Peter Sampson brings us the In-Arena Report from the Trail Blazers' thrilling 111-95 victory over the San Antonio Spurs. And let me just say that any report that starts with a Ric Flair paraphrase is alright with me!
In order to be the champs, you got to beat the champs. The Blazers may not be playing championship level basketball right now but they took care of business on national TV tonight against a Spurs team that looks increasingly like its better days are behind it.
Coming in to this game I was excited about three things in particular; The Kawhi Leonard/Nicolas Batum matchup, LaMarcus Aldridge returning to duty after missing the last game with a right thumb injury, and the fact that the crowd seems to get up for national broadcast games. (Tonight's contest aired on ESPN). I'm happy to report that all three categories get a check mark in the "plus" column tonight.
I got to the arena about 30 minutes early thanks to Google Maps cleverly routing me around as much of I-5 as possible. A Blazers game, a Winterhawks game, and fresh rain on the pavement made for a horrible commute to the arena. Though the crowd arrived a little later than normal for an ESPN game, the arena filled up quickly. I'm not sure anyone was happier to be there than this guy:
The Spurs were introduced to moderate applause, about what one would expect for a team that has experienced that much success. The notable exception was Tim Duncan, who practically received an ovation. I didn't realize he had so many fans here. I certainly respect his career, but don't really root for the guy in any meaningful way. Maybe fans think this is his retirement tour, I don't know.
Tonight's "Item of the Game" was amazing, maybe on the level of the PDX carpet tribute shirt.
I would have picked one up, but I died of dysentery on the way to the fan shop (if you don't get that joke, I can't help you. You're just the wrong age).
Dorell Wright picked the warm-up music tonight, "Know Yourself" by Drake. I'm 2 for 2 with Drake thus far in my current run as an in-arena correspondent. I've always wondered why no one trolls the crowd and picks something ridiculous. "What's up Rip City? It's me, Peter Sampson, and this what I listen to when I want to get pumped". Then have The Archies or Alvin and the Chipmunks blast over the sound system.
Before the game, Paul Allen presented LaMarcus Aldridge with a plaque recognizing him for becoming the all-time Trailblazers leader in double doubles. And with that, we were underway!
The Blazers started the game off on the right foot, jumping out to a 32-16 lead after one quarter of play. Nic, in particular, looked energized and had his shot working early. When "Good Batum" shows up, the Blazers are a tough matchup. There was some talk in our section about whether or not Portland would be able to hold the lead or would give it away. Sounds like not all of us have let Sunday night's game go.
Arron Afflalo got another nice hand from the crowd. He looked to be a bit more aggressive tonight, and got an extra loud response with every positive play.
Before the 2nd quarter, a couple of kids competed for a year of free Happy Meals. It was Portland Thunder night (arena football) so they had to race all over the court while putting on a football uniform, complete with pads and a helmet, and then make a layup. My man Christian fought the butterflies and sunk his third layup attempt to win. Cadence forgot to pull up her pants and, though she hopped valiantly across midcourt, never really stood a chance.
The fans who questioned whether we could hold the lead had their fears validated during the 2nd quarter when the Spurs made a push back into the game, tying it late in the period. Similar to the Memphis game on Sunday, we did what we could to urge the team on. There were also a couple questionable calls during this span that went against the Blazers, which furthered crowd nervousness. Paging Joey Crawford....
For the halftime entertainment we were treated to the Bello Brothers from Italy. Unbelievable gymnastic artistry. I was too dumbfounded to take video, but you can see their act here.
The Blazers opened the 3rd quarter strong and the crowd followed suit. The sense was that we just wanted to enjoy the game without the outcome hanging in doubt. AAA had a nice shift in the 3rd with a nice driving jumper and a 3-pointer.
Garrett and Todd played the State Farm assist game as State Farm agents fed them passes at the free throw line. Turns out neither one really has the touch from the charity stripe, with Todd only hitting 3 in 60 seconds. Garrett was shut out. You gotta bend your knees, man!
More fun for the crowd was the Pacific Office Automation "Three Card Monte" game (I don't know what they actually call it). The Blazers logo goes under one of three copy machines, which are then spun around like cards on a street corner. Everyone in the crowd likes to scream which copier the logo is under, and it's not too tough for the contestant. Micah picked himself up an iPad Mini for his trouble.
The 4th quarter was the Wesley Matthews show. If you didn't see his performance, make sure to check out the game recap for the details. He was all over the place, and earned himself about 30 seconds of the rare crowd name chant. I'm not sure what the equation is to earn one but it's something like: (X)Points/(Y)Time*(Z)HustlePlays = Name Chant. After his stinker against Memphis, it was great to see Wes explode.
Overall, this was the most free and easy the offense has looked in some time. Of course, shooting 50% from the field and from 3 always makes the offense look good, but the Blazers were active, making the right pass for the most part, and not over-thinking. The starters were pulled to a standing ovation with just over a minute to go, and we all got what we came to see,
Non Game Notes: A girl from my section won a fridge in the Standard TV and Appliance game. I know I've reached middle age because I was jealous.
Joey Crawford is the NBA equivalent of a WWE villain. That's the only explanation.
The Leoupold Hometown Heroes were Jessica and Davonta Deagler
In honor of the Portland Thunder, footballs were thrown into the crowd instead of t-shirts in the first half. Much more aerodynamic.
Signs of the night - "J.E.R.O.M.E" each letter on its own placard.
I'll be back with you on Friday when we take on the Zombie Sonics in an increasingly close divisional matchup.