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Blazers Summer League In-Arena Report: Dolly Parton, Mohawks and McBuckets

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In which Team Mom takes her Dolly Parton playlist and heads to Summer League.

TeamMom

I don't know what helped you through the free agency period, but for me, I alternated between shouting "Serenity Now!", looking at picture of cats on the internet and listening to my Dolly Parton 2015 Free Agency Playlist on repeat. Full of songs about breaking up, starting over and moving on, after listening to Dolly, I couldn't help but feel like we'd be fine. We just had to  process the losses, embrace the new players and turn our thoughts to the future.

And nothing says "Moving on" like the start of NBA Summer League.

Today's in-arena report is inspired by that Dolly Playlist.

If Teardrops Were Pennies and Heartaches Were Gold

If teardrops were pennies and heartaches were gold
I'd have all the riches my pockets would hold
I'd be oh so wealthy with treasures untold
If teardrops were pennies and heartaches were gold.

Summer League is held on the UNLV campus and games are played at the adjoining arenas: the Thomas and Mack Center and the Cox Pavilion. It was really, really hot and we had to wait outside until 12:30 to be let in. And with so many people lining up, it was going to be a while so I decided to sit in a slightly shaded area and wait for it to clear out for a bit. I sat next to a gentleman who was wearing an Atlanta Hawks hat. I was wearing my "Will The Thrill" Trail Blazer shirt.  "You guys had a rough week" is how he started the conversation.

I wasn't going to say that it was happiest off-season we've ever had. But when we started talking about what else was going on in the league -- DeAndre Jordan's antics, word about Embiid's need for more surgery, Wes earning a mind-blowing salary with Dallas -- some of the moves we had made and the knocks we had taken didn't seem so wacky.

Waiting in the line there, people from all over the country had positive things to say about Damian, CJ and Meyers. Maybe it was the hot sun, but with a little separation, I was able to take a look at the pennies and gold that have been falling all this last week. I couldn't wait to get inside the arena and take a closer look at all of the treasures the Blazers have.

I found CJ at the SiriusXM radio table. I told him I was looking forward to watching him play this year, and also said how much I like his writing for the Player's Tribune. I also took the opportunity to ask him once and for all what his preferred nickname is, CJ McBuckets or Buckets McCollum. He was not helpful at all and just said "CJ is fine". I guess that means we get to choose, Rip City, so leave your preference in the comments below.

The Blazers were not set to play until 5:00, so I killed time wandering the arena and watching several other games. I'll note that Dallas fans seem pretty sad right now. I sat with a group of them watching the Mavericks take on the Pelicans. They were shaking their heads wondering which one of the Summer League guys would fill that empty space left by the DeAndre Jordan incident. Chandler Parsons and Mark Cuban were both there, ostensibly to barricade any good prospects into the team's hotel. Man, Bae Chandler Parsons never stops talking!

Parsons Cropped

And here is Cuban, about ready to chase down Justin Anderson to make sure he doesn't get away.

Mark Cuban

That Justin Anderson kid, he seems pretty good.

I Will Always Love You

I will always love you
And I hope life, will treat you kind
And I hope that you have all
That you ever dreamed of

The last time I was at Summer League, two years ago, I met Jerome Kersey. It was a little sad to walk around the arena knowing that he would never be there again. I'm sure he must have loved that venue full of die-hard fans and lots of legends.

I kept my eyes out for other former Blazers so I could wish them well. If there is anything I've learned from Dolly, its that love doesn't die just because someone goes away.

The only one I saw today was Earl Watson, and I heard Will Barton was around somewhere. During the Blazer/Celtics game we saw a compilation of LaMarcus Aldridge highlights that someone inexplicably thought would be a good idea to play during the Blazer game. That was tough. A very nice Celtics fan who was watching the Jumbotron pointed it out. "That just seems cruel to make you watch Aldridge highlights right now."

First Quarter: (Better Keep Your Hands Off) My Potential New Boyfriend

You can look but you can't buy
Better keep your hands off my potential new boyfriend

After the national anthem sung by local artist Laura Jones, the Blazers were off to a hot start. Crabbe scored their first field goal. The Celtics had a hard time hitting the net. After about 4 minutes Boston started making their shots, and with three minutes in the quarter they took the lead and never lost it.

It was the first chance to watch our rising stars this year.

First, lets start with Allen Crabbe. Remember when Joel Freeland went away one summer and came back with the "NBA Body" and started putting gel in his hair? That's the kind of transformation that Allen Crabbe seems to have undergone this summer, times two. Not only does he have a mohawk with frosted tips but he's bulked up on top quite a bit. The Blazer cheering section was divided on the success of the new ‘do but pretty unanimous in what we considered a substantial physical makeover.

