GAME 5, ROCKETS 108 – TRAIL BLAZERS 98: THANGS DONE CHANGED

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Am I scared? Yeah, I’m pretty scared—very scared. The Blazers allowed a team with two of the league’s top players to taste the sweet refreshment of life and now if the Blazers lose game 6 at home on Friday then it goes back to Houston on Sunday and OMG—wait, that was your question, right?

Jeremy Lin had 21 points and LaMarcus Aldridge had 8 points and you know what that’s pretty much a recap right there let’s give that its own paragraph and move on.

Well now that you know everything important that happened in the game, let’s talk about some other less important things that happened.

Dorell Wright had 1 point, 0 rebounds, and 0 assists. None were particularly memorable. He did manage a -19 rating in 11 minutes, somehow. Overall, Wright has been a bright spot of the series for Portland, but the early second quarter was not kind to anyone.

Wes Matthews played very, very, very well. Very well. 27 points, 5-9 from 3-point range, 3 blocks! He very nearly dragged the Blazers to a win that they most certainly did not deserve. Send him your praise and your gift cards to stores that have good deals on peanut butter, as well as good selection. Chunky, creamy, the weird natural stuff that separates so you gotta stir it, all that. Wes seems like a man who likes peanut butter and he deserves a lot of peanut butter.

Damian Lillard also played well – 26 points – but he doesn’t seem as deep into the peanut butter scene as Wes. Give him something else, instead. Egg rolls, perhaps. Everyone likes egg rolls. Egg rolls are fucking delicious.

Everyone in Houston wore shirts that said, “Clutch City,” as part of some kind of handbag-related promotion. You know, ladies like to bring smaller handbags to the club. Anyway, speaking of handbags, Mo Williams was terrible! Like really, really bad! 4 points in 20 minutes, 2-7 shooting, 3 turnovers, 1 assist, a -17 rating! After spending the lead-up telling every media person (well…not EVERY media person L) about how he was setting up a vacation home in Troy Daniels’ head, and generally presenting himself as an expert manipulator of the media a la Kris Kardashian or Franklin Delano Roosevelt. But rather than parlay some fireside chats into three terms as president of the United States, Mo just talked a lot of shit about some dude that was playing in the Rio Grande Valley last week and then got outplayed by that dude and, well, I think the official term is “he played himself.”

For the supposed veteran who would provide a steadying presence on and off the court, Mo’s maddeningly inconsistent play and now wild shit talking is starting to make Will Barton look like late-career Jason Kidd.

Speaking of The People’s Champ, he played the final two minutes of the game, unfortunately dropping his once undefeated postseason record to a sad 1-1.

As for the Rockets, Dwight Howard was good. Chandler Parsons was good. James Harden was quiet but decent enough. Omer Asik was around, and Jeremy Lin was surprisingly effective after spending the first four games of the series playing like he was wondering if maybe he should put his Harvard degree to use instead of waste his time with this “basketball” nonsense.

So what are the odds of LaMarcus disappearing, Lin exploding, the Portland bench scoring 5 total points, no one on the Blazers totaling more than 10 rebounds, only totaling 14 assists as a team, and all of these other things happen again? I don’t know. I’m not that good at math anymore. I’m just scared.

TRAIL BLAZERS VS. ROCKETS GAME 5 PREVIEW: IT’S ALL NICE ON ICE

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Olympics Day 4 - Hockey

WERE YOU AWARE? The NBA isn’t the only sport with an 82 game season and four rounds of best-of-seven playoffs. There is also a sport, played in the northern United States and “Canada,” called “hockey” and that sport has a professional league, called the “NHL.” Hockey is played on “ice skates,” which are like rollerblades but with knives instead of wheels on the bottom that you use to slide on ice, with a “puck,” which is a like a short cylindrical rubber bullet with a flat bottom, which is hit with “hockey sticks,” which are like Swiffer mops that are turned on their sides but don’t swivel or mop. The object of the game is to get the puck in a goal, like one does with a ball in soccer. The players wear pads, but less pads than football players. Goalies wear the same pads, but they also wear really big catcher-like pads. There are also fights which are technically against the rules but not really, sort of like pine tar and baseball.

