There are two ways to look at this game. The first way - "The Blazers are locked into 4th place, they weren't going to get home court, LaMarcus Aldridge had the day off. Just get the bench guys some burn and help them get in a rhythm during a meaningless game before the real season starts."
The second way - "What was that garbage?"
There were a whole lot of optimists in the crowd for Fan Appreciation Night tonight, which was commemorated on the game programs.
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After 40 home games, plus preseason, you recognize folks from not only your section, but the neighboring section as well. Tonight featured a ton of people that I didn't recognize, likely making it out to a regular season game during their last chance this year. The new blood helped pump up an arena that probably would have otherwise sat listlessly throughout tonight's meaningless contest.
In place of Arron Afflalo and LaMarcus Aldridge, C.J. McCollum and Meyers Leonard got the start tonight. I probably would have gone with Alan Crabbe in order to keep C.J's firepower with the bench unit, but with Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors out tonight for Utah, it was sort of all bench all the time.
For Fan Appreciation Night, the team had been letting fans vote online for which intro to use tonight. Here is your winner.
That's the one that always gets me hyped. It was nice to see it make a comeback, as it had been missing for a few games now. It's too bad it didn't get the actual team hyped though, because they came out as stagnant as swamp water from the opening tip. Utah had a quick double digit lead and the crowd lost all of their enthusiasm early. Trevor Booker had nearly 20 points in the first quarter alone, and Portland was down 32-19 after one quarter of play.
After the first quarter, Great Clips held a free throw contest to win the crowd free haircuts, with Seth playing for the 300 level, and Nigel playing for the 100 and 200 level. Nigel, my man, you've got to bend your knees! Seth won 7-3 and won us all free haircuts. I forgot to grab my coupon at halftime, though. It's a good thing I've got perfectly coiffed hair already. (I'm a Murray's Pomade guy, if you need to know).
The Blazers struggled with their offense to start the second quarter but the crowd, now with nearly every seat filled, realized "Hey, it's Fan Appreciation Night. Let's show them why they should appreciate us!" and started up a series of chants that essentially ran through the rest of the evening's play. The crowd especially voiced their approval for a sweet Meyers reverse dunk and a beautiful setup by Nicolas Batum, leading to Crabbe getting a two hand jam by cutting back door on the baseline.
But it was McCollum who gave us the most to cheer about in the first half. Seriously, I can't even believe this is the same player from last fall. He looks so under control while probing the floor, and his decision making is nearly instantaneous now. His recent play is not a fluke. C.J. is having his coming out party, and we're all invited. When is the last time a young Blazer suddenly "got it" midseason like this?
So while the offense picked up in the second quarter, the defense was horrible, frankly. The Blazers were also getting punished on the glass. Halftime couldn't come soon enough. When they announced the Calypso Breakers, I knew I had to turn my camera on. I was at the Nike Hoop Summit this afternoon (Yes I spent about 6 hours at the Moda Center today) and they were the halftime entertainment then as well, so I got a sneak preview. Anyway, here are the amazing Calypso Breakers.
Coach Stotts must have given it to the guys at halftime, because they came out fired up and ready to play. The Dame and C.J. show started clicking, and they started playing a little bit (not a lot) of defense. When the Blazers took the lead early in the quarter, it got loud. It looked like we were going to have a good carefree finish tonight.
But Utah kept themselves in it and even regained the lead in the 4th. Now we were in a dog fight. The crowd was as loud as some big games against playoff level opponents I've been to this year, and when Lopez hit a layup to tie the game at 101, we were dancing in the aisles.
It wouldn't last. The Blazers would only get a couple of buckets from Meyers Leonard the rest of the way while the Jazz got contributions from multiple players in crunch time. When Batum committed a frustrating 5 second violation when we were down 4 late (he had two guys he could have passed to, but he just held the ball), we knew it was over.
But does this game even matter? No matter what the Blazers do, they're going to be scoreboard watching to see who they matchup against. If you don't control your own destiny, should you just take it easy? Or should you be playing to win, in order to make sure you don't lose that edge going in to the playoffs? Either way, it didn't feel good leaving the arena.
Hopefully that picture doesn't also serve as a metaphor for how this Blazers team's season is shaping up.
Non Game Notes:
Featured local music tonight was "She Moves" by Brainstorm. I saw them at The Woods (RIP) with maybe 5 other people a few years ago. It's very rare when I'm ahead of the curve anymore.
Leupold Hometown Hero - Sgt. Joe Howard.
Jamal from Scappose took the halfcourt shot for a brand new Toyota Prius. If he had any kind of arc on his shot, it would've had a chance, but instead he shot a line drive off the front iron.
They played "Name that Tune" with the Blazers. CJ, LaMarcus, and Dorell all new it was Nicki Minaj. Meyers guessed Katy Perry and Ke$ha. RoLo said, and I quote, "I know what this song is, but I'm not even going to say it out loud because it's so terrible. This earned some of the loudest applause of the night.
Sign of the night - "Welcome to Prime Time, C.J. McCollum
Alex from Canby hit a blindfolded free throw to win $250.
Listening to the post-game interview with Wheels and ‘Tone, Stotts was heated at the Blazers defensive effort tonight. There are some relevant quotes in Ryan's post game recap.
Thanks to Peter for the excellent work! The Blazers are all out of regular-season home games now. On to the playoffs, and hopefully a better effort!