The Pat Connaughton era started tonight with the former Notre Dame guard playing meaningful minutes (29) over the night. It took a few quarters before he settled in.

We had a look at Daniel Orton and Malcolm Thomas who started along with Tim Frazier, Connaughton, and Crabbe. Jitters created some missed free throws, and turnovers. The Celtics continued to tighten things up. Noah Vonleh did not play tonight, sitting out with a sore ankle.

At the end of the quarter, an emphatic dunk by Ra'Shad James was a bright spot but the Celtics were up 30-20.

Second Quarter: Starting Over Again

Starting over again
Where do you begin
You've never been out on your own
Starting over again
Never any end

This is where the reality of a long-term strategy started to sink in. This is where it became clear that there will be work to do. Yeah, its only Summer League, but a general sense of disorganization seemed to prevail, probably caused by young guys with little experience playing together. The Blazers defense caused a bit more trouble for the Celtics in the second quarter, holding them to 21 points. Unfortunately we were only able to put up 13.

The overall feeling I got from the team was "undisciplined". I can see how that would be a result of new, young players unfamiliar with the Blazer's system. Before the game they had a hard time figuring out where to go. During timeouts they kind of wandered around and waited for the coaches to single them out.

As the second quarter moved on, though, the veteran players seemed to figure out what they were doing there. Meyers Leonard, CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard seemed to get more comfortable giving advice and talking through plays and the game with the younger players. Time outs became more organized with the players knowing where to go and who to pay attention to.

Little things like figuring out where to sit when coach talks and how to sub in and out quickly are exactly what Dolly Parton means by "starting over again". They have moved onto a bigger stage now, and will need to relearn how things work. At the same time, Damien et al are going to have to learn and grow in their roles as leaders during these situations. It was nice to hear Meyers say "Bigs, keep working. Keep working bigs." He's clearly identifying himself as a leader of the bigs and now he will learn how to use his leadership to produce buckets, stops, and victories.

Third quarter: The Right Combination

I know that there'll be times when we have heartache,
But that don't worry me cause love is just that way,
I believe we have the right combination

The third quarter was a lot of heartache and some laughs with touches of hope sprinkled in. There were "only-in-Summer-League" moments with bodies flying, balls bouncing, and fouls falling like rain.

Tim Frazier had the ball a lot the second half and started finding guys. Allen Crabbe had clearly been told to be aggressive. He shot a lot and when in hard to defend and was rewarded with fouls galore. Ask the Blazer fan in front of me and you'd think the refs were doing a terrible job of officiating. I withhold those kinds of judgments as best I can. All I know is that it's Summer League so you get 10 fouls. Daniel Orton also racked up fouls, most of which he picked up while patrolling the area around the bucket.

A collision with a cameraman lead to some blood clean up, and Crabbe played the remainder of the game with cotton stuck up his nose. So between the mohawk, the frosted tips, the pumped-up body and the wad of cotton hanging out his nose, Crabbe Man looked pretty scary. A 20 point deficit had shrunk to 12.

Allen Crabbe Summer League

It was that part of the game where faithful Blazer fans dig in and say "nothing is impossible". It was fun to see new guys without Blazer experience embrace that never say die attitude even though most of the original "Never say die" crew wasn't in the house.

There was also a fight-ish (not quite a fight, just some light shoving) after a flagrant foul on Arnett Moultrie at the end of the quarter, which is always good for establishing a team identity (not that I condone fighting!)

Fourth Quarter: Here You Come Again

Just when I've begun to get myself together
You waltzed right in that door
Just like you've done before
And wrapped my heart round your little finger  . . .

Like every Blazers team before them, this team fought hard in the fourth quarter. With 7:25 to go Orton brought us within 4. We had fought back from a 20 point deficit in the third quarter. We stayed between 10-4 points behind.

With 1:58 left, on a bucket by Jordan Mickey, the kid in front of me called "game". Since he was a Celtics fan I didn't tell him I thought it was a little premature. I guess they have different traditions on the East Coast.

At about 1:30 we stopped again to clean up more blood (a Celtic this time). Connaughton kept hope alive by draining a 3. With one minute to go, Orton hits two free throws and . . . all of a sudden it's a 4 point game. Blazers still can't match the score and with 23 seconds left the hipsters start to flow in for the Brooklyn game (I mean like waaaayyy more hipster than you would even find on Alberta Street).

Blazer fans stay until the bitter end, because that's what we do. Celtics finish with a healthy 85-76 win which they deserved.

But we got a glimpse of our new team. We set ourselves up to get to know them, to see new young leaders step up, to break up with the past and move on to an uncharted but wide-open future.

Now its time to rest and get ready for another day of Summer League tomorrow.

xoxo Team Mom

P.S. Do you have a favorite playlist to get you through the tough times? I know Dolly isn't for everyone, so please share what helps you get through when things get rough!