It seems like every game lately, or at least most of them, are big games against conference rivals (0.9). But there's just a little something different about this one (0.9). I'm not exactly sure what it is, but there was just a little something magical in the air tonight as the Houston Rockets made their only trip to Portland this season (Zero. Point. Nine).
I'm clearly not alone in thinking this either, since I got to the arena more than an hour early and there was already a crowd building. I snagged a table at the Pines and watched some of the Thunder/Clippers matchup while enjoying some beef nachos from Polanco with a Dead Guy Ale. Tasty.
Pregame shoot around featured the usual Blazer warm up routines, but they were all wearing shirts that said "With Wes".
James Harden came out to shoot around before any of his Rocket teammates and received a healthy chorus of boos, a precursor of what was to come tonight.
During the intros, the loudest cheers were reserved for when they flashed a shot of Matthews shooting his bow3arrow. We were all clearly with Wes, who had his Achilles surgery today, as well. And with that, we were underway!
Right off the bat it was clear that the crowd was hyped for a playoff atmosphere type game. I feel a little spoiled in this run of in-arena recaps, to be honest, because the majority of the games have been that way. You know how everyone always says "You're the best fans in the world", and it's a total cliché? Blazer fans really are the best, night in and night out. They're even better after last year's playoff series, Portland fans now have a special type of energy for the Rockets. Or maybe it's just James Harden that we delight in hating. Harden was resoundingly booed every time he touched the ball, especially every time he snapped his head back or got a ticky-tacky call. He's playing at a high level right now, but focusing so much energy on fooling the officials just isn't a respectable way to play.
We had a tight first quarter and Houston led 29-26 after 12 minutes. After the quarter, Jude from Milwaukie won the whole arena Jamba Juice by going 3-4 from the charity stripe in about 11 seconds. Make sure not to play hack-a-Jude in late game situations, because the man is clutch.
Dame hit a three during the second quarter that gave him 150 on the season, making him the first NBA player to ever have 150 three-pointers in each of his first 3 seasons. The announcement of this fact a few minutes later earned a healthy round of applause.
Wells Fargo sponsored a new game tonight: "Bank Shot" (Get it?) Contestants get $25 for every top of the elbow, Tim Duncan style bank shot they hit. Andrew managed to land a couple but struggled to find his rhythm. Hey, they're tougher than they look.
Toward the end of the first half Harden took a hit to the "midsection" that left him crumpled over on the floor for at least 90 seconds. The crowd booed him intensely, which was a little surprising. I mean, this isn't Philadelphia (no disrespect intended. Philly is a great city, but y'all booed Santa Claus at an Eagles game). I guess Harden has just cried wolf too many times.
The Blazers were up 1 coming out of halftime when LaMarcus Aldridge picked up 3 fouls in the span of about 90 seconds. So, of course, we turned to...Meyers Leonard! After going scoreless for the first 4 plus minutes of the quarter, Meyers hit a 3, Nicolas Batum hit a 3, and Meyers hit another 3 on three straight possessions. Nooowww the crowd was rocking. I've said it before, but Meyers doing good things is a surefire way to get the Moda Center faithful hyped up. Houston needed time shortly afterward, and we kept the volume turned up.
We had the McDonalds Challenge tonight, where three little kids race to put on sports gear that is way too big and then make a layup in a quest for a 7-year-old's holy grail, a year's supply of Happy Meals. D.J, basketball shorts around his ankles, handled business with ease. Cameron had a big lead, but then tried to score an own goal, which cost him. Ales was the Ringo of tonight's group, just happy to be there.
They also showed a picture of Wes Matthews, just out of surgery, wearing his Blazer uniform and watching the game. He even had his elbow sleeve on. It was pretty awesome to be part of a standing ovation for a guy who wasn't even there. #WithWes
The fourth quarter maintained the same energy that had been developed in the third. Turnovers kept it close, but The Blazers were hustling. Aldridge's emphatic swat of a James Harden layup attempt with 5 minutes remaining nearly blew the roof off of the arena. But the Rockets wouldn't go away. So we needed to get even louder
With less than 30 seconds remaining and a chance to ice the game with a bucket, the Rockets "stole" the ball from Damian Lillard, leading to an easy dunk. It was easily one of the worst calls I've ever seen in person. The officials were booed for probably a full 60-90 seconds after that. I'm surprised the Portland fans didn't break into a "We don't care for this official" chant, but they definitely gave it to them.
All's well that ends well, however, because Arron Afflalo was able to hit a couple clutch free throws to clinch the season series and give us what we all came to see!
In the first quarter, they played "Name That Tune" with the team. Only LaMarcus was able to name Sam Smith, but Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum got DOWN with the song. Lillard in particular had some nice dance moves.
Leupold Heroes of the Game - Father and son Steve and Jim Ryan. The elder man, Steve, wept with pride at being recognized and a nice hand from the crowd quickly turned into a standing O.
Signs of the night - "Harden, Flop Fish", "Harden Doesn't Flop, Said No One Ever", "Stay Strong Iron Man", and "I Converted a Knicks Fan to a Blazers Fan" with an arrow pointing to a woman that was clearly asleep by the middle of the fourth quarter when they zoomed back on her.
Ah well, some old Knicks habits die hard. Thanks to Peter for the report!