“A player on a streak has to respect the streak. You know why? Because they don’t—they don’t happen very often. If you believe you’re playing well because you’re getting laid, or because you’re not getting laid, or because you wear women’s underwear, then you are! And you should know that!”
Streaks are magical and wonderful alternate realities accessible only when supreme confidence overpowers consciousness and tears a portal in the fabric of regularity. Such confidence can come through a variety of means, from rocking garters to laying with Susan Sarandon to not laying with Susan Sarandon to any other possible recurring occurrence in the known universe. Whatever the means, they should never be mocked or disrespected in anyway because the power of the result can be so plainly transcendent. But the portal is always unstable. At any moment, it can close as mysteriously as it opened, and when that moment comes, hopefully all the postcards found their destinations.
The Blazers rode a 12-game winning streak into the US Airways Center, nestled in scenic downtown Phoenix, to take on the hometown Suns. Over the three-week span of The Streak, Portland had become a not-to-be-reckoned-with Western Conference contender, Wes Matthews had become one of the best shooting guards in the entire NBA, and I had begun thinking about which player’s face to tattoo on my neck (Will Barton and Thomas Robinson running a pick-and-roll in Summer League is the answer btw [think the most bizarre edition of NBA Jam depicted as hieroglyph on Wilson Chandler]). Everything had been going so well that I wish I could keep burying this lede forever to stave off the admission of its truth and live the rest of my life in the beautiful alternate reality of endless wins and strange neck tattoos, but I can’t, so here you go. The Trail Blazers lost to the Suns by a score of 120-106 on Wednesday night, ending the streak at 11 straight wins.
If the Blazers simply had lost with poor shooting and careless defense and a hot night from a random player on the opposition, it could have been chalked up as one of those nights. With the amount of basketball talent in the NBA (even among the bad teams [not counting the Bucks]), an 82-game schedule tends to have its share of those nights. But what made Wednesday’s loss to Phoenix so perplexing was how beautifully the Blazers played through the first 14 or 15 minutes or so. The passing, the movement, even the defense appeared to hit a rhythm that Portland had not yet seen so far in the young season, even as they rolled off 13 wins in 15 games. Around the 9-minute mark in the second quarter, the Blazers held a 39-23 lead as the game felt a like a pile of smoldering tinder ready to explode into flames. In the ashes, maybe even Will Barton and Allen Crabbe would get to play.
As it happened, it did in fact burst into flames, but not in the way that it had earlier seemed. Fire is fickle like that. Led by Goran Dragic (who scored 19 of his game-high 31 points in the first half), former Blazer Channing Frye, Gerald Green, and Goran Dragic a second time (Dragic had 10 assists), and probably a deserved third time too (Dragic shot 4/5 from 3-point range), the Suns stormed back in a matter of minutes to take a 53-52 lead with three minutes left, only 6 minutes after trailing by 16. By halftime, the Blazers trailed 61-58, but it seemed that the Suns couldn’t sustain their pace. SPOILER ALERT: they didn’t; and Robert De Niro’s character dies at the end of Heat.
The third and fourth quarters sort of blurred together in my mind, thank God. Goran Dragic continued to play like the Slovenian Allen Iverson, sans the gulliness and T.G.I. Friday’s addiction (not judging, just differentiating). The Morri elevated their games in concert — like when Amir and Achmed Khan get together on the same squad in Backyard Baseball — combining for 34 points and 7 rebounds. Frye finished with 25 points on 10-12 shooting from the floor, including 3-5 shooting from the 3-point realm. Even the immortal Ish Larry Smith (his middle name is Larry; no kidding) could be seen running the offense for his 20 minutes with measured competence, the final smoking gun–err, sparkling wand of Jeff Hornacek’s sorcery.
For a brief stretch – emphasis on “brief” – LaMarcus Aldridge (who led Portland with 24 points on 10-18 shooting) looked like he might single-handedly drag the Blazers back into the contest. But he didn’t, or couldn’t. The fates had already conspired. At least Will Barton and Allen Crabbe got some run though. Happy Thanksgiving.