The Trail Blazers and Clippers had plenty at stake in tonight's game and everyone filing into the Moda Center came hoping for a little taste of what Portland playoff basketball might look like this year. We knew both of these teams were good and could be headed for a collision course in the first round. This game here would not only go a long way towards deciding home court advantage if they meet, but also a sort of bragging rights at the start of a potential series. What more can you ask for in a late season game?
I arrived early with my most loyal Blazer fan friend, GT, and another friend Jon, who grew up in Portland and once played ball on the same court as Kevin Love, albeit 15 years earlier and in a pick-up game after school. We found our seats as the anthem was ending and watched as the crowd greeted the Clippers' starting line-up with a mixture of both cheers and boos. I'd say Blake Griffin got the most boos, but to be fair there were a few cheers mixed in there too.
Loud music then commenced as we got ready for the Blazers intros. This is what the scene looked like:
LaMarcus Aldridge was given the Maurice Lucas award for community service by Paul Allen and we all cheered for that. It was kind of funny afterwards because the game was about to start and LA was shuffling around center court holding his plaque with no place to put it. He stood there wondering what to do for a couple of seconds until someone came and took the award from him. Then everyone got ready for the tip off. DeAndre Jordan hugged it out with all of the Blazers beforehand while Blake Griffin and Chris Paul stood back adjusting their uniforms. I'd say at this point the place was about 2/3 full. Much of the crowd was preoccupied, still finding their seats.
GT remarked that he'd never seen Lopez win an opening tip and that didn't change tonight. After the first Clippers basket Aldridge knelt down to tie his shoe while Lillard waited to give him the inbounds pass. It felt a little bit like the game had started five minutes before everyone was ready. Even so the Blazers began hitting their shots; if anything the Clippers needed more time to prepare. They looked slow and perhaps worn out from their big game against Golden State the night before. The crowd began to settle in as the Blazers took a nice early lead. We started to think, "Wouldn't it be great if this game turned out to be a blowout?"
Blake Griffin hit a long jumper from the top of the key and a woman behind us let out a loud cheer. Her date turned to her and said, "You can't cheer for Blake Griffin."
"That's the whole reason I'm here," she replied.
Further investigation revealed that she had roots in Oklahoma and had liked Blake back when he was a Sooner, so we all gave her a pass.
After the first quarter ended this kid Demetrius was ushered onto the court and given the 45 seconds to hit three free throws in order to win us all free smoothies. If he hit one shot the 100 level got free smoothies, 2 shots the 200 level got them as well, and if he hit 3 shots we all won. Here is Demetrius:
As you can probably tell from the look on Demetrius' face, he came to play ball. He missed his first two shots, but then calmly sank the next three in a row, much to the delight of the crowd and the two gals dressed as bananas who escorted him off the court. I am right now looking at the free smoothie card which I received and wondering if I'll use it before I lose it.
The Blazers continued to dominate into the second quarter and I enjoyed watching Kris Kaman outplay his bench counterpart, Spencer Hawes. It struck me that the Blazers got pretty lucky when Hawes chose to go to LA instead of Portland last summer. We ended up with a better back-up center and right here in front of us was proof.
GT told us a story about how he and his son met Kris Kaman at fan appreciation night a while back. GT's son always wears a Kris Kaman jersey to games and says Kaman is his favorite Blazer because he hunts with a bow. GT got to shake Kaman's hand and mentioned to him that he'd gone to Michigan State. Kris said, "My wife went there, but she probably graduated a long time after you did."
During one of the time outs they showed a video in which several Blazers were played the song "Let It Go" from the movie Frozen and asked to name the tune. Lillard, Lopez, and Kris Kaman all had no clue, but Meyers Leonard knew it right away. He even sang some of the lyrics.
A good fan-made sign said: "There's only room for one Blake in our house". I had to think about that for a moment before I got it.
The Damian Lillard/Chris Paul duel appeared to heat up as the first half came to a close and they booth dove to the floor for a loose ball. The crowd was squarely behind Dame, but it was hard not to notice a few cheers whenever Paul hit a shot.
At halftime they announced that it was Robin Lopez's birthday and everyone cheered as they showed him smiling on the jumbotron. A little girl held up a sign that said, "Happy Birthday Rolo. It's my birthday too!"
The Blazers were up by 13 points and as we studied the stat board we noticed that every Blazer had scored in the first half. How often does that happen?
