The fist means "Give it to Brandon"
Before it gets lost amid 300 possible tangents (most of which, I'm sure, will involve disemboweling Steve Javie), I need to say: that was one hell of a basketball game. There is a tendency to throw away the 3.5 hours of your life and emotional investment when the final score doesn't go your way. There's a tendency to berate your loved ones because you're drunk, throw cups or bottles because you're frustrated, and leave early because you can't bear to watch the last few seconds tick down off the clock. Those are natural reactions but they are often wrong. Particularly tonight. Those are the wrong reactions to the Blazers' 114 to 108 loss at home to the Philadelphia 76ers. Please hear me out.
Almost every time is the right time for snark and cynicism. This is one of the rare exceptions.
Tonight was goosebump-inducing playoff basketball. Hearing 4 separate "Let's Go Blazers" chants rise up simultaneously in various corners of the arena is playoff basketball. 20,000 people on their feet screaming "Javie Sucks" for 2 full minutes is playoff basketball. 4 minute long continuous, passionate, spit-on-your-lips booing is playoff basketball. Paint warfare is playoff basketball.
I don't remember, really, what I was writing about last March... but it wasn't this. And I don't remember, exactly, what we were watching last March... but it wasn't even close to this.
There is a joy in watching a warrior like Brandon Roy refuse to make eye contact for once, his brown eyes fixed 9 feet above the ground, his hands dug deep into a black pullover as if cocooning himself from the heartbreak of an airballed jumper that would have won the game in regulation. A pleasure in watching as he avoids the writers' seeking eyes, knowing he doesn't have an answer to his 5 of 18. A satisfaction in hearing him give playoff answers anyway: crediting the opponent's defense, refusing to blame the officials, admitting that he, perhaps, took himself out of the game mentally near the end because things didn't quite go right, the whistles hadn't blown as expected.
If it's all wins and losses you miss a lot.
You miss Greg Oden after the media horde disappears. When there's one lone anchorwoman still learning the ropes, asking him simple things: "Tell me about that dunk?", "How did you change the game?," and seeing Greg's face flash with sincere pride as he tries to remember the things he had just done. On an NBA court. In front of a lot of people. Things that will surely surprise him and make him smile again when he watches the tape tomorrow.
And then the camera shuts off, and his back hunches slightly, and he rolls out of the locker room head down. It's still a loss. It was an awkward start for Greg, like many. But by the end of 53 minutes: confident, ferocious, athletic, dare I say nimble at times. he was right there during crunch time. Nate trusted him. Greg trusted himself. He's surely taken something from his 13 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks effort. Have you?
Rudy, too, was a rejuvenated force, his fourth quarter perhaps the best single stretch he's played all season. 8 points in 43 seconds. A four point play. (If ever a player was born to make 4 point plays it was Rudy.) Skin left all over the court from bouncing after loose balls. His neck on a swivel as he cruised to a breakaway dunk, checking his rearview mirror repeatedly as if parallel parking or making sure the ghost of Trevor Ariza wasn't riding on his shoulder. Bigger picture: his shot, which has been hiding somewhere along the Iberian Peninsula, is back: 6 of 12, and 4 of 9 from distance.
That was playoff basketball. That was a playoff loss. A playoff loss is better than a non-playoff loss and, yes, it's better than a non-playoff win. Tonight's game mattered. Take that with you and leave the ref-blaming and the excuse-making and the ho-humming behind. Nobody wants to hear all that other mess. Not after what we just watched.
Random Game Notes
- LaMarcus Aldridge, if judged on his body of work since mid-January, has become the most-fun-to-watch Power Forward that I've seen wear a Blazers jersey. If someone rolls up on you and tries to pull the "LMA is soft" line just go ahead and dust your shoulder off. No further action or words are necessary. He is battling on both ends of the court, play after play after play. Not always with perfect success: Thaddeus Young, a heck of a player himself, outscored LMA and he struggled to shoot just 9 for 25. But the will to win, the nose for the ball, the nose for contact, all the things we wanted to see from a player as long and talented and intelligent as LaMarcus... we are seeing them unfold.
- Speaking of LMA, I could watch him warmup for a game for 3 hours and not get bored. Tonight, he was doing a slightly modified version of his typical 1 on 1 post-move warmup which involved Bill Bayno banging him with the giant arm pads, Caleb Canales simulating a help defender cheating off a guard to double-team LaMarcus and discourage him from rolling to his right from the left block, and Joe Prunty feeding him passes. LaMarcus's bag of tricks is deeper than ever. Step out jumper. One dribble to the right pull up. Two dribbles to the right jump hook. One dribble to the left turnaround. Two dribbles to the left drop step. One, two, three dribbles straight back body to body for a dunk or layup. All decisions made instantaneously depending on how far Canales was cheating and where Bayno's gloves and feet happened to be when LaMarcus received the ball. I wanted to film this warmup and sell it to whoever makes that JJ Reddick jump shooting video. The next generation of 6'11" freaks needs this knowledge.
- Jerryd Bayless chose the warmup music tonight: "Turn My Swag On" by Soulja Boy. Once the game started, Nate McMillan turned Bayless's swag off. Bayless had a DNP-CD. Someone please email me the MP3. Lou Williams couldn't contain a shimmy-shake during the warmup line.
- it was confusing to see Greg Oden on the court in person at first. I guess my memory is already going. Oh well. The rest of the crowd remembered who he was: he received a nice round of applause when he entered for Joel in the first quarter.
- Sergio hit a memorable no-no-no-yes! 3 pointer. He had 3 assists. He acquitted himself nicely. Hopefully he's still on the active roster and drawing minutes on Thursday. Would be nice to be able to see him play again. I guess we'll have to take that day-by-day.
