Peter Sampson checks in with the In-Arena Report from the Portland Trail Blazers' drubbing of the Detroit Pistons.
As a fan, sometimes it's nice to just be able to exhale, especially after our stretch of national TV games against Western Conference playoff contenders. Tonight, Blazer fans at the Moda Center were able to do just that. It wasn't quite a wire-to-wire victory but the game was never in doubt. This led to a fun, relaxed atmosphere for all to enjoy.
Perhaps not surprisingly, we had some empty seats tonight. It's a Friday night game against a struggling team. Maybe there was a hot concert in town, I'm not sure. What I thought was a late arriving crowd turned out to be a VERY late arriving crowd, as in maybe arriving for the next home game.
The Blazers played back and forth with the Pistons early. Arron Afflalo started off well for the first time in several games while LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard were up to their usual tricks. The cheerleaders were up in the 300 sections handing out clappers early, which was my first indicator that maybe the aforementioned crowd wasn't showing up.
After leading by 11 at the end of the 1st quarter, it was time for the Meyers Leonard show. A 3-point play, a 3 pointer, and a layup in quick succession helped push Portland's lead while the bench unit was in. It's been really interesting to hear the progression of fan reactions to Meyers. During my first stint doing In-Arena Recaps earlier in the season, I commented on some of the nasty things I heard being said every time he checked in to the game. Now people get genuinely excited, particularly a small female contingent in the row behind me.
While it wasn't an absolute beat down, this was probably the best offensive first half of basketball the Blazers have played since their annihilation of Denver back in November. 57% from the field and 66% from 3 will do that. The correct passes were being made, jumpers were falling, and Detroit's mid-range defense was nonexistent tonight. 64-46 Blazers at the half.
The 3rd quarter was all about treading water and just getting through the game. Nothing super eventful on the court, though I did have a life changing turkey/avocado bahn mi sandwich from Bunk Sandwiches at that point. The other folks in row H and I were excited that, barring a disaster, the bench was going to get some run tonight.
Disaster averted, we got to see Leonard, Alan Crabbe, C.J. McCollum and Joel Freeland check in in the 4th quarter. Leonard had a beautiful full extension dunk that got the crowd going full tilt, even if just for a moment. A strange sequence a few minutes later got the crowd fully into it, however. Shawne Williams of the Pistons had been shoving Leonard in the back for a few plays in a row and then decided to try and start something with him with just over a minute to go. After Leonard just laughed and walked away, Williams walked by Freeland and the two exchanged words. Williams head-butted Freeland, who then head-butted him back.
As an aside, what kind of odds would you have to give up on a Leonard or Freeland vs. Williams brawl? If you need evidence to make the decision, you can see the headbutt video here.
This definitely got our attention, especially because it seems strange to pick a fight down 20 on your way to your ninth loss in a row. Frustration, I guess. Both players were ejected, and Freeland got a huge ovation, especially after Robin Lopez grabbed his hand and held it up like a prize fighter while they were shown on the big screen. THERE was the crowd noise we had been missing. Cue the "Let's go Blazers" chant for the final minute of the game.
As the playoff race heats up, it feels like there have been fewer and fewer easy wins on the schedule. It was nice to have one, even if it didn't result in the loudest crowd. Besides, even Blazer fans need to rest their starters from time to time.
Non Game Notes:
Tonight's contest featured a Papa Murphy's family challenge, where two families compete to put toppings on a massive pizza, each family playing for their own section. The Hamiltons won everyone in 333 a free one-topping pizza. A prize I'll actually use! Thanks guys!
Leupold Hometown Hero: Jeff Lucas, who made the ultimate sacrifice overseas. His family was on hand on his behalf. Prolonged applause, much respect.
In the Prudential Blindfold Shot, Craig hit the first blind free throw he attempted, netting himself a cool $250 in the process. It's all about that muscle memory.
This was the last in-arena report for my assigned tour of duty. I really enjoyed doing these and appreciate all of the kind words, feedback, etc. during my dozen or so games. But most of all, it was great meeting and chatting with those of you who stopped by to say hi! Thanks so much for reading and being a part of the Blazers Edge community.
Eh, you know this won't be Peter's LAST In-Arena Report. Every time he thinks he's out, we keep pulling him back. But if you're interested in taking a swing, e-mail me at email@example.com and let's see what we can arrange. We don't work you too hard and it's fun!