This sport is not my cup of tea. But with the Blazers in Houston tonight to try and wrap up the series and advance to play the Mavericks or the Spurs in the second round, I thought that examining every NHL series might reveal greater truths about the series the Blazers are in right now. So, let’s get into it!

COLORADO AVALANCHE-MINNESOTA WILD: SERIES TIED 3-3:

The home team has won every game in this series. This has decisively not been the case in Portland/Houston, where Portland has won every game in Houston thus far and Houston won game three in Portland. You probably remember that. WIthout getting too deep into it, it seems like the Wild have two newish players named “Zach” and “Ryan” (whites) who are very good and have made them a “Contender.” That kind of sounds like the Houston Rockets, if you ask me. The Avalanche are described as “young” in one headline. The Blazers aren’t terribly young, but they are sort of obscure like a team of young players. If everyone on the Blazers was like 22 they would probably be a hot young team on the rise. Even Lillard,  their young player, isn’t actually young, he’s just NBA young!

ST LOUIS BLUES-CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS: BLACKHAWKS WIN, 4-2

There is a player named Patrick Kane on the Blackhawks, I remember that. He is often endearingly called “Patty Kane.” Patrick Beverley is not called “Patty Beverley” because he is not beloved in the way Patrick Kane is, because he is a monster who scares people and makes them worry for their point guards. Beverley has not been as good at defense in this series as expected. Damian Lillard has been at least “good” in every game and “excellent” in others. Part of this might be Beverley’s meniscus injury that he is playing through, or that Lillard is good at dealing with Beverly’s brand of pressure, or a combination of both. Probably a combination of both.

ANAHEIM DUCKS-DALLAS STARS: DUCKS WIN, 4-2

When I was a kid there was a Mighty Ducks-related cartoon where giant anthropomorphic ducks played hockey and fought interdimensional monsters. I was a fan of anthropomorphic animal media when I was a kid (keep your kids away from Sonic the Hedgehog, parents, it turns them into dorks 100% of the time, and when they get into their twenties they will watch a DEEPLY SINCERE movie about a woman who has children with a wolf man, and nearly cry at the end), so this was right up my alley. They shot pucks out of their guns, so I always think about puckguns when I see hockey pucks. Hopefully there are children out in the Portland Metro Area who are watching this very exciting series and it will keep them away from weird anthropomorphic duck/hedgehog media and hockey forever.

SAN JOSE SHARKS-LOS ANGELES KINGS, SERIES TIED 3-3

Jonathan Quick plays goalie on the Kings. The Blazers’ net protecting “Goalie” is Robin Lopez, who is not very quick at all. In game three, Dwight was able to run around him and get all kinds of dunks. But when Dwight gets in a post up and Robin or LaMarcus force him to his right, he takes a jump hook that doesn’t work as well. Hopefully the Rockets continue to not realize that Robin’s non-quickness is best exploited by putting him in a pick and roll, where all he can really do is drop into the paint and hope the play gets okay coverage on the perimeter.

BOSTON BRUINS-DETROIT RED WINGS: BRUINS WIN 4-1

If the Blazers, whose name also begins with a “B,” beat the Rockets, who wear red, tonight, these series line up nicely. Cosmic cross-sports prophecy?

MONTREAL CANADIENS-TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING: CANADIENS WIN 4-0

Oh, man, a sweep! The Canadiens, who are often called the “Habs” for no reason I can define (perhaps it is a French thing?) are the only Canadian team in the NHL Playoffs. The Blazers do not have a random nickname like this. May I humbly suggest “The Wags,” after the covered wagons the original Oregon Trail Blazers used? Oh, look, already widely adopted. Good job, Corbin.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS-COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS: PENGUINS WIN 4-2

This series was won by the Penguins, a perpetual contender that employs Sidney Crosby who I have been led to believe is very good at hockey. But there was a little victory for the Blue Jackets, who won their first ever playoff games in this series. The Blazers haven’t won a playoff series in like 15 years or something; a series win will be a relative victory, while the Rockets’ championship ambitions will make any result short of crushing the Wizards in the finals a disappointment. If you find yourself vomiting from stress, just try to put everything in perspective: the Blazers were good this year! Wasn’t a foregone conclusion! That’s pretty great!

