Przybilla started it out and then B-Roy kicked in. Once Brandon started penetrating the L*kers had to commit a couple people to guarding him. As predicted, at that point their defense was toast. Without Bynum in the middle they can't compensate for non-self-sufficient guards on the defensive end. 9 of the Blazers 12 made shots in the first period were from four feet and in. 8 of those were actual layups or dunks. Meanwhile the Blazers stayed in front of Kobe Bryant, forcing him to shoot over the top. The result was him spending the first quarter trying to get his teammates involved. That led to a 16-point total for L.A. after the first. The Blazers dominated the boards during the period also. The L*kers got 3 offensive boards but one was at the buzzer. They drew only 2 second-chance points in the period.
Believe it or not, things got even better when the second unit came in at the end of the first and into the second. Portland's bench play was superlative tonight. Travis Outlaw was a scoring machine. His intensity was way up. Sergio Rodriguez caused real damage with his passes. Channing Frye hit shots. Rudy Fernandez hit shots. Whether Lamarcus Aldridge or Joel Przybilla manned the middle the Blazers still controlled the paint.
At no point in the first half did the L*kers get easy shots in the halfcourt. After Nic Batum and Steve Blake let Kobe slip by a couple of times in the opening minutes of the game the fast break fountain was shut down as well. L.A. never controlled the glass long enough to do damage from offensive rebounds. The Blazers never turned it over. All of a sudden the most efficient offense in the league looked like a toaster trying to heat a bingo hall. There just wasn't enough wattage. After a 36-22 destruction the Blazers waltzed into the locker room with a 23-point lead. The L*kers had scored 38 in the half.
So L.A., being the professional, 50-win team that they are, came out hot and closed the lead in the third, right? Nope. Kobe Bryant got in foul trouble. Pau Gasol couldn't muster enough offense. The L*kers comeback fared about as well as M.C. Hammer's, just without the balloon pants. They actually ended up down 5 more at the end of the quarter. It would have been more were it not for The Foul. And this is where we digress from the game and get to the story of the night.
With about five seconds left in the third Brandon Roy got a long rebound off of a Kobe Bryant miss. He took a couple dribbles upcourt and got the angle on a zip pass to Rudy Fernandez who was streaking towards the hoop. Rudy caught the pass and was easily ahead of Trevor Ariza, the only L*ker back. By the time Rudy elevated Ariza's momentum had taken him directly behind Fernandez. Ariza took a long, hard swing at the ball as Rudy approached rim level. Even though Ariza's fingers did appear to graze the ball, because of his orientation Trevor's arm thudded solidly into Rudy's head. Thankfully Rudy saw or sensed the blow coming and managed to duck slightly downward otherwise he would have caught it dead center. As it was Ariza clipped the upper third of Rudy's cranium. Normally this would be bad enough but Rudy was also approximately 92 feet in the air at the time. Even worse, Ariza's swing continued past Rudy's head and got tangled up in the left arm, spinning Fernandez sideways and tilting his body dangerously towards horizontal. Rudy came crashing down in a heap with no support and nothing to break the fall, one arm trailing awkwardly behind. Had that arm been a few degrees farther inward he probably would have fractured it. As it was he bounced, hit the stanchion, and fell onto his back unmoving.
There was quite the little fracas afterwards, as every Blazer on the court--Brandon Roy, Lamarcus Aldridge, Travis Outlaw, and Channing Frye--stepped in to jaw at the opponent. Lamarcus shoved Ariza and Roy got his arm entangled with him. Travis was in there too with his face about two inches away looking like he was going to kill somebody. Channing came late and played goalie, keeping everybody else out. No punches were thrown but there were plenty of words exchanged.
Rudy was eventually taken out on a stretcher. He was taken to the hospital and the official report has him suffering injury to the soft tissue area of the upper chest. I am no doctor, but I imagine this was due to the strain of twisting and then impacting after the fall. Every report we've heard says he's going to be fine. (Though he is questionable for Wednesday.)
Rudy was out of the game, of course. Ariza was also tossed on a Flagrant 2 which mandates a league review and could bring further repercussions. Two Blazers and a L*ker were also assessed technical fouls. Lamar Odom was clearly off the bench even though he wasn't in the game and may (read: should) face further penalty.
