The Portland Trail Blazers entered this season like a prowling pumas, sleek and hungry for respect. They exited the season like a squirrel caught in the middle of the freeway. The poor thing is running around trying to find a way out but you know this isn't going to end well.
And it didn't. The Blazers got run over by the Golden State Warriors 99-88 tonight, completing a 13-game losing streak to finish the season 33-49. good for the 10th worst record in the NBA. That's the best basketball-related news of the evening by far. Portland will start with the 10th most ping pong balls in the draft lottery and will likely select somewhere around the 10th position in a summer that will require every asset they can muster.
The game itself wasn't so great, The Blazers started off in a horrible shooting slump, broken only by the return of LaMarcus Aldridge. LMA reminded everybody why he's the best Blazer around, scoring 30 and grabbing 21 rebounds on a night when every other Blazer big looked...less than competent. Still, Aldridge could only do so much. The Blazers trailed by 7, 24-17, at the end of the first.
Unfortunately the Blazers decided the cure to their ills would be jump shooting. Lots and lots of jump shooting. When they couldn't get a jump shot Portland settled for turnovers. The Warriors laughed their way to layups and a 50-36 halftime lead.
The defense throughout the first half was pretty atrocious. If you're ever in one of those biological virus disaster movies and Portland's frontline shows up and says, "We got this!"...run. They don't got this. They guard the paint like the zookeepers in those movies guard the slobbering monkeys. It's bad when somebody gets into the painted area before you really pick them up. It's super bad if they can then make an uncontested pass right through the middle of the paint. During the first half of this game the Warriors made two passes through within 10 feet of the rim look like a routine play. It was like watching polite people at a four-way stop.
"You score it."
"Oh no, I couldn't possibly. Here, YOU score it!"
"Oh no, please. Be my guest."
The third period provided a turnaround of sorts. Portland got back on defense, closed up those little lane loopholes, and stopped turning over the ball every second play. They started to go inside on offense, posting J.J. Hickson first then driving with Damian Lillard and posting Aldridge more. This freed up their jump shooters and suddenly they were back in business.
Sadly the Warriors ended up streaking away after the Blazers closed within 3 in the fourth. The pressure of holding down the interior while stopping three-point shooters proved too much for the Blazers. Klay Thompson feasted on triples, the Blazers lost contact on the scoreboard, and the clock trickled feebly towards the 11-point loss.
The combination of 43% three-point shooting for the Warriors plus 14 offensive rebounds and 20 points off of turnovers proved too much for the Blazers to handle. They made a stab at this game but they were never in it.
Aldridge's contributions deserve praise. He could have sat out this game and taken a long summer rest but he came back for the final show. Those 30 points and 21 rebounds show that the bedrock of this team is pretty solid.
Damian Lillard also had a good night with 21 points including a couple of nice drives.
Will Barton has that combination of athleticism and cockiness that makes you shiver. He's a presence with the ball in his hands.
Oh my gosh, Meyers Leonard has a lot to learn on defense. He sticks out like a sore thumb. And that thumb belongs to a giant. And it reaches out and pokes each and every observer in the eye, grinding until tears flow forth. But he can shoot the three! (All joking aside, he does have some sweet instincts on offense.)
Victor Claver does one thing each game that makes you go, "OOOH!" The rest of the time it's "meh" and "ouch". But hopefully he'll grow out of that.
Off the court, you could tell it was Blazer's Edge Night the moment you walked onto the property. It's so cool to see groups of kids and chaperons huddling up outside the arena, taking stock and passing out tickets, We were spread out along an entire side of the upper bowl this year. Frankly it was a hard game to cheer for but those were our kids shouting, "Let's go Blazers!" with 14 seconds left in the game and no chance for Portland to actually win. I believe that was also our group trying to start the wave in the fourth. Props to all of you! I hope the experience was still good even though the game itself was a little flat. We did get to see a dunk, some Lillard drives, some Lillard threes, a couple comeback runs, and even a classic ref boo-fest. Thanks to everybody who came tonight. Thanks to everyone who took the time to write us notes or make signs. I do have some thank-you notes in hand which I'll share with Blazer's Edge readers when I return home.
