Special Correspondent Steven Armstead brings us the report from inside the Moda Center as the Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Milwaukee Bucks 104-97.
For those who have not been to a Trail Blazers game in a while, Mark Mason announces each player differently during introductions. Damian Lillard is introduced as wearing the letter "O" (in fact if any foul is called on him throughout the game, Mason says the letter "O"). Wesley Matthews is introduced as Iron Man; Nicolas Batum is introduced in French. (When Victor Claver started he was introduced in Spanish). At the last, LaMarcus Aldridge is introduced as the L Train.
Well tonight, we had a new player introduced. Thomas Robinson. He was billed as the "Truck". Apparently this off season teammates had started calling him that because of his broad frame and muscular build. Ain't going to lie, it fits.
But somebody forgot to inform T-Rob about one of his starting duties. Every home game there is a t-shirt exchange where five lucky fans are brought down onto the court and given autographed t-shirts from the starting five during introductions. Robinson apparently forgot that he was supposed to give away the shirt and Wesley had to kindly grab him by the arm and motion to him to give it up.
[ed. Starting = free swag! Perks of the position.]
I bring this up because it reminds me of a funny story from Robin Lopez's first ever game as a Trail Blazer. I am talking preseason. The t-shirt exchange is still on and he is introduced third after Dame and Wes. After his name is called he starts going through the line high-fiving teammates, but instead of handing the t-shirt off to the rightful recipient, he chucks it into the crowd. I can just imagine the thoughts racing through the expectant receiver's head as THEIR t-shirt flies over their head into the stands
Very sluggish first quarter as the Blazers were ice cold from the field. It felt like the crowd really wanted to get into the game but the way it was going, they just weren't able to. I will say though, they were much more involved in this first quarter than last game, despite the terrible shooting.
During the end of the first quarter break, a Great Clips promotion was introduced. Two contestants would try to make more free throws than the other. One would play for the 100 and 200 levels (not much interest from the crowd) while the other would play for the 300 level (large cheer). This seemed to actually get the crowd going as the two contestants bricked multiple attempts. [Enter Bill Schonely "you've got to make your free throws"]. After time expired, they were tied. A sudden death round came and the contestant shooting for the 100 and 200 levels won. Dang, no free haircut for us nose-bleeders. I cut my own hair but I did see plenty of people with shaggy do's in the 300 level that could have used a free haircut coupon.
A Thomas Robinson (excuse me, "the Truck") alley oop dunk got the crowd amped up with a little over two minutes left in the second quarter. After another ThRob alley oop from Dame got the crowd even more pumped, a very scary incident occurred. While driving to the basket Giannis Antetokounmpo (yes I googled his name and copied it and no I am not ashamed) jumped awkwardly with seemingly no one around him. He landed extremely hard in a heap on the floor with an audible thud heard from the upper deck. The play made no sense and I half expected the refs to call a foul even though it appeared no one was around him. Play kept going until O.J. Mayo fouled Aldridge.
The crowd was noticeably silent and those right behind the basket stood up and looked genuinely concerned. A general uneasiness came over the arena. I remarked to my family how weird the play looked and I didn't think anyone was around him when it happened. I was pleasantly surprised when he limped off with some help, hoping it wasn't anything serious. Twitter says it was an ankle injury, which is good because it looked so much worse in real time.
I was honestly surprised the Blazers went into halftime with a lead after how bad they shot. I am sure someone could explain how and why they had the lead, but watching the game live it was a mystery to me.
The crowd always takes its sweet time coming back from halftime. I've noticed this in televised games as well.
At the end of the third quarter there was a Christmas-themed "guess the movie poster" game. In this contest two people look at movie posters on the big screen and try to guess the title. Usually one of the contestants knows most of the titles, but tonight was different. It was about 50/50 whether they knew them or not and even then they only knew half the title. Mark Mason decided to give them a point regardless of knowing or not.
In the fourth quarter the crowd started getting into the game a little more, especially with calls they felt were wrong. I was very confused the by one offensive foul/blocking call that was called. It definitely looked like an offensive foul on Dame. Regardless, the crowd got energized and were decently loud the rest of the game.
We saw a scary fall by Batum with about three minutes left in the game. The crowd reacted immediately, standing up in silence. The Blazers that were on the floor with Batum quickly surrounded him. After a minute or so they did not look concerned and eventually Batum got up, shook himself off and played the rest of the game.
Hack-a-Thomas came into full effect with less than three minutes to go. Can't blame Coach Kidd but the crowd wasn't happy with the strategy. When Robinson did make a free throw the arena got extra boisterous. A nice loud cheer was given to ThRob as he left the game after 5 trips and 10 attempts at the line. I actually appreciate the gamesmanship of Coach Stotts by keeping Robinson in the game despite him shooting so poorly. He shot 40% from the line but each team scored exactly 4 points from the moment hack-a-Thomas started to Steve Blake entering the game for him.
Blazers win. Blazers win.
Random Game Notes:
The Ford Blimp did not make its return. I will keep you updated on this during my time as in-arena correspondent.
Nice round of applause as C.J. McCollum made his return in the second quarter. Not spectacular numbers but it was great seeing him out there. Kind of had dribble diarrhea tonight though.
Crowd was excited for 100 points but there was no coupon at the door. You have to download the McDapp to get your free fries. Not only that, but you have to use the coupon within two minutes of selecting it. I originally downloaded it because the fries are delicious but have since deleted it as it makes it more difficult.
LA was shooting well from the field early but the game seemed to go away from him. In the fourth quarter with about five minutes to go, LaMarcus hit a normal turn around jumper that banked in from the left side and looked up and stared into the crowd smiling.
Not a ton of signs tonight:
Rip city, I'm your number one fan, I'm 85 today
Robin the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Fa la la la LaMarcus (I may have missed a la)
Iron Man #2
Leupold showcases a local veteran during most home games. I was unable to catch the name of the veteran tonight but he had a lengthy career and was given a very nice ovation.
Robin was involved in every huddle. Talking players up, giving out left handed high fives and generally staying involved. It was nice to see. Also, he was wearing a golf shirt and jeans. I tried to get a picture but the camera on my Galaxy S5 can only zoom in so far.
- I was unimpressed with the "Ugly Christmas Sweaters" tonight. There were a few I figured the hipster crowd would have come out in full force.