NEW YORK RANGERS-PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES: SERIES TIED 3-3

Oh my god, a Philly/New York game three, I’ll bet the whole damn Eastern seaboard is burning, those people honestly like sports way too much. You know who else likes sports too much? Wes Matthews. Wes has really put in a tremendous effort guarding Harden in this series. I thought he would be too aggressive and become a foul magnet before the series, but he is managing to keep him contained and off the line. Batum is also doing excellent work, giving the Blazers two defensive options that keep Harden on his toes. Blazers playing great defense: who knew?!

A PORTRAIT OF WES MATTHEWS

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Artwork by Gage Hamilton and Tron Burgundy. If interested in purchasing a print, email Gage at gage.m.hamilton@gmail.com.

Imagine a superhero who believed in the power of society’s existing institutions. Instead of putting on the cape of a vigilante and heading mask-first into the dark of night, to places where neither the sun nor the law can reach, to beat the underworld within an inch of its life, imagine a super hero who used his or her extraordinary talents to, say, be the most productive worker at the local steel mill. “Let the police do their jobs,” he or she would say. “The world needs well-made steel girders, too.”

Wes Matthews took to calling himself “The Dark Knight” earlier this season in response to the perceived slight of the NBA leaving his name off of the All Star ballot – the undrafted Matthews is good at finding perceived slights. He seemed to choose the Batman imagery because Batman performs his heroism in the darkness, shrouded in a mystery that does not allow for any personal glorification, like All Star balloting. I suppose of any superheroes, Batman best mirrors Matthews in that the former is a superhero who lacks supernatural abilities and relies on intelligence and willpower, while the latter – even at 6’5”, 220 lbs – lacks the natural gifts of heroes like LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard.

But Wes is not invisible in the way that Batman is invisible. Wes is invisible in the way that factory workers are invisible, or in the way that Bruce Wayne – or more accurately, Clark Kent – is invisible. See, Wes is not a superhero. He is the alter ego of a superhero. He is the alter ego without the super ego, without the costume in the closet. He is Superman without the whole “Superman” part. He punches the clock, puts in his 40 hours, hits a few spot-up threes, plays tough defense, mixes in some bullying post-ups, pours molten steel into molds at a very high level, then goes out to some chicken-wire-windowed bar each night with the rest of the steel workers, slams his “shot and a beer, Dolores,” and occasionally smashes a pool cue across the face of injustice.

In basketball terms, Wes is an energy guy, despite playing without an excess of energy. Excepting a few brief moments of fire, his game is controlled and deliberate. He inspires his teammates not with thunderous dunks, but with the latent ferocity in his humility and dedication. He is a symbol of the honor in sacrifice. He represents “the true heroes” who eschew the chase for glory and riches to be but humble 3-and-D men, happily doing thankless work to advance the greater cause. Wes is Rosie The Riveter.

Yet when called upon, he is more than willing and capable of stepping away from the factory where he builds airplane wings and battles through high screens and taking up arms to head off across the Atlantic to halt the spread of fascism, or heading down into the post to heroically front Dwight Howard for 24 seconds. Wes Matthews is the American Dream—or rather, he is America’s dream for you.

 

GAME 4, TRAIL BLAZERS 123 – ROCKETS 120 (OT): GET UP

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Omer Asik made a jump shot in the 3rd quarter. Do you remember? It’s right there on the ESPN play-by-play: “9:26: Omer Asik Makes 18-Foot jump shot. 68-58.” I don’t remember what it looked like, but I remember what I did when it happened: I yelled and I threw my hands in the air and I rolled my eyes because it was a cosmic sign that this wasn’t going to be the Blazers’ night. I don’t believe in cosmic signs or momentum or destiny or anything, but Omer drilling an 18 footer out of nowhere, man, I just wanted to turn it off and watch Bob’s Burgers so I wouldn’t tear my own arm off.

Thankfully, I guess (I do wish I had seen this week’s Bob’s Burgers), I kept watching, and the Blazers dug and clawed and lucked their way to a win that was excruciating and exhausting. This series is a monster that is devouring children and animals and plants and Gods.

