As you're no doubt accustomed to by now, our In-Arena Report tonight is filed by Blazer's Edge reader Bryan Renzi. Here's the view from his seat in the Moda Center as the Portland Trail Blazers mowed over the Cleveland Cavaliers. If you haven't read the full game recap yet, you can find it here.
It's fitting that on election day, The King was pushed to the side and ignored.
Now come the endless questions about whether LBJ's so-called "Great Society" has created a state of dependent and entitled Ohioans, to whom he can't possibly deliver the goods.
Those types of pointless banalities will be bouncing around the national media's echo chamber, which can now go back to ignoring us, and us them. Fine.
But it couldn't have been the assembled national media that actually tipped the scale on cheer / boo ratio for LeBron James in the player introductions in favor of cheers(!), could it??? More on that later. (Kevin Love got a straight split 50/50 on crowd reaction in the intros. That's all you'll hear about him, because he put up his typically hollow stats, then went home, got his shinebox and left.)
Around here, the headlines will be about the return of Big Game Dame, and his thoroughly masterful play. The "Ab Strain Heard Round Bridgetown" was evidently overblown.
This was a pretty balanced performance all the way around by the Blazers. Fans were obviously waiting for a game like this - they were on the edge of their seat, reacting with aggressively positive murmurs as each of the starters in turn took it hard to the rim early on. As far as ball movement goes, it started to feel like last year just a little bit, as you could feel and hear the crowd hanging on each crisp pass and well executed cut, sensing with great anticipation when great looks were about to present themselves. The selfless team play was evident through Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez leading the scoring through most of the first half.
There was some disbelief from the crowd as the Blazers refused to double team regardless of matchups, such as when Wes getting backed down by LeBron, or Tristan Thompson doing the same to Damian Lillard off a pick switch. The true ploy became evident as the Cavs pushed their way to the rim, only for RoLo to come over in support as a shot was about to go up. And as everyone knows from the candy treat of the same name - if you go at RoLo, you might end up with something stuck back in your teeth. Cavs were unable to get up clean shots despite their seeming physical advantages.
Two of the biggest crowd reactions early on were for Lopez' block of Marion on a play such as we just described, and later a block by Chris Kaman on a Thompson dunk attempt. Thompson came hard at the rim like a former #1 pick with a chip on his shoulder, but Kaman met him at the doorstep, carrying along plenty of zeal from the crowd.
Kaman is quickly becoming a crowd favorite, getting the biggest cheers among bench players on entrances and exits. After the game, Unfrozen Kaman Scorer spoke to the media about this phenomenon:
"Ladies and gentleman, I'm just a Kaman. Your scientists found me in a block of ice at the end of a bench in Los Angeles. Your world is mysterious and confusing to me. Like sometimes I look around at the Moda Center crowd and wonder, 'How did their voices get into my head'? But I do know one thing: if someone with less body hair is standing close to me, I should assert alpha dominance. And everyone has less body hair than me. Yes, Kaman manscape extensively."
(Disclaimer: May not have happened. But seems reasonable enough, right?)
While the game was nip and tuck early on, the Cavs extended their largest lead to 5 points with 5:46 to play in the second, before Portland stormed back to take the lead for good on a Lillard three just two and half minutes later. The crowd reaction to this shot seemed to presage the game's result, and the Blazers were treated to the most rousing applause from the home crowd this season as they walked into the locker room with a 5-point lead of their own at half.
The chatter was lively in the arena hallways at halftime. People had already forgiven the Golden State game and were writing it off as a great closing performance by Klay Thompson. There would be no repeat by any visiting player tonight.
Turning the screws on Cleveland in the second half, the Blazers seemed at ease and in control. They patiently used savvy fakes to set up shots, passes, and to draw fouls under the hoop. This is what you do when you face an anxious and pressing team - use their aggressiveness against them.
While the Cavs' epic-level-porous defense was as advertised, their supposedly legendary offense was just that - the stuff of dragons and unicorns and moderate politicians. The offense installed by David Blatt (aka "Erik Spolestra 2 - This Time, He Might Be Vertebrate") was summed up by one Blazer fan as: "Dribble, dribble, dribble, force." To be fair, their second unit ran a pretty decent looking motion offense, while the big names on the Preseason World Champions have largely played the world's most expensive pickup game so far - mostly in the realm of one-on-one.
The Cavs' offense proclivities were well represented when one petulant LeBron fan screamed at some point in the 4th quarter "Give LeBron the ball!" ‘Why?' you may question rightly. ‘What is he going to do with it?"
#23 part 2 scored ZERO points in a half for only the SECOND time in his career, looking mostly mopey and disinterested as Batum draped all over him like crepes draped all over me during your average brunch. Like his above-mentioned fan, he simply expected things to go his way. His greatness was already assured, he just needed to show up.
Or maybe he didn't have good sleep hygiene on the flight over and we all shouldn't read too much into it.
Either way, even his advocate recognized this. "LeBron isn't trying at all!" He cried just a couple minutes after his first proclamation. (I think he just wrote tomorrow's USA Today headline...)
While the sold-out crowd was once again at odds with the refs, they were on the same page as they gleefully spun their hands around each other when the King was caught walking. Evidently no hand-carriers were near by.
The Blazers fared quite well in the individual matchups favored by Cleveland. Robin Lopez was the clear winner over Anderson Varejao in what may seem at first glance as a tryout for drummer in a hair band - though A.V. did look the part with the sweet yellow headband. Nevertheless, RoLo showed who had quicker hands (8-11 shooting, 3 steals).
On his way to 21 points, Wes repeatedly posted and toasted Dion "Buckets Don't Lie" Waiters. No they don't, Dion (3 FGM).
