Without further ado, here's special correspondent Peter Sampson with the In-Arena Report direct from the Moda Center during the Portland Trail Blazers' 98-94 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.
Blazer fandom is great because it's really just a metaphor for life. You have ups and downs, highs and lows. You get attached to people, but most of them eventually leave your life, sometimes suddenly and dramatically, sometimes gradually and without fanfare. And the older you get, the more you realize that the simple pleasures are the ones that matter. A quiet walk in the woods. A child's smile. Beating the L*kers.
It doesn't matter that this isn't a Western Conference Finals preview. It doesn't matter that Kobe didn't play. All that matters is that we "Beat L.A."
The crowd had to ride a serious emotional rollercoaster to get there, though.
I wasn't sure the crowd was up for it at first. Arriving early, the Laker contingent was already in full effect. I didn't want to blatantly take photos of L*ker gear, but this picture of the crowd at the Pyramid Tap Room represents the approximate ratio throughout the arena.
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Ok, that's fine. Laker fans always come out and represent. And why shouldn't they? They only get 2 chances per year to don their Kobe Bryant jerseys and whoop it up. (Seriously, EVERY L*ker jersey was a Kobe. The only variation was #8 vs. #24.)
During the pregame, they had a nice tribute to Stuart Scott with a moment of silence. Very classy. Laker introductions were about 65% boos and 35% cheers. Like I said, the Laker contingent was in full effect. Former Blazer Ronnie Price received a nice round of applause, however. The Blazers broke out a player intro that I haven't seen before; sort of a cross between the typical loud intro with Matrix-esque panning effects. Very cool. And with that, we were underway!
The crowd was loud early, but had the life taken out of it when Matthews collapsed on the near baseline trying to drive on his defender. He stayed down like he had been shot and the replay on the big screen drew an audible gasp from the arena. In case you didn't see it, he hyperextended his knee forward about an extra 30 degrees. Every Blazer fan within ear shot was absolutely gut punched. As a side note, I was sitting very close to the court during the game that Greg Oden shattered his knee. The feeling in the crowd was similar tonight. It looked so bad. With the special season we've been having so far, you could absolutely feel the worry in the air as Matthews was carried into the locker room.
As play continued, it felt like there was little to cheer for. The L*kers were getting offensive rebounds and hitting from the midrange (and even 38 feet out, as Nick Young...err....Swaggy P did as the shot clock expired). Though Chris Kaman and Damian Lillard were doing what they could to energize the home crowd, all thoughts were with Matthews. Then, improbably, they showed Wes on big screen, sitting back on the bench, which drew a massive ovation. Two minutes later, he checked in to the game, which drew an even bigger ovation.
I know that Wesley's nickname is Iron Man and not missing time is a source of pride for him. I remember him playing night in and out on a bum ankle and then admitting after the season that he couldn't feel his foot for most of the year. I remember him hitting the floor again and again in pursuit of loose balls. But I've never been as impressed with his toughness as I was tonight. Though he clearly had no lift in his shot after he came back, it was an inspired performance.
You know what a Blazers crowd loves almost as much as a Matthews gut check? Meyers Leonard doing good things. He gets a lot of flak from people, and a lot of it is deserved. But deep down, I don't think there is any Blazer that fans want to see succeed more than Meyers. Every time he takes a 3, the crowd volume swells in anticipation. When he hit on a 4 point play in the fourth, I thought the lid was going to blow off the arena. His fourth quarter rebounding with the big boys was applause-worthy as well.
But no Blazer was as applause worthy as Damian Lillard. His 4th quarter "Lillard time" takeover is what really brought the crowd to life and gave us enough energy to help carry the team on defense:
And in the closing moments, music to my ears.
Like only they can, a 10th Blazer victory after being down double digits!
I'm looking forward to bringing you all of the in-arena action when the Blazers take on the Miami Heat on Thursday!
Blazers and L*kers mingling. I guess I'm cool with it as long as we win.
Blazers Edge reader "HiPo Steve" came to my seat and introduced himself. It was very cool to meet and chat with another BEedger.
The Ford Blimp was back in action tonight! No casualties to report.
They played "This or That" with Lillard on the big screen during a timeout. Lillard chose NBA Live over 2K (obviously), PlayStation over Xbox, Batman over Superman, Netflix over TV, Kanye over Jay-Z (which the crowd absolutely hated, even though he's right), and football over soccer.
Three little kids ran the McDonalds trike race for a year's worth of Happy Meals. Sawyer raced out of the gate like he was Steve McQueen before immediately wiping out. Sometimes we fly too close to the sun. Ian and Leo were deadlocked coming in around the turn, before Leo took home the prize.
Leupold honored Portland Police Officer Carlos Ibarra, who received a nice ovation, as the Hero of the Game.
Random signs - "Crabbe people", "Kobe's Crying", and my personal favorite - "Rolo - Will You Be My Stepdad?"
Tonight was Robin Lopez coaster night. These coasters are a nice natural wood, with laser engraving. They've given away 4 of the 5 now, with Nic Batum the only Blazer still to be featured on a coaster.