This year Blazer's Edge is running a new feature, the In-Arena Report. For every home game (and some road contests as well) designated representatives are going to give you the inside view, taking you to their seats and filling you in on anything the TV cameras may have missed. Each correspondent will do 5-6 games in a row so you get familiar with their voices and views, then another will take over to give you a fresh perspective. We hope you enjoy!
For opening night and the first couple weeks of the season, our Special Correspondent is Brian Renzi. Here's his view of last night's proceedings.
Arena Report: Blazers vs. Thunder 10-29-14
What's good, Rip City? I'm Bryan Renzi, longtime lurker and first-time contributor to BE. I have learned a lot from you guys and I am very pleased to give back for the first six home games in the form of the brand-spanking new ‘Arena Report'. It will be written by a rotating cast of ticketholders for home games throughout the season. So let's blaze this trail, shall we?
Wait, hey. Not so fast. We can enjoy the moment of opening night, right, without getting too serious or intense, maybe?
For much of the game, both the crowd and the Blazers seemed to be content with settling in for something familiar - hellos, welcome backs, like the start of a new school year. But it was hard to tell what it all meant - a pared down OKC roster, an opener on national TV, a sense of satisfaction with where the team's at but not sure how much to expect or hope for. So there was a strangely subdued but pregnantly expectant character to the crowd. Then a familiar pattern asserted itself, and both the players and the crowd knew what to do. And we did it well, Rip City.
Early on, the Thunder were impressive in running out to an 8 point lead within a few minutes. They came out with energy, looking the right kind of young, and extremely long - their starting lineup featured 3 men in the front court 6-10 or taller, with a 6-7 shooting guard as a kicker. They seemed to be winning more 50/50 balls and loose balls early, and even the last man off the bench, 4th year man Lance Thomas, put on a clinc in hustle and athleticism en route to 14 points on the night. They say you can't give a clinic on athleticism, but somehow this dude broke all laws of sports education and in fact, did.
Then there was the force of nature known as Russell Westbrook, who mostly played like glowing invincible star Mario when he unlocked the pogo stick mushroom. What's that, you didn't get to that secret level? Sorry, dude. My game had that level. So does Russell Westbrook's.
On his opening basket, a putback on an own miss, he seemed to jump twice before anyone else had completely landed from their first jump. Then there was his amazing streak for a buzzer beating dunk before half, leading to general confoundment in the crowd - how did he do that? Batum just had the ball around mid-court with a little over 5 seconds left, we scored to tie, and now, we're down, on a dunk??? Westbrook made it from halfcourt to dunking in 2 seconds and two dribbles, and made it look easy. We were a bit dazed and incredulous, like when they took our chalupas away, but hey, let's go eat some awesome locally-based arena food and shake it off.
There has been a lot of talk about how the league would adjust to the Blazers this year, now that their system has been completely broken down and analyzed by everyone. In addition to playing hero ball, Westbrook took advantage of the Blazers' most glaring weakness exposed by the Houston series - their inability to guard the flop and roll. It was sad to see the best player on the court do this. I'm really glad I root for a team that doesn't flop, even though the side that stretches the rules always has an edge - everywhere but in our hearts. It was astonishing that the refs fell for flops on jumpers that were obvious chicanery from the 200 level. Or on the ‘I am a sensate homo sapiens' level.
The first sign of serious concern from the crowd was after yet another offensive rebound and putback by OKC, this time by Kendrick Perkins (yes, Kendrick Perkins), which drew audible groans from the fans as the Thunder drew ahead with 1:27 left in the third. It was the first and last such concern.
The Blazers then did what this team is built to do - set the net on fire. Who needs defense when you have 3-fense? That guy who was on Conan the other day, Thrillard, Illard, Subzero, whatever you call him, reminded us who he was. Heck, he reminded the fans who we were. He set off the first ‘dancing in the aisles' moment with a three with 10:42 to play, leading to a Scott Brooks timeout. Brooks really seemed to like prolonging these impromptu dance contests, as he also called timeouts after Lillard's second uppercut / 3 ball with seven to play, and after the life-force-rending Batum allez-oop to LA.
