Tonight I wanted to learn more about who else is so committed to the Blazers that they would fly (or drive) into the middle of the desert in the middle of summer to watch a bunch of guys, most of whom won't even make the roster, play in a game that doesn't really count. So this in-arena report highlights some of the fans.
I spent a good portion of the day chatting with folks around me to find out what their favorite Blazer memories were and what they are looking forward to next year. I also wanted to know if anyone had any ideas about nicknames for the new guys.
I got to the arena in time to watch Phoenix and Washington play in the Thomas and Mack center, the larger of the two arenas. I'm pretty sure I spied Adrian Wojnarowski on press row and I swear I watched him tweet out the news about Moe Harkless. I made my way into the Cox Pavilion, ready to work myself into a good spot for the Blazer game. I found a spot high above the home team's bench and watched Toronto roll over Chicago in an 81-66 romp.
I moved a few rows closer for the next game, between the Kings and the Nuggets. I was looking forward to that game because I was hoping for a Will Barton sighting. While he is not playing in the Summer League, his younger brother is playing with the Nuggets. I practically shouted myself hoarse trying to get his attention when he entered the opposite side of the gym.
Most of the section was taken by Sacramento fans and they were not messing around. They were clad in purple, some wearing crowns and had signs and everything. One family, including 3 kids, was dressed head-to-toe in Kings gear.
However, it wasn't just Kings fan in the house. I was sitting behind possibly the most dedicated Nuggets fan, a young man approximately 8 or 9 years old. I don't think he ever rested. He had cheers for every Nuggets play and jeers every time the Kings touched the ball. He was so committed that I don't think he missed shouting out a single "Brick" whenever SAC had a free throw. Since it was Summer League everyone was in great spirits and when the half time squad came out to give away free swag, all of us around this fine young fan screamed and pointed until they threw him an NBA Summer League mini basketball. Denver walked away with a pretty easy win 98-76.
I was happy to have a new friend joining me for the game against Dallas. Mrs Bro is a member of the Blazer's Edge family whom I have never met in person. Originally from the Portland area, she now lives in Las Vegas. She has been a fan since the month before the Blazers drafted Greg Oden. Her parents had purchased season tickets weeks before at a point that the team was offering rock-bottom prices. That is when she started reading Blazers Edge. She's now a moderator on the site.
A favorite Blazer memory for her is from the night of Damian Lillard's famous shot against Houston. Mrs Bro had just put her baby boy down to sleep. She was watching the game (quietly) in her bedroom when the shot went in. She immediately lept out of bed and made a huge commotion and then a moment later froze in place. She went from total elation to instant panic, worried that she had woken the baby. Once she realized that the baby had slept through the whole thing, she went back to being (quietly) thrilled. She is looking forward to watching how Meyers Leonard's leadership develops and to seeing who ends up with new nicknames this season.
Speaking of thrilled, the Blazers tipped off with Vonleh in the lineup and they went right to work applying what they had learned from the night before.
First of all, Vonleh. He's much bigger than he appeared in the press conference. His arms are giant and long. His body is long. His legs are long. His legs are beefy and solid and that dude has got to be nearly impossible to move. He's also quick with his hands and his feet and he knows how to set a screen (more on that later).
Frazier continued to do most of the ball handling duties but had more help tonight from Connaughton who also collected rebounds, got assists and generally looked comfortable in the system.
At first the scorekeepers had the teams mixed up and for the first few minutes the scores were backwards. At 6:50 Frazier had a nice shot to beat the 24 second clock and at 5:00 we welcomed 35 year old Keith Bogans to the floor.
More featured fans of the first quarter: I met Alex and Mandy yesterday wandering the arena. Alex is a huge fan with the ability to instantly spot and recognize players and coaches from seemingly any era. Alex grew up in Lake Oswego. He became a fan during the Blazers 1990 Championship Finals series against Detroit. When asked for a favorite memory, he had a hard time narrowing it down and finally settled on "everything that Sheed, Sabonis, Clyde and Nic ever did." He is looking forward to seeing what Lillard does next. He thinks 3J is a solid nickname for CJ, but doesn't have any ideas (right now) about nicknames for the new guys.
Mandy is from Vancouver, B.C. She's been a fan for 3 years. She had the best idea for a new nickname -- P-Con for Pat Connaughton. We tried it out during the game and it spread at least two rows back. So if you hear it in the Moda Center, you can trace it right back to Mandy at tonight's game.
Mandy (photo by Alex)
With 2:07 left in the first, Vonleh performed a flawless pick and roll with Frazier, ending with a Vonleh layup. It was so good that as soon as it happened my friend Lynette posted to my facebook page "I like that pick and roll to Vonleh. How'd it look in person, honey?"
Lynette is from Mississippi; she started watching the Blazers when she moved to Portland in 2006. Her favorite memory was the first time she went to a game with her two grown sons. The Blazers beat the Phoenix Suns that night and she can tell you everyone's stat line from the game. She is looking forward to finding out what the final roster will be, and who will be the starters. She can't wait to see how Coach Stotts helps these guys develop as a team.
The first quarter ended with a minute of mad scrambling on the Dallas end but they couldn't find the basket. Blazers were up 21-16.
Louis, who was sitting next to me, has been a fan since the franchise started in 1970. He is looking forward to seeing the players develop more defensive skills, and hopes that the team starts to rely more on defense for victories rather than just 3 point shots. His favorite memories are from the Drexler/Porter era. He was pretty happy with the way things went in the 2nd quarter.
