In a tribute to Blazer's Edge readers stretching coast to coast, covering all corners of the globe, here's tonight's In-Arena Report from TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts as the Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Boston Celtics 94-88. Eric G. has the submission.
Attending Blazers games in Boston has rarely been an enjoyable experience in recent years. Until last season, the Blazers hadn't won a game at TD Garden since the inauspicious Darius Miles era. Ouch. It was the one arena that Brandon Roy never experienced a victory, and the last one that LaMarcus Aldridge got to check off his list. And now this year's Blazers team can proudly say that they have contributed to Portland's first two-year Boston winning streak since 2003-04.
At this point, many readers are probably wondering why I'm using so many words on Portland's recent non-success on the road against the Celtics. The answer: After watching a game like this one it is important to focus on the positives. The Blazers gutted out a victory, on the road, in a city where they have rarely found success. Hooray!
Watching this game in person was an exercise in unevenness and uncertainty. It never felt like the game was out of reach for either team, and every offensive push was answered in relatively short order. It felt like each big play was followed by a missed basket, a turnover, or a score by the opposition, and neither team truly capitalized on its opportunities. This uneven and broken style of play was best exemplified by a Gerald Wallace steal - missed layup - Damian Lillard turnover - Rajon Rondo lay-up sequence in the third quarter. (Yes, that was all one sequence.) Every time it seemed like a great play had been made, or a catastrophe averted, sloppiness would swoop in and change the outcome.
As such, the crowd in the TD Garden never really got amped up for the game. Even in the first half, the chatter in the seats around me was that the Celtics had missed an opportunity and that they should have extended the lead while they had the chance. When the Blazers made their big run to open the fourth quarter the attitude quickly shifted to resignation and I could hear murmurs of "this team always blows it in the fourth" all around me. The Boston fans rebounded a bit as Portland failed to stretch the lead toward 20, but stout Portland defense also stopped the Celtics from mounting any kind of run, and the Garden was mostly quiet. To put it more bluntly, it's really tough to cheer EITHER team when two points total are scored from 8:30 to 4:52 of the fourth quarter.
Even as the Celtics started to inch back into the game with late threes by Avery Bradley and Jared Sullinger, cutting the lead to four with about a minute to go, fans could be seen heading for the exits. It was clear that nobody's heart was in this one.
It is important to note, however, that the apparent lack of enthusiasm for this particular game is something of an aberration. Historically, Boston has had a very rowdy and loud fanbase that always turns out to support its team. Even this year, a down year for the Celtics by all measures, the TD Garden was 90% full at tip-off and most people were wearing some type of Celtics gear. And when something exciting did happen the arena got quite loud. (Although not Moda Center loud!)
From a personal standpoint, this wasn't the best game I ever attended, but I still found it quite enjoyable. I decided to splurge on seats very close to the court on the baseline near the Celtics bench. That afforded me an up-close view of Rondo tearing our players apart in the first half, but I also got to see Chris Kaman's amazing footwork and Steve Blake's ankle-breaking crossover at the expense of Evan Turner in the second half.
It's been said before, but I'll echo the sentiment again, you don't realize how fast and big these guys are until you're a few feet away from them. Up close, every move seems to be happening at warp speed. I often wonder how players keep falling for Rondo's fake behind the back pass, but when you see it live it is virtually impossible not to follow where you think the ball should be going.
Similarly, the physicality of LaMarcus Aldridge's game is striking when you watch him in person; every single play involves a superhuman amount of strength as he fights for position and bangs into the defender. His style seems exhausting, and it's clear that smart teams are trying to wear him out by making him play as physical as possible.
The other thing that really stood out was Kaman's footwork, but there is not much else to say that hasn't already been said - the dude is a wizard in the low post. A true joy to watch for the basketball nerds out there.
In the end, I walked away from this one mostly satisfied. I had good seats, learned a little bit about basketball, and got to see some cool plays up close. And, as a visiting fan, I actually kind of liked that the home crowd was having trouble getting excited - there is nothing more annoying than listening to everyone else have a good time at your team's expense, after all. But, most importantly, the Blazers gutted out their second road win of the season in an inhospitable arena.
--There were a few Blazers fans in the house - I exchanged high 5s with as many as possible. Certainly not an overwhelming number of us, though, and there were never any audible pro-Blazers cheers.
--Biggest cheers of the night were for the late three pointers that cut the Blazers' lead down to four, the Rondo lay-up after the Wallace miss, and the free t-shirt toss. Blake's crossovers also got some positive reactions out of the home crowd. There wasn't too much booing, outside of the starting line-ups and some tepid responses to supposedly questionable calls. Unusual level of restraint for a Boston crowd.
--I wore my Clyde Drexler throwback jersey to the game and I got one compliment and only one negative remark. I was honestly expecting a little more abuse, but I'm not complaining!
--During a pair of free throws I stood up and quite loudly thanked Gerald Wallace for netting the Blazers Damian Lillard at which point he shook his head and started chuckling. I can't be sure that he was laughing at me, but I like to imagine.
--Similarly, Wallace has transformed into something of a player-coach; he was regularly giving guys advice and shouting instructions from the bench.
--TD Garden is full of old-timers who have had season tickets forever. Tonight I had the fortune of sitting across the row from a man who had been attending games since 1975! Very cool.
--The fans tonight rarely cheered without some kind of prompting from the Videoboard or a mascot/cheerleader. Even on free throws the Blazers players weren't harassed until urged by the team mascot. One great thing about the Rose Garden/Moda Center experience: Blazers fans know when to cheer without being told to by the arena staff.
--The Celtics mascot, Lucky, runs around unencumbered by an animal costume and does a fair amount of verbal cheerleading. It's an interesting contrast to the usual silence of the guys in furry suits. He also does a standing back flip in the stands after a made Celtics free throw which, I'll begrudgingly admit, is kinda cool.
--The fans in my section were quite fond of calling RoLo a Chia Pet. Personally, I'll take a Chia Pet over whatever's going on with Kelly Olynyk's hair any day.
--Coolest Celtics jersey I saw was a Tiny Archibald #7! I also noticed a Paul Pierce Kansas jersey and Ray Allen UConn jersey. "What the heck" award goes to the guy wearing the ‘Melo Syracuse jersey (...why?).
--From the Blazers side, I noticed a dude wearing a Jail Blazers era Stoudamire/Rider/Sabonis/Wallace shirt. Other than that there were a lot of Lillard jerseys (mostly road blacks), a few LAs, and even a CJ #3!
--Boston is one of the most storied franchises in NBA history with 17 banners and a ridiculous number of retired numbers hanging in the rafters. During the KG years they would welcome the team onto the court with a hype video showing Celtic glory over the last 50 years. It was quite intimidating to see how much basketball history had been played out on the parquet and had to have given them a small mental edge. I wish the Blazers would create a similar player warm-ups hype video to help give our fans a sense of unity with the franchise's history and to remind everyone of the tradition that we have.
--Random Meyers Leonard shot for the finish!
Thanks to Eric for the report! If you're hanging out in Philly or Charlotte and headed to the upcoming games, hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org and we might ask you do file a report in similar fashion!