The indubitably redoubtable Arthur Bradford joins us for our In-Arena Report from last night's Portland Trail Blazers - Golden State Warriors matchup!
Greetings Blazersedge readers, my name's Arthur Bradford and I will be writing up your "In Arena Report" for the Blazers big match-up vs. the NBA-leading Golden State Warriors. I grew up in Maine and have been a Blazers fan ever since I mistakenly thought they were from my home state as a kid in the 1970s. But now I live in the real Portland, avidly read Blazeredge, and attend games as often as possible.
Those of us who don't have season tickets have to choose our games wisely. Looking over the schedule a few months ago this game seemed like a sure-fire barn burner, two top teams from the west slugging it out for good seeding towards the end of the season. So when my friend GT offered me one of his group-rate tickets up in section 305 I said, "Yes please!" We've been gearing up for this game for weeks.
But then, of course, you all know how things played out. Three out of our five starters fell to various injuries and on top of that our top scorer off the bench got hurt and had to sit out as well. What once looked like a hot ticket now seemed like an invitation to a funeral. Or maybe it was more like an invitation to a birthday party that that wasn't going to be that fun because most of the kids you wanted to see were all sick with sprained limbs and bad backs and had to stay home. Meanwhile the other kids, the ones you know are cool but don't hang out with that much, are all healthy and eager to eat your cake. But you have to go to this party, because you've been looking forward to it for a long time. And hey, maybe those cool kids won't prevail. Maybe something unexpected will happen. And then you can say you were there when it did.
I arrived early so I could watch the players warm up. As I walked into the Moda center I got a fortuitous text message. A friend of a friend, who has sweet season tickets, decided not use them on account of the likely blowout nature of the game. "Go ahead and occupy their seats" said the message. Bingo! Maybe this party wasn't going to be so bad after all. From my new vantage point I watched Meyers Leonard and Joel Freeland practice post up moves on each other. I guess they both knew they were going to see unusually big minutes tonight.
Robin Lopez lay down near center court stretching as the rest of the team shot three pointers. I kept thinking more Blazers were going to take the floor, but they didn't. It was a very short bench. Over on the other end of the floor the Golden State Warriors strutted around like the first place contenders they are. Klay Thompson launched some threes and Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes ran one-on-one drills. Steph Curry and David Lee met up with Dorrell Wright at center court and yucked it up. I'd forgotten Dorrell was once a Warrior. Later on Steve Blake came over and hugged it out with Steph as well. It was a nice scene.
If you, like me, thought the crowd at the Moda Center was going to be a little more reserved and well, glum, given the circumstances, you would be wrong. The place filled up with a hefty crowd determined to see good basketball, no matter what the odds. The usual pre-game Blazer electricity filled the air and by the time the lights dimmed for the announcement of the starting line-ups I'd say the place was just about full. Though I was beginning to suspect that all those unused Blazer seats got snatched up by Warriors fans. The Blue and Gold colors were ominously ubiquitous.
A group of five sisters sang the national anthem and did it very well. I didn't catch their name but I gathered that they lived on a farm in rural Oregon. The crowd gave them a warm cheer and I shot this video with my go-pro camera.
As you can see, the crowd was large and ready for action. I had planned to shoot a few more videos with that camera but after I shot this one I accidentally hit the record button again and used up the rest of the data card recording the inside of my coat pocket. I'll spare you that video, although you can hear that the crowd continues to cheer with pleasant surprise as the Blazers gave notice that they did not plan to just roll over on this one. With each D-Lillard three we began to let our hopes creep a bit higher. Maybe this wasn't going to be so bad after all? People seemed especially pleased with the tenacious D that Alonzo Gee laid down on MVP candidate Stephen Curry. When he exited the game the crowd gave him a big round of applause. At times things got so jubilant that I began to wonder if the group didn't get the memo that there was no way we were going to win. And then I thought, wait, maybe whoever wrote that memo was wrong. As the 1st quarter came to a close, I saw that the Blazers were in the lead. Not only that, but Lillard was awarded foul shots with precisely 0.9 seconds left. A good omen?
In between the first and second quarter they played a video in which they asked several Blazers players to recount their worst vacation memory. Chris Kaman told a somewhat rambling story about driving around in a van which was lost on most of the crowd, but might have been funnier in a quieter setting. Dorrell Wright got some good laughs with a story about eating something foul in Mexico and throwing up. Damian Lillard said he recalled jumping into the deep end of a pool in Louisiana and nearly drowning. This was the audience favorite.
A guy named Evan was blindfolded and asked to shoot foul shots for 45 seconds. If he made one he would get $250. He missed all of his shots. He was then given a chance at shooting without the blindfold and missed that shot too. Andrew Bogut, I noticed, watched Evan's progress intently and winced when he missed that last shot.