It was also cool to talk to everyone who stopped by. I suspect Ben and I get stopped more on this night than on any other. It's always good to talk basketball with people in person. We already know that next year we're going to send 1000 kids to Blazer's Edge Night. What say next year we also have a site get-together somewhere so we can all talk?
And finally, a couple months ago a wrote a post critical of the in-arena game experience, citing the artificial environment and the constant noise deterring conversation. Having once again experienced a Rose Garden game in person, I'll now thank the arena operational staff. They did a bunch of great things tonight.
--We entered the arena to a bunch of children jump-roping on the court, evidently as part of a campaign for the American Heart Association? It was an immediate reminder that the Blazers experience is intergenerational. It gave those kids a moment in the sun. It was cute...like an extended family experience right away,
--Both the preview movie and the intros hit just the right note, translating tradition into modern relevance and reminding spectators that Blazers passion and excitement run deep. They were also at a perfect volume...loud but not deafening.
--I know this was someone incidental, but the National Anthem by a famous Oregon saxophone player whose name I didn't catch was incredibly stirring. (I'm sure someone will update the name in the comments.)
--The scoreboard rallies and give-aways were well-timed. They provided excitement but weren't omnipresent. I loved the Subway $20 per point scored in 2 minutes giveaway. It actually jazzed the crowd a little extra as the Blazers scored. Tying in promos with the actual progress of the game is great. It brings everybody into the picture. The only promo I didn't like was the Wells-Fargo parachute drop. It was a little sick seeing grown men run seven rows up the aisle to wrestle with other grown men for a shot at one parachute with a $50 prize. It's one out of two dozen boxes. At that level of seating you paid twice 50 bucks just for your ticket. Act like you've seen money before. This was the only promo that got crowd members fighting against each other instead of enjoying each other.
--The volume in the non-promo, non-scoreboard moments was low enough that I could actually talk to some people beside me at various points in the game. Sometimes we had to wait for a break, but that's OK. It's not the library. But I actually got to interact with people at a Blazers game for the first time in forever.
--Finally, and most touchingly, they did this WONDERFUL thing where a bunch of the Rose Garden ushers went out and did a dance routine with the Blazer Dancers. It was pretty much the loudest and warmest crowd moment of the night. EVERYBODY got into that. It humanized the ushers and the Blazer Dancers, showed how hard (and yet how fun) those dance routines are for "normal" folks, and also gave the audience a chance to appreciate the work the ushers did all year. This was a pure Blazer family moment done in a funny, unassuming way. They got us all to cheer, uniting even the people usually removed from the crowd (ushers and dancers). Brilliant.
In that earlier post I lamented that I couldn't take my young son to a game because it would overwhelm him, he wouldn't get enough contact with the basketball, and I couldn't interpret anything for him because of the scoreboard/music/sound effect level. If this is how it's going to be at the Rose Garden, though, I'm changing my mind. Tonight he would have gotten it. Tonight I found myself wishing he were there. Next year I'm going to think about bringing him to his first live Blazers game. And I hope someone passes that on to the arena crew just like they passed on the other.
And that's the season for the Blazers folks. But don't despair. The Blazers are entering into a summer that will help decide the fate of the LaMarcus Aldridge era. They have to come out of the next few months with radical upgrades. As always we'll be there to open up the possibilities for you, clear the smokescreens (and there are already a few out there), answer the questions, give you minute-by-minute coverage of the critical moments, and give you the best analysis possible of the decisions the Blazers make. It's going to be a wild, intense summer. Take a breather tonight, then buckle up for the ride.
The analysis begins in earnest tomorrow. I'll be on the radio from 5-6 p.m. in studio with Chad Doing of The Game in Portland.. You might even be able to call in with questions for that hour. Listen in tomorrow, then we'll begin recapping the season, taking stock of where the Blazers are, and looking at the future.
Boxscore for this game.
Golden State Of Mind will be talking about the Warriors' playoff chances. If you go over there, ask them if we can have Klay Thompson or Jarrett Jack next year, We have cap space and a perfectly good Joel Freeland to trade.
Don't forget the Jersey Contest won't be updated until Monday.