The Blazers played like hot shit in the first half. They’re usually an awesome rebounding team but they got outrebounded 27-17. They struggled to contain pick and rolls, which is not as unusual. The Rockets have gone to Asik in this series as a way of stemming Aldridge’s one-on-one production, but even with an offensive non-factor like that on the floor the Blazers were still having trouble containing shooters, especially Chandler Parsons, who had 19.

At some point in the third, James Harden put a pretty blatant sidearm shove into Wes Matthews, who exaggerated the contact to get a call and left him wide open. Harden must’ve been open for three seconds and no one went to cover him and he didn’t shoot, as if all parties involved were saying “So, this play is going to get blown dead, right?” But once that moment passed, Harden rose up and drilled a three. When everyone was running back on offense, Wes said something uncouth to the referees and got T’d up. A microcosm for a first half where nothing went the Blazers’ way.

A lot of the third was a back and forth exchange, the Blazers closing the gap here and there but never quite getting over the “tenish-point deficit” hump. With six minutes left in the quarter, Thomas Robinson entered for Robin Lopez and helped turn the tide in the Blazers’ favor. The Blazers were getting uncharacteristically torched on rebounds all night. Lopez isn’t necessarily a great rebounder on his own, but he is a tremendous box-out artist who creates a lot of rebounding opportunities for teammates, but the Rockets were totally unaffected by his work for the most part. Robinson, on the other hand, is NOT a box-out artist, at all. He is an isolation rebounder, if you will, and when he came in, he took control with his own mitts.  He also got a nice block/probably-not-a-foul on Dwight. He grabbed three in six minutes and earned a +3 rating for his efforts. The Blazers managed to have a pretty excellent rebounding effort as a whole for the rest of the game; after that crappy start they were only outrebounded 49-44 in total.

At the end of the third, Lillard made a tremendous move to the corner, received a pass and drilled a BEAUTIFUL fading three at the buzzer. If I believed in momentum, I would say something like, “Boy that really gave the Blazers momentum.” But I don’t, so I didn’t say that, but I also wasn’t disappointed when they immediately surrendered ground in the third. Contain your emotions, people!

At some point during this game, I think the fourth, but maybe as early as the second, the Blazer crowd turn on the refs like savages. “BULLSHIT” they cried. “WE WILL DEVOUR YOU” yelled one woman with a sleeping baby in her hands. “WAR ON REF NATION!” was the chant from all corners. If the Blazers hadn’t won, it could have gotten very ugly. The Black Hand assassinating Ed Malloy ugly.

The fourth was totally insane. The Blazers tied the game at 94 with 4:31 remaining on a very onions-y jumper from Damian and took the first lead since super-early in the first on a Batum three with 4:31. They actually overcame the series’ largest deficit thus far, which is pretty crazy because the series’ largest deficit was, like, 11. The teams traded points for a while and the Blazers managed a two point lead with 1:30 or so remaining. They had a spaced out possession: there was some penetration that got kicked out and all the perimeter players passed around the three point line, hunting for an open shot, which the Rockets didn’t concede. This didn’t create a shot, but every Rocket besides Dwight Howard was guarding the perimeter and so when Batum got the ball on the right wing, he exploited the space and attacked Dwight at the rim. Dwight absolutely snuffed the life out of the attempt.

The Rockets’ two best players, James Harden and Dwight Howard, polarize people. Actually, that’s not true. Nearly all people do not like them very much. I am sure that Rockets fans aren’t even quite on their side right now, being down in a series to a team they whooped in the regular season. Harden hits on everyone’s basketball funny-bones: he shoots into contact and openly seeks fouls and doesn’t turn in even a cursory defensive effort. Hating James Harden is an extension of hating the refs; he just doesn’t beat people without impartial observers feeling like their team got hosed.

The animosity towards Howard is different. Howard is a weird dude who makes childish jokes, kind of hosed the team who drafted him and played like shit and annoyed Kobe when he got traded to the Lakers (A plus in my book!). But God almighty he is good at basically everything that people don’t notice. Look at the screens he sets: that massive upper body isn’t a preening excess, it’s a slab of granite that crushes wing defenders. He has awesome hands for catch and is awesome at rebounding. Does he get away with pushes and elbows? Sure! But concealing dirty play is a skill like any other skill! He is very good at basketball.

