Special correspondent Andy P. returns with a firsthand look at the Moda Center during Portland's exciting-but-draining loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.
I've really been looking forward to this Grizzlies game for a few reasons. I'm a big fan of their grit-and-grind style. I like the criminally-underrated Mike Conley. I wanted to see how the Blazers would fare against them. But since I started writing these reports on the in-arena experience I've started looking at the games a little differently and tonight I was curious to see if the Grizzlies had any type of fan base in Portland.
Opening announcements for the road team pretty much set the tone for what I'd see throughout the night. The crowd didn't seem interested outside of some scattered boos for Zach Randolph. Come on guys, he played a lot of great basketball, and the argument that he sulked and under-performed his way out of Portland doesn't really hold water post-Felton. On the other hand, the Blazers got a great weekend-crowd type of reaction to their introductions. Looking around during the opening video (again the Blazers went with an intense background-lit intro, with the players pounding on the ball and staring coldly at the camera), I noticed that there was going to be a mostly-full crowd for the opening tip.
Memphis came out a little flat, which Portland took advantage of by jumping to a quick lead. An early Grizzlies time out got more than a few in the satisfied Moda Center crowd on their feet. Finally, the Grizzlies' defense showed up to get them back into the game. Still, a rejuvenated LaMarcus Aldridge helped the Blazers to a 25-23 1st quarter lead.
The Moda Center crowd started to get a little nearvous right around the time the Grizzlies' defense showed up. When Memphis took their first lead of the game there was an audible sigh throughout the arena. As the gritty Grizzlies defense gradually put a stranglehold on the Blazers' offense, it also started to take the enthusiasm out of the Moda Center crowd. A Damian Lillard behind-the-back pass to LaMarcus on the break got the crowd back into it but the moment was fleeting. Memphis held the home team to an 18 point second quarter and took a 9 point lead into the half.
Coming back from halftime I really tried to scan the crowd throughout the arena for Memphis fans. I couldn't spot any. This game definitely hit a season low for opposing fans. When the Blazers didn't come out and demolish the Grizzlies to start the half, the crowd seemed anxious. With 7 minutes left in the quarter and the Grizzlies still leading, section 314 tried to start the rally with their "Let's go Blazers!" chant, and were immediately rewarded with a Wesley Matthews three. But grit-and-grind turned it back on and soon the Grizzlies had the lead back to 13.
In the 4th quarter it was hard to feel hopeful. Every Blazers mini-run got answered. Missed three-pointers and a lack of stops kept the crowd in a perpetual state of grumpiness. At one point my season ticket neighbor Dan said "We're only down 9!" in mock cheerfulness. Shortly after that Wes hit a big three. The suddenly-reinvigorated crowd was on its feet and high-fiving after a big Chris Kaman block. Then the stranglehold returned, silencing the crowd and the Blazers' offense once more. With 2:42 left in the game Kaman fouled out. The crowd responded with a standing ovation but that was all there was left to cheer for. The Grizzlies played out the clock and the Moda Center emptied out with a collective sigh. Hopefully the crowd has something to cheer about on Sunday when the Blazers host the young-and-rebuilding Minnesota Timberwolves.
The only Grizzlies merch I saw with my own eyes was on the Jumbotron with only a couple minutes left in the game. If you saw any, or were the only other person wearing some, give a shout in the comments.
On the other hand there was some pretty cool Blazers jerseys in the crowd. A young lady in a childs-size Cliff Robinson:
A nice Rasheed Wallace...
...and a Joel Pryzbilla!
I really liked this guy's USA Dream Team Drexler jersey.
Also seen: this throwback Bonzi Wells jersey.
I ran into a nice woman in a Sean Marks jersey. After I told her that she was wearing possibly the only Sean Marks Blazers jersey in existence, she explained that her husband's family name is Marks.
And I loved the Brian Grant jersey worn by a guy who said he was a Blazersedge reader!
Ah yes, you can tell that guy is brilliant even from the back. And thanks to Andy for the report!