- Andre Miller (27 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists) torched Steve Blake. Blake's line looks alright in the box (22 points, 5 assists) but he got absolutely destroyed. Prepare yourself to hear those words over and over during the playoffs.
- Trying to hit on everyone here... before Rudy's ridiculous 4th quarter run, Nicolas had a 3 pointer and a steal that led to a Brandon 3 pointer that cut the lead down to 6 in the 3rd quarter. Nic went for 5 / 1 /1 / 1 in 16 minutes but had a splendid tip in early during the game. I can't remember if I wrote about this previously but 2 weeks ago Brandon made a point in a postgame statement to say that he really, really enjoys playing with Nic. Not the typical "he's a nice guy" statement. More of a man-to-man "I like to go to war with this guy" kind of statement. Talk about affirmation. What more do I need to say. Seriously, stop typing and move on.
- Attention Blazers sound system managers: two burning issues. First, I've said it before I'll say it again: no more Storm Large introduction video. I think "repulsive" is a fair descriptor. Second: there is absolutely no quicker way to kill a crowd in 2009 than to play a Rihanna song. From here forward I urge you: total moratorium on Rihanna music. I don't care if she's guesting with T.I. or anyone else... No. Rihanna. Music. It's going to be "too soon" to play her joints in public until at least 2014 or until Chris Brown is sitting on Death Row, whichever comes first. She was our princess.
- One last LMA note: he has started giving a little business to the opposing team benches after dunks. After dunking 18 months ago, he would have preferred digging a tunnel underneath the court to get back on defense rather than send any sort of message to his opponents. Times change. Is he watching Brandon? Is he simply growing in tandem? Ask yourself these questions.
- Przybilla's technical was entertaining. He registered 4 points and 6 boards and saw limited action in favor of Greg. We can agree that was a good thing tonight.
- Travis was all over the place, blocking shots, spraining fingers, you name it. His line was ugly but his swats were so overwhelmingly ridiculous you almost forgive him for his 4 / 2 / 1 and 3 turnovers.
- On this night, Channing Frye's performance did not merit extensive analysis. My apologies.
- Is it to early to dub Willie Green the "B Roy Stopper?" Can I get a ruling?
- Words to describe the moods of various Oregonian employees in the wake of Monday morning's announcement: livid, confused, frustrated, sad.
- Greg on losing postgame: "It hurts me. I hate to lose."
- Brandon on the refs: "I felt like I struggled tonight but I'm not going to point fingers.... Their defense bothered me... They sent guys from off the ball."
- Asked if he was taken out of game by some of the non-calls and physical play, Brandon replied: "A little bit. I know I was upset."
- The Portland Mercury's Ezra Caraeff has recovered enough from knee surgery to be able to climb the stairs to media row and take up his usual seat. In the original version of his liveblog, he made inappropriate comments regarding my body. I will leave it at that. Needless to say, it was disgusting and filthy. Although I was sitting right next to him, I decided to send him a threatening email, the surest solution to most problems, and he promptly removed that portion of the text. Welcome back, Ezra!
- Hi to Jorga and grandson and thanks for stopping by. I was unable to get the picture you requested. Sorry!
Nate's Postgame Comments
Did you feel like you got robbed by the officials: "Well, it's either one of two things. Either they missed some calls or they are starting to allow you to play playoff basketball. It's been a physical game the last few games we've played. They let a lot go tonight as far as aggressive play, physical play, some contact. So it's one of the two tonight because it was a very physical game, there was a lot of contact and a lot of no-calls. For us, we've got to keep our heads in situations like that and play through it. It's one of the two."
Did you feel like you got the raw end of the calls: "I thought I saw some things on our end but I thought it was a lot of contact against our guys, a lot of no-calls, that team was aggressive. They were aggressive right from the start. Defensively, they shot over 80 percent in that first quarter and we didn't make shots. We went to the basket, expect ing some contact, didn't get calls."
Were Brandon and LaMarcus fouled down the stretch: "I thought it was contact on those plays. Both Brandon and LaMarcus had contact, was hit on both plays."
101 shots is a lot of shots: "Yeah. You gotta knock down shots. They pretty much put up a wall on all of our isolations and pick and rolls. Made us shoot from the outside. We didn't get to the free throw line tonight. We've got to be aggressive against that type of defense and not settle. I thought at times we did settle. To get those opportunities you've go to knock them down. 34 threes is a lot of threes. Too many? I'd have to look at the threes. I thought we could have been aggressive in attacking the basket. That means that they are closing out to you and when you're in situations like that we can attack that rotation. I thought a few of those shots were due to the fact that defensively they had us at halfcourt and we were shooting with the shot clock running down and not getting into our offense."
Sixers defense: "That team played the same way they've been playing. Very physical. A lot of pressure on the ball. I thought we maybe started off slow but I thought we would snap out of that fairly quickly but it didn't happen until the second half, 3rd quarter and we were able to get back into the game. We got the ball with the last shot."
Was the last play a designed isolation for Brandon: "Yeah, basically. We wanted to make sure we have the last shot in that situation. Tie ballgame and spread the floor."
Greg's play: "I thought Greg was active. Very active. Blocking some shots. Cleaning up the offensive glass. Just being a presence in the paint. Best we've seen him play in awhile."
Brandon's struggles: "He really didn't have a rhythm most of the night. Just one of those things. We've got the last play. Put it in his hands. We're going to make sure that we get something good going to the basket but we definitely get the last shot."
On the free throw disparity: "The key to the game for us every night is to win the free throw line. When you see 39 free throws it shows that team was very aggressive attacking the basket. We only had 17 tonight and 101 attempts. We pretty much played on the perimeter as opposed to going to the basket."
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Martell Webster's white adidas.... "Eccentric MW" .... yeah, that about sums it up.
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