Special correspondent Arthur Bradford brings you the view from the Moda Center as the Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 120-115 last night, cementing a spot in the 2016 NBA Playoffs.
Take it away, Arthur!
Earlier in the week this game was labeled a "hot ticket" on the Trailblazers website. Indeed, many of us thought we were holding tickets to an exciting playoff preview. But then our friends in OKC clinched the 3rd seed and opted to rest their star players and those hot tickets cooled of considerably.
Still, it was an important game for the Blazers and the atmosphere in the Moda center was generally loose and cheerful. Frankly, most of us expected to see a win.
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were pretty visible in their sweats over at the end of the OKC bench. They rose to their feet often, cheering on the role players. I was excited to see big man New Zealander Steve Adams live and in the flesh. He sported some impressive tribal tattoos and he and Enes Kanter made up an intimidating mustached duo. I kept an eye out for Neil Olshey too, curious to see if Kanter might give him a wave or nod by way of thanks for forcing OKC to give him that big raise in the off-season. I saw no interaction between the two of them though.
Astute Blazers fans might have noticed early on that things sounded a little different tonight over the loudspeakers. Turns out Mark Mason, the Blazers long-time public address announcer, was out sick and missed work for the first time in 843 consecutive games. I can't say it altered my overall experience, but his replacement [ed. Curtis Long of "Principal Long" and Timbers fame] did have a unfamiliar tone.
The Blazers looked crisp and in sync out there with lots of high fives and butt slaps after good plays. The fans at the Moda center have come to expect this team to rain three-pointers and every time someone shot from distance you could hear the crowd take in a collective breath, getting ready to cheer.
Many of the fan-made signs worked in clever plays on the "Thunder" theme: "Thunder may roll, but the Blazers rock!" "Portland, OR - 74 degrees and sunny, no chance for Thunder!" "Thunder, it's just noise."
One sign said, "Go Blazers. I am a hunter." I felt like I was missing something there, but perhaps that was the full sentiment.
During one of the breaks they held a lively tractor race amongst three young boys. Isaiah here took an early lead and never gave it up. Well done!
Later in the second quarter Al Farouq Aminu got called for a technical foul. It was surprising to see the normally somber Chief get so animated and this briefly ignited the crowd. Then the quarter ended and we were all feeling pretty good after watching our team score 72 first half points. As is my habit at the half, I headed out to the hallways to check out the various crowd outfits.
I always like matching ensembles:
Only one of these guys got to see his hero play tonight:
There were a few scattered OKC fans in the house:
Several folks showed up representing the jilted Sonics. Most of them said they were rooting for the Blazers and wore their Sonic gear in protest, though I suppose it could also be seen as a form of support for OKC.
These two tall young men were in town for the USA basketball match this weekend. Their names are Marques Bolden and Jonathan Isaac. Future stars!
Best family ensemble:
Best brother/sister duo:
Best Father daughter duo:
The second half was largely unremarkable from a fan standpoint, to be honest. The outcome never really felt in doubt, which was fine with most of us. I was hoping to see some of the deep bench play for the Blazers but OKC kept it just close enough to bring back the starters in the fourth quarter.
During one of the breaks a fan was given the chance to make a half-court shot and win a free car. He wound up with a baseball-style throw and tossed up the worst brick I've ever seen in one of those contests. The ball slammed off the very top on the backboard with zero chance of hitting its mark. We all let out a collective groan.
Despite the forgone conclusion nature of the game, the mustache brothers, Adams and Kanter, showed some chippy play out there, swinging elbows freely as they ran by Ed Davis and Mason Plumlee on their way up the court. Neither Davis or Plumlee took the bait though. Apparently Kanter had a career night, but few of us really noticed.
The Blazers won, as expected, and we all cheered when it was announced that in doing so they had clinched a playoff spot. Who would've guessed it just a few months ago? The crowd marched out happy once again, visions of playoff grandeur dancing in our heads. We were all hopeful that we wouldn't be seeing this crew from OKC back in town for a some time.
Out on the street this fellow Morgan was blowing some sweet tunes. He said he's been playing outside Blazers games for over 15 years. Right on Morgan!