Blazer's Edge readers are in for a special treat tonight. An unusual game demanded an unusual recap, so Social Media Editor Brandon Goldner, the guy who usually runs Twitter, stretched his repertoire a little beyond 140 characters to bring you a free-flowing, devil-may care account of a free-flowing, devil-may-care victory for the Blazers.
The first quarter horn of tonight's Portland Trail Blazers vs. Memphis Grizzlies contest found Portland trailing by 5 points to the defensive-minded Grizzlies. Given the results EVERY time these two teams met last season, you'd be forgiven for thinking, "OK, that's it. The Memphis Grizzlies don't allow the Blazers to make runs. Game over. Nighty-night."
What followed was a display of basketball so brilliant and ridiculous that it's to cover with a normal recap. Instead, join us in the Theater of the Imagination, grab a seat... hell, maybe even buy an overpriced Coke, why not, you're at the theater of the absurdly fantastic.
It wasn't all that long ago that the Blazers were dark horse contenders in an ultra-competitive Western Conference. With a pedigreed offense and a top-10 defense, things were great. And then Wesley Matthews happened... or rather, his Achilles' connection with his heel stopped happening. And the season went sour.
Still, hope springs eternal in the playoffs, and the Blazers' 4th seed was good enough for hope, if nothing else. The Grizzlies had plastered the Blazers all season long, sure, but this was the PLAYOFFS. LaMarcus Aldridge was gonna score 40 again. Damian Lillard was going to go nuts. Things would be okay.
But they weren't, and the Grizzles gave the Blazers their walking papers swiftly, with little effort.
Then came the summer of 2015: Goodbye, Nic Batum. And LaMarcus. And Wes Matthews... and Robin Lopez. Hello youth, cap space, and untapped potential.
It's true, the Blazers are no longer the team that got stomped by the Grizzlies in all 4 regular season games and 4 of 5 playoff games last season: they're worse. At least on paper.
So there was no reason to think the 5-point lead the Grizzlies had going into the 2nd quarter wouldn't hold. Managing just 18 points, the Blazers were right where the Grizzlies wanted them: in their hot, musty, low-scoring bear claws.
And then something happened. It's still hard to say what started it. Maybe it was the backdoor pass by Mason Plumlee to Lillard that escaped two Grizzlies defenders by picometers early in the 2nd quarter. Or the back-to-back-to-back threes by Lillard and CJ McCollum closer to halftime.
Whatever it was, something changed, and while things felt pretty much normal at halftime (the Blazers sported a 50-46 lead) the third quarter started getting REALLY weird. Meyers Leonard was fouled shooting a three, and hit all three free throws. The Blazers' defense got handsy. Broken plays turned into golden opportunities. Al-Farouq Aminu got some. McCollum got some. Lillard made a three so disgusting even banana slugs wouldn't touch it, then turned around and hit another.
By the time Ed Davis hit a floater to end the third, the Blazers' lead had ballooned to 90-71. Portland had scored 72 points in the middle two quarters and the Grizzlies didn't look interested in putting up a fight anymore. The game that threatened to stay under 80 points apiece was now looking like a triple-digit affair for the home team.
The final period felt like an afterthought. Lillard hit another three, then was pulled, presumably done for the night. So imagine the surprise when he checked back in minutes later (for what reason we can only speculate, but it probably rhymes with "Sporing Calf Ridge"), only to hit ANOTHER three, then finally hit the pines for good.
By the time the collective human victory cigar named Luis Connaughton-Kaman got trotted out, the Moda Center was emptying (rare even in a down year), and the crowd was ready to curl up with their children and tell a tale of how the Blazers overcame their 2014-15 bugaboo in glorious fashion, minus their 2014-15 stars. A double-digit win against a legit team is a great thing, even greater when it comes so easy.
Are there lessons to learn? Probably none that we haven't already committed to memory: Lillard can hit silly threes. McCollum can do all sorts of silly things, too. The Blazers have lots of players eager to prove themselves. Coach Stotts has a system that respect his players and utilizes their talents fully.
The 115-96 win was nice, but even nicer are the Blazers new-found identity and confidence. It's easy to see how a few pieces here and there could change the look and trajectory of this team for the better.
But that's for the future. Tonight was about hustle, scoring, revenge, and Blazers fan everywhere sitting back, taking a sip of that overpriced Coke, and enjoying the show.
What a show it was.
Grizzly Bear Blues will not be a happy website tonight.
The Blazers face the equally-surprising Detroit Pistons on Sunday at 6:00 p.m. at the Moda Center.