Then the jumbotron flashed this sign:
Apparently the Widmer Brothers were giving it away up on the 300 level concourse.
"I know where I'm not going," said GT.
The halftime show was a duo named Constantine and Cassie. Cassie danced around while Constantine waved scarves and threw glitter into the air. Cassie's outfits would change very quickly, like in an instant, and it was pretty impressive, except I swear I saw the same show at the halftime of a Knicks game about 9 years ago. I suspect these two are on the halftime show circuit, if there is such a thing.
We decided to hit the first floor concourse where I scouted out the various Blazer ensembles. This dude caught my eye right away. Clyde the Glide!
It's always nice when couples dress in matching Blazer gear:
A mother daughter duo!
A father with his sons:
Best overall look:
My friend Jon R saw some old pals of his and wouldn't you know it, they were Janet Weiss, the drummer for Sleater Kinney, and Joanna Bolme bassist for Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks. Portland indie rock royalty in the house!
We had so much fun talking to fellow Blazers fans during halftime that we missed a good chunk of the third quarter. We were in line for Killer Burger when a huge roar erupted from inside the arena. I ran in just in time to see Glen "Big Baby" Davis perform a tremendous flop as Aldridge stood above him in disbelief. The crowd was riled up and shouting for a good five minutes as the refs sorted out what had happened. The replay clearly showed Kris Kaman pushing Chris Paul in the back with apparently little provocation. The ensuing flopfest with Aldridge and Big Baby was only the aftermath. Afterwards we would all learn why Kaman shoved Chris Paul the way he did, but at the time we just decided to side with Kaman anyway. There's no way shoving Chris Paul could be wrong.
Unfortunately this scrum seemed to signal a turning point for our Blazers. It was as if the chaos of the moment served to un-focus our energy and we all watched in dismay as the Clippers mounted an impressive comeback throughout the following quarter.
"We shouldn't have waited so long for those Killer Burgers," said Jon.
The burgers were very tasty, but there was no denying this logic. We had been AWOL when our team needed us most. This thought plagued me as we watched the Clippers take a lead midway through the fourth quarter.
It's an awful thing to feel the zing seep out of a large crowd. We'd all been so happy just 20 minutes before. With 3:03 left in the game and the Blazers down 103-114, I noticed the first trickle of early-leavers rise up out of their seats. Of course, most of these folks were in the lower levels. Perhaps they were parked in the Moda center garages and wanted to avoid the jam-up to get out. But man, this game was far from over! And you know what? Portland does not have bad traffic. Ask a Clippers fan to show you real traffic sometime.
Anyway, the bulk of the crowd stuck with it. Up in the 300 level you could still see them all lined up against the farthest walls, not going anywhere:
Several times the jumbotron flashed a picture of a young lady holding a handmade sign which read "Never Say Die", a phrase which we all happened to know comes from Robin Lopez's favorite movie line (Goonies).
I believe most Blazers fans would stick it out to the end regardless of the score, but on this occasion those of us that did were rewarded with an interesting comeback attempt. The Hack-a-Jordan went into effect and appeared to be working well except the Blazers couldn't get rebounds after Jordan missed his free throws. This turn of events caused several collective groans, but still we were not going to say "die".
From those last two minutes, I recall most clearly images of CJ McCollum clapping his hands and calling for the ball at the three point line. It reminded me of Lillard in game six of the playoffs last year, except, well, we didn't win. CJ did hit two big time three pointers in the last minutes though and it was nice to see another Blazer step up like that.
With five seconds left we were only down 2, and the crowd was still on its feet. This kid in front of me was at his first game with his dad and his little brother. He was fun to watch:
Alas, we didn't get the result we wanted as those five seconds played out, but we had fun hoping. Aldridge was very cordial after the game and made an effort to congratulate each of the Clippers' major players before leaving the court.
We didn't much like the taste of this game afterwards, but no one could deny it was an entertaining match-up. In fact, it reminded me a little of a hard-fought game played down in Houston in March of last year, right as the season was coming to a close. The Blazers blew a lead to the Rockets and lost in OT, giving up the home court advantage to the Rockets should they meet in the playoffs. And we all know what happened when they did.
Goonies never say die, and I can only hope we get to see The Blazers take another shot at this team, because I sure won't be waiting in line for Killer Burger at the start of the second half if they do.
Thanks to Arthur for the excellent perspective on a not-so-excellent outcome. If you want more of Arthur's prose, here's a link to his book.