Usually Kyrie Irving moves like he is wearing those shoes that have wheels in them that you can pop out when you feel the need to stunt, and it looks really cool and everything. Tonight he couldn't shake Dame without the help of a pick, and even those only led to 3 makes in 17 heaves. As the game went on, he and the rest of the Cavs settled for an increasing number of broken long jumpers after little or no ball movement.
LaMarcus' numbers didn't settle any ‘who's the best power forward' debates, but that wouldn't matter when his last meaningful basket came less than 5 minutes in to the second half. When the L-Train went coast to coast and delivered a 13 point lead via the...finger...roll, the crowd responded with its first standing ovation.
The second standing O came off the release of Iron Man 3, as Matthews' corner three-pointer with 4 minutes left in the game swelled the lead to 18 ended the game for all intents and purposes. Matthews' jumper a minute later set off the dance party for the night, to the stylings of C&C Music Factory. That's quality handcrafted music they make at that factory.
"Is Wes going to be on the All-Star team this year?" Not if USA Today has anything to do with it, hon. Although he's certainly backing up his claim of "Best 2-Way 2-Guard in the NBA" right now.
But of course, the best news of all was that our beloved point man was feeling like himself. When asked about his bounce-back performance, Damian addressed the PDX faithful:
"My name ain't Joe Panik, still no time to get manic
Tonight's jumper like Portland preserves: I canned it
I lit the flame, then y'all fanned it
U know the look in my eyes when I got to have it."
Ok, so maybe this was just part of my fodder for 4bar Friday and not a cipher from Dame himself. But given the celebratory atmosphere in the Rose Quarter after the game, I am not putting words in anyone's mouth when I say 2-2 feels pretty darn good right now, and this Blazers' team showed flickers both familiar and brighter than we've seen to date.
Assorted other fun around the arena:
Meet your bandwagoners!
Could this look better be described than ‘oh, busted'?
The question of the night was: "Why are you wearing a Cleveland Jersey?" Being this is Portland, I was far from the only one asking this question aloud of others, although I'm pretty sure I was the only one doing it for blogging puposes. Some of the jerseys spotted, and their owners' answers (...or does the jersey own them??):
-Black ‘Irish' High school Jersey: "I just decided to go throwback. I'm from Oakland, so what I really need to do is get a Lillard Jersey". (That is the most correct answer you could give, sir.)
-2014 Red Away Jersey: "I'm from Cleveland. I live in Bend now. I left before LeBron." (His friends: "Yeah, and we hated him as much as LeBron for that.")
-Cleveland Indians hat (the classy one with the ‘C') and LeBron Nike shirt hiding under a hoodie: "I'm from Cleveland, but have been living here for a few years. Portland's a way better place. But these are the only two games I root against the Blazers for each year."
-LeBron rookie year home jersey: "I've had this since his rookie year. I've always liked LeBron." (Do you root for the Blazers normally?) "Nah." (Are you from Portland???) "Yes." (!)
-LeBron first tour second generation home jersey: "I'm in the military, and I drove down from Fort Lewis in Seattle when I heard he was playing. I'm from Texas, and I just respect him as an incredible player."
-LeBron first tour ‘alternate' blue jersey with alternating gold / wine taping (my personal fave back in the day): "I'm from Cleveland. Flew here for the game. All is forgiven between me and him."
-Throwback Cavs shirt, new style Cavs hat, #23 in facepaint: "I'm from Cleveland, but live here now. Cleveland is way better. (full disclosure - she was drunk.)
-Lady next to her, pretty much same get-up: "Because I'm in a relationship with her." (nodding toward aforementioned drunk lady.)
-White Lebron replica jersey t-shirt: "I was in Florida this summer and bought it. I'm kind of conflicted about wearing it right now, to be honest." (Do you decide on who you're voting for on election day, too?)
-Kevin Love Cavs jersey: "He's from where I'm from." Ok, fair enough.
-Kyrie Irving jersey: Didn't get to ask, but I can assume he might just like awesome basketball.
-Johnny Manziell jersey (there were 2 of them tonight, not sitting together): "I've just always liked LeBron." Huh? This is just some weird next level bandwagoning, heretofore undocumented. Though I gotta admit the Browns colors always looked good on a football field.
The main scoreboard debuted new graphics incorporating the Portland skyline - you can see it in the pic above.
Wes picked the warmup music - "Grindin" by Lil Wayne featuring Drake. Apropos to the man's mindset and ethic.
Sleeved Jerseys - evidently did not impede the Blazers from playing well. And they actually rank as among the best looking of these crimes against nature that have been foisted on the league. But evidently the ‘unnecessary merchandising' campaign has no reason to be stemmed - according to a manager at the team store, the sleeved jerseys have only been on the rack for a couple weeks but are selling well.
Best sign of the night: "Sink Lebron's Loveboat". Most Sexist but still entertaining sign: "You have no power here, Queen LeBron".
The halftime show was a guy named "Rubberman" who was touted as the world's most flexible man, and a ‘Guiness Book record holder'. Guiness record holder sounds kinda cool, until you think about it and there are a lot of records that are probably more grimace-inducing than entertaining. The amount of head-to-butt contact left the crowd with a vague unease about what else this guy might be able to do.
Bathroom Report: We have only the finest toilet paper dispensers at the Moda, that is to say, the KING of toilet paper dispensers:
Handy to have around in case anybody in a #23 jersey needs to wipe away some tears.
There was a band before the game to pump things up and a DJ after the game to send us home happy. Guess what, it worked!
"And T-Rob's Dunk got everyone in Oregon fries!"
"Streamers getting blown out along with the Cavs".
After the game, Cleveland 'supporters' could not be tracked down for comment.