But God, there is one thing he isn’t very good at and it’s playing right into the Blazers’ hands. It’s not foul shots: his 50/50 coin flip foul shot is coming up heads most of the time in this series and even when it doesn’t, 1 or so points per possession is nothing to sneeze at. No, Howard’s struggle is post-ups. He is making it work a little; in Game 2, for instance, he blitzkreiged Lopez in the beginning, so much that Howard got tired and needed to take a blow early in the first. But tonight, when Lopez fouled out, the Rockets force-fed Dwight in the matchup on Aldridge, and they came up short while Portland was drilling on the other end.

The Blazers have competed in every game of this series because they are good. Recency bias (rhey didn’t actually dramatically outperform their point differential by year’s end) and a matchup that looked pretty grim made them look like fresh meat at the beginning, but that is clearly not the case. They have won the games because of A. Luck and B. the Rockets’ charitable strategy of “feeding the big man.” The Blazers created turnovers and forced awkward jump hooks from Howard in the post. But when the Rockets set Howard up to absorb Harden’s defender? Well: “2:03: Dwight Howard Makes Dunk (James Harden Assists)” Be thankful whenever Shaq mouths off about how many points Dwight needs and how he needs to get them: the demands that he play like an archaic center are playing right into the Blazers’ hands.

Anyway, near the end of regulation Mo WIlliams drilled a go-ahead three on an insane broken play that involved a missed shot, a rebound, a missed five foot shot, a Lin rebound and a hustlin-ass play by Damian Lillard. When Mo is gone, I hope I remember him this way, canning clutch playoff shots and game sealing free throws and not for the feeling of palpable irritation I felt every time he came off a solid pick and wandered around until another defender showed up, unable or unwilling or something to attack to basket or find a shooter. Hey, at least he isn’t Ronnie Price!

Except for the small pile of missed free throws and that really very God-awfully irritating foul on Troy Goddamn Daniels, enemy to Blazerkind for once and forever — write his name on stuffed animals and burn them in front of children so they may know who the real enemy is — the overtime period went very well. Chandler Parsons, in a fit of rage after his crummy second half and the revelation that not only was he not the best small forward in the series, he wasn’t even the most handsome, gave Aldridge a pretty rough flagrant foul at the beginning of the quarter. With a few seconds left, the Blazers up three, Wes went for the sort of steal that one goes for when you don’t really care about fouling, came up with the ball, passed it to Aldridge, who passed it to Lillard, who threw down a deliciously unsportsmanlike dunk and the game was over.

After the game, TNT’s sideline reporter asked Aldridge about the effort the teams had given that night. By accident or by purpose, we will never know for sure, he quoted a power forward and philosopher from Blazers history: “Both Teams Played Hard.” A fitting topper to the night his team became the first Blazers team to go up 3-1 in a series since 2000.

TRAIL BLAZERS VS. ROCKETS GAME 4 PREVIEW: CALL THE DOCTOR

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Young Woman Taking Sons Temperature

(YOUR MOM Comes into your room. She has a sandwich and a glass of orange juice.)

“Sweetie, you have to get out of bed. I know you’re upset about the game on Friday, but did you really expect that the Rockets would just lie down and get swept? They have an awful lot of good players to just get swept.

I know that James Harden really hurt your feelings. I agree, it should be against the rules to score 37 on the Blazers. We all love the Blazers and we wish that nothing bad would ever happen to them. But, try to look at the bright side: he took 35 shots to get there, and that’s not very efficient. I agree, it was really hard to watch him draw a bunch of fouls on Wes. I wanted Wes to keep playing too, sweetie, but Wes can’t play with six fouls. No one can! Don’t be too sad, Wes isn’t their only option on Harden. Batum has played him well, too. No, I don’t understand why Lillard got switched on him so many times, either. Hopefully they deal with that in the next game, so you won’t be sad like this.

I agree, Omer Asik’s +13 rating is concerning but you can’t just sit in bed and cry about it, honey. The Blazers responded by going small. Asik might be able to guard LMA in isolation, but he can’t cover Blazers’ shooters in space.