At this point, the crowd was probably frowned upon by far left environmentalists for noise pollution, which we pumped in consistent and heavy throughout the fourth quarter until a satisfying quota was reached.
In stroking 9 of their last 12 shots from distance and playing disruptive D when they had their opponent staggering, the Blazers came with that overwhelming surge that seemed all but inevitable at home games early last year, where the other team has no answers on either side of the floor and both teams know what the end result was going to be.
We know the Blazers are going to score points. Although a salivation-worthy new wrinkle in the offense presented itself when RoLo got in early foul trouble. With Aldridge and Unfrozen Kaman Scorer (Phil Hartman of SNL/Simpsons, RIP) in the same lineup, the court suddenly gets much larger for everyone in red and black. They ran a new set with both bigs in the high post at the elbows in receiving position, and the D HAS to guard them both there. Hello, open paint for cutters and drives. The other common arrangement was a High - Low, with Kaman stretching the court all the way to the baseline and LA at the top of the key extended. Once again, huge tracts of real estate all over the court with a lot of focus on these two crafty veteran scorers around 7 feet tall. And once they get on the same page passing to each other...look out.
The defensive plan looks to be much the same as last year so far, be conservative, let Dame get hung up on picks, and be opportunistic in a few key moments. There were some real nice veteran defensive play, with LaMarcus poking the ball away right as Ibaka moved from dribble to shot on a couple of drives, and Blake getting a piece of the ball on a Westbrook drive, getting just enough of it to help lead to a RoLo block party. Blake did a real nice job staying within himself on D - we can definitely expect him to be more aggressive against teams who are less springy and limby and dunky if you ain't careful. Dame and Nic each took a successful well-measured chance for a steal with a brand of defensive aggression rarely seen from them last year, the kind more characteristic of Wes.
Oh did I forget to bring up Wes? Oh, you know about him? You're on a first name basis with him? Now the rest of the country knows him too.
So while things seemed mellow and meandering at first, both the Blazers and their fans once again proved they can get it done when it's time to turn it up a notch. It was hard to tell whether we knew that all along or we had to kind of rediscover it after a long layoff. ‘Flipping the switch' when you have to is what good teams do, especially in the regular season. It's also what great teams do. We're at least 81 games away from having to determine which best describe the Blazers. And we got some real nice pieces to play with in the meantime.
Now for something completely different -
Fact-encrusted stat nuggets:
Portland blocked 9 shots. Which sounded real good, until Anthony Davis woke up yesterday.
Before catching fire, the Blazers started 2 of 17 from three point range. That's Byron Scott you hear saying ‘Told you so. I told you those long basket shots were bad news. Even if you go set shot or underhand. Just not worth it.'
In further Byron-Scott-is-a-mastermind news: both teams went ice cold behind the arc in the second quarter, combining to go 0/12 from distance in the second quarter, with Portland missing nine. The Blazers still ended up shooting 37.9% from the darker wood area of the new court overall for the night.
The Blazers drew significantly more fouls (28-19) but less free throw attempts (22-26), which pretty much shows the OKC ‘Drive or Die' mantra from tonight. Not a lot of mid-range jumpers off the pick and roll for them, either because they were confident they could win off the dribble or because Blazer help came out just far enough to dissuade it. Nic sticking to Westbrook also helped that.
What you may have missed on TV:
The World Series? The jumbotron had it on before final warmups. There were a lot of SF gear in the crowd (didn't see anything KC), but when the final out was shown, there was a contentiously mixed reaction, with a slight margin favoring the champs. Hey, people like champions.
Someone had a sign that said "Lillard is the next Hunter Pence." Discuss.
Often the ‘Three Card Monty'-style game on the jumbotron is painfully easy to follow, but this new Pacific Office Automation Copy Machine version came HAM. There was a most admired disorder and clatter of disagreement among the crowd, as everyone had a different idea which copier had the pinwheel letterhead in it. The guy who had to guess on camera, though, had the only opinion that mattered, cuz he was twenty feet tall on the jumbotron, and ye verily, he valiantly slay'd the Automated beast in the name of Byron Scott, thus securing both treasure and glory.
