Peter Sampson brings us the view from the Moda Center as the Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Dallas Mavericks 95-74, losing Wesley Matthews in the process. As you might expect, it was an up-and-down night.
Revenge is a dish best served cold. But the Blazers have been red hot of late. Tonight they were looking to avenge last month's utter collapse against the Mavs and win their 5th straight. With another late start due to the TNT broadcast, the majority of the crowd had arrived by tip off
The crowd was pumped at the outset and ready to get rocking. Multiple close games against Western Conference playoff teams will do that. In fact, when some of the familiar faces in my row got to their seats, the recent wins against OKC and the Clippers were the first topic of conversation. Unfortunately, for the first 12 minutes, no Blazer outside of LaMarcus Aldridge looked like they knew there was a game tonight. Dame in particular had a brutal start, committing three turnovers early in the game. Some folks in my section were getting on him a little bit for his lazy cross court passes, two of which were picked off by Monta Ellis. It was 23-17 Mavs after the 1st, and the crowd had definitely lost any energy they tried to bring to the game.
The 2nd quarter lurched along the same way for the first six minutes. When the game flows (or doesn't) without any real sense of rhythm or runs, it's difficult for the home crowd to get vocal. Maybe we make a basket, then get a stop, then we commit a turnover, then play good defense, but then give up the offensive rebound. There was nothing to really get excited about as a crowd. Except for the guy in the Subway Lucky Row that was featured on the big screen. He was so stoked to win his $5 gift card that he shook his beer. Like a can of spray paint. Somehow, he seemed astonished with the result.
Toward the end of the 1st half, the Blazers started giving us a reason to make some noise. It's a lot of fun to watch Arron Afflalo work in the post and he helped get some offense going by forcing Dallas to react. When the Blazers took the lead in the final minute, we finally got to a respectable volume level.
The halftime consensus in my area was that we were fortunate to be up 40-36 after the way we played, and the Lillard needed to step up, since at this point he had exactly one FG in the last 6 quarters.
For our halftime enjoyment, Kenny "The Magician" Belaey performed gravity defying feats on his bicycle. Dude jumped over 6 Blazer Dancers lying at midcourt. I know they're petite and all, but trust me, it was impressive.
Early in the 3rd, when Matthews went down, it was clearly different. I don't know if you could see this on the broadcast, but he didn't even try to get up. Normally, even with serious injuries, players try to move and then realize that it's not happening. Wesley immediately just laid down. In the crowd, we were trying to see what happened on the replay. Naturally, everyone looked at the knee and didn't see anything. Wesley hobbled to the locker room (with assistance) to the tune of Iron Man, fittingly. I grabbed my phone and pulled footage up on Youtube and what had happened was clear as day. I shared my video with the folks to my left, who then relayed the speculation to the guys on their left.
What were we going to do? How big is the Afflalo trade now? What does that do to his status as a free agent? All questions that were asked in my row in the immediate aftermath. The proposed answers would have to wait, however, since we still had a nationally televised game against a Western Conference rival to resume. Matthews' injury seemed to light a fire under the team, especially Lillard. The offense began to flow like we are used to and the crowd began to get in to the game, able to sustain chants and see familiar movement on the offensive side of the ball.
By far the most exciting moment of the evening wasn't even part of the game. The Toyota Half Court Challenge got broken out tonight after the 3rd quarter. My man Chris spun the wheel and then calmly took a few steps and buried a half-court shot to win a new hybrid Toyota Avalon. We absolutely erupted. I was high fiving strangers sitting behind me like we had just won a playoff series. Enjoy your wheels, Chris!
From here on out, the Blazers were in control. We got our first real look at Alonzo Gee, and he thrilled the Moda Center faithful with three thunderous dunks. With the game no longer in doubt, there was only one question left; Was Raymond Felton going to get in to this game? He sure did. When Dallas was in town early in the season, Felton was inactive with an injury, so this was the crowd's first chance to "greet" Mr. Felton this season. I was checking my Twitter feed for Matthews updates when they announced him into the game and, in a purely Pavlovian response, I just started booing before I even realized what had happened. A few thousand other folks did the same.
A minute or two later, Joel Freeland also got welcomed back to the Moda Center, albeit in a much kinder fashion.
It was a great win tonight, but ultimately it just felt...off. Everyone tried to enjoy themselves, and we got loud, but we were clearly worried about #2. I didn't even remember to get any 2nd half photos for tonight's report. I'm sure you all understand.
We had a fake proposal on the big screen tonight. After some birthday wishes flashed across the screen we saw, "so and so, will you....." at which point the camera cut to a man on one knee and a very nervous looking woman in the crowd. Right when the crowd got cheering (some of us are groaning) the screen flipped to, "...get me another beer?" The young lady laughed, and actually said yes. Pretending to propose. That takes some brass.
They played "would you rather?" with the team, asking the Blazer players would rather go into the future to meet their great-grandchildren or the past to meet their ancestors. Unsurprisingly, comic book dude Rolo said the future, while all-around caveman Kaman said the past.
Leupold Home Town Hero of the Game - Joshua Combs
Tim Harmon, season ticket holder since 1975, had #36 himself, Lloyd Neal, present him with a piece of the floor from the championship season. I still want one.
Dave again. I am bummed about Matthews but that Toyota story warmed my heart. Blazers Fans: when one of us wins, we all win. Also I can't be the only one to see the humor in getting so excited over a $5 sandwich gift card that you spill most of your $10 beer. I'm pretty sure that guy just passed the aptitude test for Knicks GM.
Thanks again to Peter for the great report!