A good fan-made sign: "I'll Follow Afflalo".
Several kids made signs declaring their love for Blaze the cat.
The second quarter continued to go well for the home team and the atmosphere became more and more giddy. If nothing else, we were going to see at least one half of good Blazer basketball. The numerous Golden State fans looked a little put out. Had they travelled all the way from the Bay Area to witness an upset? We could only hope so.
Joel Freeland got a huge cheer when he sat down halfway through the second quarter. He appeared to be holding his own out there with the much larger Bogut. I wondered if there was any bad blood between them left over from that fight early last season. It didn't seem like there was, to be honest. They were both just playing hard.
CJ McCollum's run in the second quarter got people on their feet. CJ! At last! Things were running fast and loose out there and it seemed to favor the Blazers. The general attitude was, "What have we got to lose?"
As fans, we appreciated this. Perhaps we felt this way too. What did we have to lose coming to a game like this? We were at The Moda Center watching our favorite team play the best team in the NBA. Go ahead and launch another three CJ!
During a timeout, a fellow named Corey correctly guessed which NBA TV commentator won a gold medal with the 1996 basketball team. I had thought it was Grant Hill, and along with about half the crowd had urged Corey to pick him. But we were wrong. It was Steve Smith, and Corey knew it. He won something nice for his trouble, though I forgot what it was.
Towards the end of the half I noticed that Luke Walton was sitting on the Warriors bench. He's an assistant coach. I wondered if he had any sentimental feelings towards Portland or if all that belongs to his dad.
With about 2 minutes left in the half Curry called a time out and went to talk with the ref. From what I could make out he was asking that Gee not be allowed to shove him around so much. I looked up at the scoreboard and noticed that Curry only had 9 points. Gee, or somebody, was giving him trouble.
The crowd erupted in a long cheer when they showed Lamarcus Aldridge on the jumbotron. He was wearing a snappy red blazer. Chris Kaman was there too, also in a suit, but I didn't see Batum. Whenever Wes shows up at a game there's going to be a really loud cheer. I'd like to see that.
The Blazers led by 5 at the half, a very good showing.
Someone's sign said: "Rain to wash out the kick of Curry". I pondered that for quite a while.
Another set of signs was held up by two elderly women. One proclaimed that she was 95 years old. Her friend held up another sign saying that she was 92. Good for them. I don't imagine I'll be doing much useful at their age, but I would like to still follow the Blazers and if I did attend a game you can bet I'd be holding a sign just like that.
During halftime I wondered the hallways looking for the best Blazer ensemble. I liked this couple:
But this family took the cake. The father here says that his warm up suit was worn by Hank McDowell who played for the Blazers in 82-83. I didn't know who that was, but I liked the was the whole family was decked out for the game. Props!
Another thing worth noting at halftime was the ridiculous line for Salt and Straw ice cream. There were easily 150 people waiting for a scoop of that stuff. I took a picture of the line, but it's not especially compelling. The two men who did tricks out on the court during the break were compelling though. They were painted in gold and performed various feats of strength set to music.
For the second half I decided to go hang with my buddy GT in our originally assigned nosebleed seats. GT is one of those people who takes pride in starting the "Let's go Blazers" chants from time to time. The view might not be as close from up in the 300 level, but the crowd is always more engaged. We tried to formulate some kind of mathematic theorem stating the level of engagement inverse to the price paid for a ticket, divided by the distance from the court, but the calculus boggled our minds. Here is a video I shot on my phone of us cheering. Note the lone GSW fan trying to drown us out:
We were all loving the competitiveness of the game, but as the second half began to settle in, it became clear that the Warriors had decided to stop messing around. Suddenly it felt like they were hitting 3 shots for every one of ours. Not only that, but their success brought the Warriors fans to life. They became unified and started chanting "Let's go Warriors!" fairly loudly when they had the ball. In our house!
CJ and the rest of the crew put in a valiant effort, but there was really not much to write home about in that second half. The Warriors are a very very good team. Excellent even. Maybe we were all witnessing a historically great team in their prime. They looked complete, and well, the Blazers are not presently like that.
At some point it appeared that both coaches made an agreement not to play anyone over 6'6". Was that Alan Crabbe playing center to start the fourth quarter?
I moved back down to the plush seats for the last bit of the game. By then, many of the 100 level patrons had packed it in and left. I glanced back up at the 300 level. Still full, and still cheering loudly with each Blazer basket made. Far above I could hear GT counting down to his buddies, "1,2,3...Let's Go Blazers!" Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap. They kept it up until the very end.
Thanks, Arthur, for the wonderful work! Felt just like being there. And for those who would like more of Mr. Bradford's excellent prose, here's a link to his book.