If you ask me whether Trevor Ariza went up with the intent to harm Rudy I would say no. However I don't believe he necessarily cared whether he did harm Rudy in that instance. You generally don't go for that play when you're that badly beaten, especially in the midst of a 20+ point blowout. You don't go in from that angle either, for exactly this reason. He clearly did not try to take off Rudy's head, but just as clearly you can't avoid taking off the guy's head making that kind of play, as it is directly between you and the ball. The Flagrant 2 was warranted for carelessness and disregard if nothing else. As Mike Barrett noted, this is not the first time the L*kers have tangled with Portland like this.
I think the response of the players on the floor was spot-on. Every one of them reacted and went after the offender. Nobody threw a punch or did anything stupid. Mind you, that kind of retaliation wouldn't be completely out of line in this kind of circumstance. However the reality of the situation was that our two stars were at the forefront of the scrum against their scrubs. Anything more than happened would have been to the L*kers advantage. The Blazers toed the line perfectly. There are two fatal impressions to be left in a situation like this. If you do nothing or shrink away then the league knows you're fair game. If you overreact then they know they can get your guys ejected for spazzing out if provoked. The Blazers showed neither. I am especially pleased with Outlaw and Aldridge, both of whom have been questioned for their intensity. They were plenty intense in this situation.
We're going to see this kind of thing again. I hope the response is as immediate and measured. Eventually it will stop.
Other than the Blazers being distracted at the beginning of the fourth nothing that happened in that period really mattered. The game was in hand, Kobe took two billion shots, the final score looked closer than the game really played, and the Blazers come out with a much-needed victory.
The Blazers tied or exceeded the L*kers in every statistical category that meant anything tonight. It was a total blowout.
--Brandon Roy was the key to the offensive explosion. Not only did he score 27 (plus the usual 6 and 5), he got inside any time he wanted. That havoc freed up shooters, drivers, and passing lanes. Superstar.
--LaMarcus Aldridge was a man and a half on the boards tonight. He was seriously rebounding in traffic. He ended up with 13 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks, a steal, and 16 points. His energy and drive and grit are SO far up in the last month it's like a different player.
--Joel Przybilla took full advantage of the L*kers' weakness inside, camping out near the rim and receiving passes for dunks and layups. He also collected 7 offensive rebounds on his way to a total of 18 total boards. Oh, and he had 12 points. He was the anchor again tonight.
--Nicolas Batum deserves full marks for defending Kobe hard and fairly effectively as well. He hit 4-9 shots, all from inside, including one MONSTER dunk down the baseline. His jumper still has more form breaks than Dom Deluise doing Tai Chi though. It'd be nice to get that fixed.
--Steve Blake also helped out on Kobe a little, hit 2 threes, and collected 6 assists.
--Travis Outlaw hit 6-11 shots, 3-5 threes, and 7-10 free throws. He charged through blazing after Brandon broke the door down. He also drew a little Kobe time but mostly spent his game making Lamar Odom look useless. Or wait, maybe that was just Lamar being Lamar.
--Rudy was on quite a streak until he got his soft tissue squashed. He was 4-4, 2-2 from distance, and 1-1 from the line for 11 points. He didn't miss a thing. Well, except the end of the game and Nate's stirring post-game speech.
--Channing Frye hit a couple of inside shots! That's a part of his game he's neglected forever. He was 3-4 overall for 7 points in 15 minutes. We'll take that!
--Sergio Rodriguez didn't hit a shot and had 3 turnovers but also registered 6 assists in just 12 minutes. He was really aggressive on the offensive end and created some great opportunities.
--Jerryd Bayless and Shavlik Randolph got 3 minutes each. Don't spend them all in one place, boys.
The game the Blazers played looked like Jessica Biel playing Jessica Rabbit on SNL this past weekend. The game the L*kers played looked like the illegitimate love child of Joan Rivers and Ernest Borgnine.
Life is good. Unless you're Rudy. Then life is going to be painful for the next couple of days.
Get well soon, Rudy.
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P.S. While you're waiting for Ben's Media Row Report check out these post-game videos from the Center Court Blog.