Portland Trail Blazers fans saw two of the most beloved role players in team history leave town this summer: Robin Lopez and Wesley Matthews. Both players entered the league as overshadowed underdogs - Lopez was unanimously declared a lesser twin, while Matthews ignored by the entire league on draft night. And both players proved their worth in Portland, becoming fan favorites as they developed into reliable starters for a near-contending level team.
In recent years, former Blazers have been met by the fans in the Moda Center with everything from boos (Rudy Fernandez and Raymond Felton), to cheers (Andre Miller and Brandon Roy), to indifference (James Jones, Jarrett Jack). But there's no question what reception Matthews and Lopez will get from the crowd when the New York Knicks and Dallas Mavericks come to town: standing ovation all the way.
As a Blazer's Edge equivalent to that standing O, I offer some top moments from both players' time with the Blazers:
Fans initially grew to love Wes Matthews for the chip on his shoulder attitude which kept him working harder than anyone else in the league, and drove him to be one of the few players who truly lived up to the "leave it all on the court" mantra. In Matthews' own words, from an interview on Thursday: "You can't deny what I've done as far as leaving it all on the floor. My last thing as a player I was on the floor."
But over time Matthews developed into more than just a hustle guy who relied on determination to make up for a dearth of skills; Wes became Portland's best perimeter defender, one of the leading three point shooters in the league, and a threat on the low block. When his underdog story, work ethic, on court achievement, and three point celebration flourishes were combined, it became impossible for Portland fans not to fall in love with the undrafted sensation.
March 25, 2011 Steal and fast break against Manu Ginobili
Everybody remembers this game as the "Nic Batum alley-oop", but the Batum bucket would not have been possible without Matthews' masterful pickpocketing of Ginobili. After the game Matthews claimed that he could have stolen the ball from Ginobili on prior possessions, but wanted to save the play for when it mattered more. That boundless confidence became a hallmark of his time with the team.
March 18, 2014: Steal and behind the back pass to Damian Lillard
We all know that Matthews was a great perimeter defender, and many probably remember that he was a decent finisher on the fast break. But this play stands out because of the nifty behind the back pass Matthews throws to Lillard, resulting in a dunk.
April 27, 2014: Steal to win game 4 against Houston.
Matthews steals the ball from Patrick Beverly at midcourt to give the Blazers a 3-1 series lead. Possibly the second biggest clutch play of the entire series, and probably the top play Matthews had for the Blazers.
January 8, 2015: Matthews makes Dwyane Wade look silly
January 17, 2015: 3 pointer to become the all time leader
Matthews wrote his name into the Portland Trail Blazers' history book when he nailed his 774th three-pointer and surpassed Terry Porter to become the franchise leader in three point field goals. Matthews' record breaking three was his 3rd of 7 in a road game versus the Memphis Grizzlies. It came with 10:45 to go in the second quarter when he curled around a Meyers Leonard screen, received a pass from Steve Blake at the elbow, and calmly drained the triple over forward Jeff Green.
February 11, 2015: Hustle play against the Lakers
Perhaps the ultimate "Wesley Matthews leave it all on the floor" play. He takes the ball away from Wayne Ellington in this play simply because "he wanted it more." The result is a ferocious fast break dunk for Damian Lillard.
February 25, 2015: Big game against SA.
In one of his last great games in a Portland uniform, Matthews takes over down the stretch to lead Portland to the win over San Antonio. 15 points in the fourth quarter!
Robin Lopez was loved by Portland fans for his plucky style of play and off-court demeanor. Despite a lack of lateral quickness, Lopez became the reliable backstop of Portland's defense for two seasons. His willingness to act as backup in support of Blazers' perimeter defenders a refreshing change of pace from the mostly indifferent defensive play of his predecessor J.J. Hickson. Lopez was also a master of the "little things"; he could often be seen prematurely screening out the opposition's center to open a lane for a driving Blazer guard. And unlike purely defensive centers, such as DeAndre Jordan or Tyson Chandler, Lopez was the perfect fifth option on offense. His short jumper and pick and roll game were effective enough to keep defenses from ignoring him entirely, thus helping spread the court for the other four Blazers.
Off the court, Lopez resonated with the community like no Blazer has since Channing Frye frequented the Buffalo Gap. There's just something "Portland" about a 7' NBA center wearing a Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers shirt while hanging out alone at Disney Land for 12 hours.
February 25, 2014: Block Party
Lopez blocks 7 shots en route to a 100-95 Portland win against Denver.
November 23, 2014: Pick and Roll with Batum, leading to a dunk
The Lopez and Batum pick and roll was a staple of Portland's offense the last two seasons. This is my favorite rendition - Lopez takes advantage of slow help defense from the Celtics and throws down a monstrous dunk.
As an added bonus, here's another of my favorite Batum to RoLo moments:
December 2, 2014: Game winning shot against Denver
On this play, RoLo would execute a masterful seal of J.J. Hickson, receive a pass from Aldridge, and flip in an easy layup to get the Blazers the win. The play was a microcosm of the value RoLo has in Portland's system. He's good enough on offense that the other team can't ignore him and thus acts as a great "safety valve" when the opposition bottles up the primary options.
December 4, 2014: Challenges David West
David West is known as one of the NBA's legitimate tough guys. In this play, Lopez has no problem challenging West, refusing to back down from the Indiana forward's attempts at intimidation. In addition to his rim-protection ability, Lopez helped Portland in the basketball trenches by adding toughness to the team.
March 30, 2015: Lopez does the little things.
Lopez was often the player doing the little things for the Blazers that helped push them from a 45 wins to a 54. This play is a great example: Lopez sets a very solid screen for Lillard, and then rather than stopping his movement immediately follows Lillard to the hoop and gets the offensive rebound. Lopez's attention to detail will be greatly missed this year.
Lopez's quirkiness reached its apex this past season with his mascot feud. Professional sports are often treated exceedingly seriously, probably too seriously at times, but Lopez feuding with mascots helped inject some fun into the 2014-2015 season.