The jumbotron also featured Blazer players in an ad for tackleebola.com - see it at the bottom of their main page.
The ZuZu acrobats from Mombasa (Kenyan city by the Indian Ocean) put on one of the meanest double dutch exhibitions ever at halftime.
LaMarcus picked the warmup music - "Hot [‘Boy']" by Bobby Shmurda. Those in the know know what's up with the inset single quote marks. Actually I just found out when I looked it up. Also, what's Shmurda rhyme with again L-Train?
The Thunder needing a cold shower: animated disagreement with not-cool-with-each-other right now body language between Perkins an Ibaka at the end of the timeout after Lillard's second three in the 4th. Meanwhile, Westbrook left the floor for the evening to throaty boos from the crowd none too impressed by his ‘stop, drop, and roll' tutorials (which even the refs grew bored of eventually). His response appeared to be to nonchalantly but meaningfully play with his junk while smirking at the crowd on his way to the bench. Stay classy, Russ. No really, though, don a ‘tude befitting your exquisite off-court tailoring.
The Young and the Restless: Serial Heart ThRob Thomas Robinson was always the first or second person to high five players coming to the bench during timeouts. I guess that's what you do if you're him right now. The crowd gave him a nice ovation for his off-the-dribble jumper he hit in garbage time.
The crowd murmured in anticipation as the 3rd unit ran a clearout for Will ‘The Thrill' Barton in garbage time, but The People's Champ's nasty between the legs crossover faked even him out, and so he had to settle for setting up T-Rob's aforementioned basket.
Alan Crabbe comfortably stroked a three which called for a three-quarters body turn and slight fade away. Pretty.
The veterans did not look CJ's way much on offense during his 15 minutes of fame. So when he did get the ball he began resorting to forcing badly. He also fumbled some passes and gave up too early on a couple of loose balls that turned into OKC offensive boards. But the Thunder didn't test him that much on D even though they had a significant height advantage - he moved through off-ball picks smoothly and played within his responsibilities - which included overplaying away from baseline when guarding the corner to try and lure young Thunder into driving into a trap - one such play which led to Dame taking a tough charge, yielding one of the visitors' many momentum-draining noiseless possessions of the fourth period.
Meyers also made an impact appearance...on the Jumbotron, imitating bad fan behavior in the Arena Security Ad, as the seven footer had a crazed look on his face and dropped two middle fingers at the camera (blurred out, but we knew which fingers you had up man). There's always a future for you in Hollywood if this whole harness-your-athletic-potential thing doesn't work out.
A lot of people were at the Rose Quarter early. Dr. Jack's was hopping by 6pm, and people took advantage of the earlier arena opening time to check out new offerings inside, including the slick ‘Pines' bar in the upper level. Here are some pics:
You have to trust me - the view of the skyline is awesome, ok? My camera phone could only reasonably show the band playing outside, playing funky uptempo tunes.
There was a court for youngsters to hoop it up on:
…And headpainting for those so inclined. Section 207 was all sorts of inclined.
…and the chance to be recorded calling Lillard’s Shot Heard Round Bridgetown.
And if you’ve read this far, you must be a Blazermaniac. Were you the one who put these laminated discs in the johns?
I'll reward your dedication to the cause with a shot of the cool projection show from the intros, which would be cooler if Nic wasn't wearing that sponsored headband.
There was a giant community uni-honk of joy coming from the cars in the West Parking garage. It's something that seems like it might be kind of annoying but is actually cool and spiritual however you want it to be, sorta like yoga.
I spotted a guy wearing a throwback Seattle Luke Ridnour jersey. I asked him about his rooting interest for the game - he was a Sonics fan, and was wearing the jersey to remind everyone ‘they got Ridnour team'. "I hate the Thunder!" he declared. "I pray for their destruction and humiliation. My favorite team is whoever the Thunder is playing. Tonight it was the Blazers." Well here's a postcard you can send to your other likeminded friends - "Greetings from Rip City, USA!"
Peace till next time.