All of Portland was in unison early on - both the fans and team were subdued, late arriving, and coming in ice cold from outside.
The Blazers looked like they were shooting on an outdoor rim in tonight's howling winds. According to the demonstration made by Wesley Snipes' bottom in the movie White Man Can't Jump, the wind can push the ball left or right six to eight inches. That would explain why the Blazers missed wide open looks early on...and multiple easy layups....and even an airball from 2 feet away from the rim. No, nothing can really explain that last one. No need to name names here - everyone not named Lillard was off target in a big way for much of the first half. There were plenty of groans and enough uncomfortable shifting in seats to go around.
It was nice to see Dame come out aggressively tonight. And really the defense wasn't bad, despite surrendering 64points in the first half to a team that only scored 69 in a full game a few nights ago. The HornCats, or whatever you call them, were just scorching. They're kind of like the guy in your class named Sam who between the summer of 8th and 9th grade suddenly decided he wants to be called ‘Gordon' (That's pronounced Gor-DON). And suddenly he's really hot and everyone's talking about him, oh and where'd you get that new sweater? "I believe in England, they call it a jumper".
Amazing jumper were getting shown off by everyone in teal - even Lance Stephenson, who has been absolutely putrid from outside (8% from 3 pt range before tonight - that's right, EIGHT), hit 2 from distance. It felt like that kind of night . Even while contested, Kemba Walker was hitting miracle leaners. 12 foot floaters and one legged fades were falling. Several Charlotte shots hit several parts of the rim before going in. Meanwhile on the other side of the court, LaMarcus Aldridge had a jumper wedge between the rim and the backboard. Yup.
This all stopped being funny when the Blazers were down 23 with 7:17 to go in the first half. Real concern arose. Some fans wanted the refs to check if there was a lid on the Blazers' rim.
Other factors in Charlotte's favor which helped them build a huge lead: Al Jefferson and plenty of trips to the charity stripe. It seemed pretty clear how Jefferson needed to be defended - push him away from the paint and don't leave your feet on fakes. Once he's near the paint, he's Leonardo DaVinci. The Blazers tried to lure Jefferson into taking the outside shot by giving him room when he caught it away from the hoop. Despite struggling on jumpers so far this year, he was canning them early tonight. Or worse, he would simply eat up the distance his man gave him with a dribble and suddenly he'd be in the paint again, working up the kind of Mona Lisa even Slick Rick talks about.
Blazer bigs definitely should think twice before getting into the art world, because they bought fakes from Al Jefferson on several occasions tonight.
Charlotte hit 14 out of 17 free throw attempts in the first half. The Blazers did not get a single foul called in their favor in the second quarter until less than two minutes remained. Conspiracy theorists may note that after Chris Kaman complained vociferously about getting no foul call when a shot of his was goaltended (he was also hacked), referee David Guthrie then proceeded to stare a hole in the back of Kaman's head for the next 20 seconds, completely disregarding play around him. Then he proceeded to call a phantom foul in the Hornets' favor, a call which he was completely out of position to make. A number of quick fouls were called on Kaman soon after, and the Blazers didn't catch a break for a while. The fans noticed, informing the refs of their informal rating for the game. Not getting foul calls almost turned the game at the end.
The Blazers turned it up before the half though and managed to get within 13 thanks to yet another brilliant After-Time-Out play by Coach Stotts. Plus there was hope that switching baskets from the cursed one to the lucky one Charlotte had been shooting at could change things.
However as the 3rd quarter got underway, the Blazers only managed to trade buckets for a while. After Crabbe missed a wide open 3 with the team down 15, a young female fan could be heard shouting, "You're hurting me!" Yes, it got that visceral, especially when down 17 with 3 minutes and change remaining. The Blazers could have been facing an ugly home defeat with a road game against a rested and vengeful Nuggets squad (at altitude, the 4th contest in 5 nights) staring at them tomorrow.
Suddenly though, the bounces started going our way. A Kemba Walker layup rimmed out. An LMA jumper bounced around and in. Lillard got a 3 pointer to hit every part of the rim before falling. A loose ball that bounced fortuitously to Aldridge right at the rim gave us a crucial easy bucket.
The game-changing run at the start of the 4th quarter was initiated by a lineup of Steve Blake, CJ McCollum, Allen Crabbe, Joel Freeland, and Kaman. No one needs to be told that this is very, very good news. Crabbe made a steal followed by a ballsy long range two for his only bucket of the game. Blake got two steals in succession, getting fouled on the second and getting the crowd to break into their loudest cheer of the young year.
