Guest Poster Marcus Russell joins us from Salt Lake City tonight, reporting from EnergySolutions Arena as the Portland Trail Blazers fell to the Utah Jazz 92-76. Here's the view from the seats.
I got to the arena fairly early and was shocked by the amount of Blazer jerseys and fans that I saw. I complimented a fan with a Lillard jersey in front of me and he showed off how he got it signed by Lillard earlier that evening. Apparently, about an hour before tip-off Damian Lillard took the time to sign autographs from everyone who wanted one. Classy move!
During Portland's introductions Lillard and Wes Matthews received loud cheers thanks to their ties to Utah; Lillard being a Weber State product and Matthews starting his career with the Jazz. The Jazz introductions featured fire and smoke; which was actually pretty awesome looking. I wasn't that close but you could feel the heat from the fire!
Both teams had a busy trade deadline; although none of the recently acquired players were available for the game tonight it became obvious that Rudy Gobert (aka The Stifle Tower) is a fan-favorite for The Jazz. As they unloaded former #3 pick Enes Kanter to Oklahoma City, Gobert was able to slide into the starting line-up and Utah fans were cheering loudly for his every move. The disgruntled Kanter publicly requested a trade after the strong play of Gobert ate into his minutes and according to one Jazz fan, "He's a crybaby."
I was curious to see whether Gobert or Derrick Favors would draw the matchup against LaMarcus Aldridge. Gobert may be the only player in the NBA besides Anthony Davis to cause Aldridge problems with length and mobility. And as I feared, Gobert started off guarding Aldridge while Favors stuck to Robin Lopez. Aldridge calmly hit his patented jump shot over Rudy to start the game but a Gobert block quickly followed. Overall Portland started the first quarter well and look re-energized after the long All-Star break, taking a 24-18 lead after one.
The Second quarter started with Matthews and 4 bench players (Blake, McCollum, Meyers & Kaman). This begs the question of Stotts playing a platoon system with the newly acquired Arron Afflalo taking Matthews' place in the 2nd unit? The bench struggled, culminating with a Technical on Kaman after a bogus foul call. Later in the quarter after Aldridge was called for a ticky-tacky foul he had a nice little chat with the ref, probably saying something along the lines of "You realize I started The All-Star game right?"
Portland's offense slumped into the 3rd quarter and C.J. McCollum seemed to take a more aggressive role, undoubtedly conscious of a pending decrease in minutes after the Afflalo trade.
Between the 3rd and 4th quarter break they played a video of The Jazz Bear mascot and The Blazers Trail Cat enjoying a meal together but thanks to some purposely spilled mustard; it escalated into somewhat of a bar fight. It ended with The Blazers' mascot being run over by a truck in the parking lot. This must have energized The Jazz because they started the fourth on a game-deciding 15-0 run, capped by a high-flying Jeremy Evans dunk.
The most compelling storyline then became, "Would The Blazers miss consecutive free throws so that the Fans would receive free Chick-Fil-a coupons?" Aldridge made it interesting by missing the first of two, but sank the 2nd much to the dismay of the fans. Later in the fourth Aldridge was blocked by Trevor Booker, which led to a dunk that nearly blew the roof of the arena. After a fancy Gordon Hayward lay-up leading to a 90-71 Jazz lead with 2½ minutes remaining the benches were emptied. And Portland was sent home licking their wounds.
Thanks Marcus. It couldn't have been any fun sitting through that but at least you got to talk to some folks and see fire!