Okay, so its "just" summer league, but seeing improvement in the exact things that were sloppy last night is very encouraging. At 8:31 we had another pick and roll, this time Vonleh and Connaughton were the dynamic duo. The team put up 11 rebounds and a couple of steals leading to Dallas turnovers in the second quarter.
During summer league, the people sitting close to the sidelines seem extra vulnerable. Lots of errant passes get blasted into the first few rows. At 6:05 Crabbe had a volleyball-type block near center court that flew up into the 8-9th rows.
The transitions between in-game and out-of-game action were much smoother.
The Blazers outscored the Mavericks 27-16 in a quarter highlighted by Vonleh dunks from Frazier and Allen Crabbe hitting 3s and floaters.
More fans from the second quarter: friends Jay and Maui. Jay was sporting a Rip City sleeved jersey so you know he's serious. Maui is a stickler for the rules and has no problem telling the refs when the rules are not being called as he sees them. Good guys to have around, especially when there are fans from the other team near by.
Jay has been a fan since he was 6 or 7 years old. He guesses he's been watching about 25 years. He wanted me to print this: the Blazers are winning the championship in 2019. His favorite Blazer moment was also Damian's .9 shot. He enjoyed it in a bar in Southern California surrounded by Laker fans. He is looking forward to finding out who is going to emerge as #2 behind Damian Lillard. He is sure that a two headed monster made of Dame and one more will help us win that championship in 2019.
Jay's friend Maui is originally from Hawaii. He moved to Portland and became a Blazer fan about 8 or 9 years ago. He said his favorite Blazer moments are the Lillard shot and the Brandon Roy-led comeback in Dallas. He is looking forward to watching the young guys develop. Between them, Jay and Maui came up with some clever nicknames for the new guys. After a sweet bank shot, Maui offered that Montero could be called ATM because "the bank is always open". Jay offered that Frazier could be Mr Freeze because he's pretty cool and he makes his opponents look frozen in place because he moves so fast.
Blazers end the half up 48-32
After a halftime show featuring some little basketball players, we tipped off for the second half. Dallas scored the first points with a Jordan Crawford 3 point shot. Blazers continued to play with energy, moving the ball freely around the court.
Vonleh, Crabbe, Connaughton and Frazier continued to communicate well. Dallas made a push. Having built a good size lead, the Blazers had some cushion. They stayed stingy on D but Dallas closed out the quarter making 8 free throws in a row.
Fans of the quarter were Max and Michelle from Sherwood, Oregon. Max has been a fan for about 15 years. His favorite memory is the game winning shot by Brandon Roy with .8 seconds left to win the game against Houston. He is looking forward to seeing Meyers improve and is also wondering what CJ and Crabbe have in them. He's a fan of the nickname "Legend" for Meyers Leonard and agrees that we need a nickname for CJ, stat.
Michelle has been a fan for about 14 years. Her favorite memory is the B-Roy lead comeback against Dallas. She also had a funny story to tell about running into T-Rob, Thrill and CJ on the strip last year and watching them interact with the costumed performers. Barton was trying to scare a performer dressed as Chewbacca by hiding in the bushes and jumping out. She also had a funny story that can't be repeated on our family-friendly site about something a fan yelled out at the Moda Center to Andre Miller one night. Michelle liked the nickname "The People's Champ" when Barton was here.
Blazers end the third quarter up 69-53.
Heading into the 4th quarter, all of us Summer League Blazer faithful agreed on one thing: Noah Vonleh needs a nickname.
For his age and size, he's surprisingly graceful. Not like Batum, whose smooth-as-silk demeanor could make a grown man cry, but sufficiently strong and controlled so he wasn't garnering ticky-tacky fouls or too many turnovers (he had 2 in 29 minutes). He can get both offensive and defensive rebounds but what we really liked in the Blazer fan section was his ability to set a screen.
Unfortunately Noah Vonleh is a really hard name to turn into a nickname. We tried to riff on NO-ah to no avail, and tried a bunch of variations on Vonleh -- BonLeh, DonLeh, Fon-de-Lay. The best we could come up with was "Super Nova". Try it out, let me know what you think.
In any case, it was Crabbe/Frazier/Vanleh all night with sprinkles of Connaughton. While the roster has yet to be settled and we don't know if Crabbe and Frazier will return in the fall, the two of them are going to leave it all on the floor trying for those final spots.
Crabbe was so alert and ready the entire game. If he was on the bench and his name was called, he lept up and raced to the scoring table. If there was a cross court pass he was diving to stop it. With 6:25 left to go he sent the ball flying into the back of media row with a gigantic swat. Tim Frazier continued to play smart and lead his teammates into scoring situations.
With 17.6 seconds left, Neil Olshey walked past the fans. Maui shouted "Olshey!" to catch his attention. Maui seemed surprised when Olshey turned around. Olshey searched the crowd to find out who wanted his attention. Not knowing what to do we all kind of waved awkwardly and gave him a thumbs up. We were an enthusiastic bunch but not too cool.
Dallas outscored us 27-23 in the fourth but Portland had built up a big enough lead to walk away with a comfortable 93-80 win.
One thing that all of the fans had in common tonight was a positive outlook for the future. Everyone is eager to see Lillard as a leader. They are wondering what the lineup is going to look like. They want to know what new skills Meyers and CJ are going to develop and how they are gong to apply them. A free-flowing fast game like the Summer League team played tonight was just what Blazer fans needed.