Things were just getting warmed up in what started to approach a playoff-like atmosphere. Every possession was it's own mini-playoff at that point. The noise-o-meter hit a new level after a Kaman jumper drew the Blazers within 4 with just under 9 to play. The Blazer Dancers got their biggest ovation of the year in the ensuing timeout. It got even louder after a HUGE offensive rebound and putback slam by Freeland. Joel did yeoman's work tonight in his biggest action of the season, playing the whole 4th quarter save the last 7 seconds, corralling 7 boards and 2 momentum-changing buckets.
Of course the big you'd expect to have a biggest impact brought it when it counted. 4 of 5 shooting and 8 rebounds in the 4th quarter can't completely explain what Aldridge did tonight. Words fail to do justice to the amazing double-tip offensive rebound he guided to Blake at the three point arc, resulting in Steve's only bucket of the game - the go-ahead three. The crowd went full-on bananas at that point.
As for Charlotte, their gameplan came unraveled. In the face of hectic D, their jumpers stopped falling. Kemba Walker went 2 of 11 in the second half. Blazer bigs pushed Jefferson away from the hoop, and he often didn't even look to score. The Hornets completely forgot about MKG, who was fully weaponized in the first half but got one shot in the second. And crucially, they turned the ball over multiple times, while Lance Stephenson was a non-factor, scoring only 3 after the break.
It seemed fitting that what seemed at the time to be the crucial possession of the game turned into a Lance vs. Wes mano-a-mano. These two battled each other HARD in the most physical matchup of the night. At one point during the Blazer comeback, Stephenson hauled off and shoved Wes when the ref's back was turned. Wes did not fall for the bait, kept steady and calm, and waited to pounce at the 34 second mark of the game, forcing Stephenson into a critical turnover.
After another LMA O-rebound and putback, the crowd thought we were going home happy for sure. But once again, the Blazers failed to get a foul call to salt the game away, despite the fact that it looked like Dame got hit on every limb of his body by 3 different Hornets. Some fans questioned, "Why did he shoot?" Fair, but it seemed to me that he thought that would be the only way to draw the foul call at that point. Truly the best option would have been to just throw the ball straight up. A little work still needs to be done on Portland's late game management, because the refs clearly seem to want to see the Blazers earn it at the end of games.
The only thing left was to make Gary Neal before Zod. Time had indeed run out on his last desperate attempt, and the unwelcome visitors were then accordingly banished back to the Phantom Zone.
This was the kind of comeback this team and crowd needed to have. The heroics were there. The defense is real. The bench is starting to look kinda deep. It is still a long season ahead in a murderous Western Conference, but you get that feeling like last year, that on any given night, no matter what the score, after all the Gor-DONs and Lance Stephensons and Zods have done their clucking and posturing, this team is going to be there at the end, and it's going to be real interesting. And that's something that should keep us warm all winter long.
A nice touch on Veteran's Day - the Walla Walla Academy Orchestra did a beautiful version of the National Anthem, sans lyrics. Plenty of military personnel were on hand for tonight's awesomeness, and were recognized, honored, and spotlighted on the scoreboard several times throughout the evening.
In a ‘Meet the Blazers' segment, most of the Blazers were able to name the most popular Avengers characters, but RoLo rolled deep with NINETEEN (!) heroes who had spent significant time on the all-star superhero squad. No, I can't repeat them offhand.
Tonight's entry in the Half Court Shot contest came out super confident, although some wondered if she would have the strength / athleticism to pull it off. She silenced the critics with a perfect one-handed baseball throw which swished the net - unfortunately, it did not go through the rim first, falling inches short. The crowd behind the basket initially went nuts, thinking she hit it. Big thumbs up for effort.
A couple parting shots:
Everyone on Portland's side was pulling out stunts.
Even for a big, Joel was huge
What a turnaround!
Red comes after Zed. And Zed's dead, baby. Zed's dead.
So...that concludes my stint as in-arena correspondent. With a respeckable 5-1 home record, I pass the torch along to Andy, who will join you for Saturday's Brooklyn game. I can now resume yelling my head off at games at full strength, no longer encumbered by pen and pad. I've had a lot of fun; thanks to everyone for all of the support. And big thanks of course to Dave for this opportunity, and for staying up late to edit and post my forays in self-indulgence. See you around the threads, true believers!
We thank Bryan for kicking off this feature in sterling fashion! We're looking forward to hearing the variety of voices and perspective that make up Portland fandom as we continue to give you the In-Arena view of every Blazers home game this season.