We all feel like the Blazers wasted an amazing performance by Lillard, but look on the bright side; you and your father and I went into this series thinking that Lillard would have a terrible series against the scoundrel Patrick Beverley. I think that he’s shown conclusively that he isn’t intimidated by Beverley or even Dwight Howard, whom he has attacked at the rim with gusto. Please have a bit of the sandwich I made; it’s Field Roast, your favorite!

Dwight kept getting all those rebounds because he’s good at rebounding, sweetie.  They were only out-rebounded by six, so it’s not that horrible. I don’t know why they kept running the Harden/Howard pick-and-roll, and I’m scared of it too. Dwight sets such a gigantic pick, and is very good at catching lobs, I know. I agree, the Rockets seemed almost like they were allergic to it before Friday and it was playing into the Blazers’ hands. It’s definitely a problem, but the Blazers need to just go out there and keep trying. Drink your orange juice, you’re starting to smell like a pirate.

And hey, what am I always telling you about close games? They feel more stressful when they happen, but the reality is that luck plays a big role. Think about the open threes that Lillard and Batum missed in overtime. I know it’s hard to think about–please stop crying, sweetie–but if they had gone down, the Blazers probably would have won the game. Sometimes it just doesn’t go your way! And not every game will be reffed by Joey Crawford, who both to his credit and detriment has never given a single fuck about what the home court thinks about the calls he is  making. The next game will be reffed by some sack who is scared of all the horrible people shouting at him, I promise.

I also hate Troy Daniels. We all hate Troy Daniels. The whole Portland metro area hates Troy Daniels and his dumb face. Even Tigard, probably. But at least now the Blazers know that leaving him open is a shitty idea. C’mon, let’s go. There’s a Troy Daniels effigy burning going on at the park, I’m sure that’ll make you feel better.”

GAME 3, ROCKETS 121 – TRAIL BLAZERS 116 (OT): CRUMBS TO BRICKS

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What’s his name? Roy Williams? Yeah, Roy Williams I think. Whatever.

Time was silently un-illuminating off of the important LED clocks in overtime. The Rockets had the ball. James Harden had the ball. The game was tied. Then, Mo Williams stole the ball. Read that sentence with Havlicekian emphasis. Moods were high. Momentarily. Mo Williams fell down. Maybe he was pushed. Ok yeah probably there was something illegal about the physical contact between Mo and Jeremy Lin. In any case, Mo ended up lying down on the court while Lin collected the ball before it found North Carolina Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams, who was now wide open on the left wing in a suit fit for the most genteel of district attorneys. Or maybe it was the other Roy Williams. Mr. Kelly Rowland. They look the same so what does it matter. One of the Roy Williamses – most likely the one who probably tells recruits that they’ll never make it in basketball AND LIFE unless they give all of their income to some shady mega-church, but possibly the one who thought Nelly “GOT A LITTLE TOO HANDSY I SAW THE WAY YOU LOOKED AT HIM” on the video shoot for “Dilemma” – lined up and hit the three-pointer to put the Rockets up by 3 with only a few seconds remaining. Ugh.

I guess we should have seen it coming. I guess you should have seen it coming. You’re the one who can predict the future, with your demonic board games and lazy susan filled with dead newts and the like. Not me. I’m an honest, innocent young man who believes in a just universe and the power of positivity and who listened to Ace Hood’s “Bugatti” at least like 5 or 6 times in the time before the game to get properly turnt. I made up my own dance. It was natural and beautiful and pure. It was in my living room. There were aimless fist pumps and motions like I was simultaneously rolling dice and winding the engine crank for an early 20th century automobile. I was turnt.

At what point does turning up go to far? Is turning up like bowling after two beers when you’re really good but then one more beer and you fall off of the bowling cliff? And what were we really turning up for? Was our turn up a celebration of the first two games that we were separated from, more than it was a turn up for this particular game? Does the motive of a turn up, whether conscious or subconscious, impact its effectiveness? Being ahead 2-0 in the series, was there a sense of desperation rooted in our recognition of mortality? Is it even possible to properly turn up if there is not recognition of the fleeting aspect of life?

These questions are for the philosophers to debate and I suspect we won’t find answers for quite some time, at least until game 4 on Sunday. In the meantime, however, I suppose we can only look at this game for what it was. Maybe there are no greater powers at work. Maybe the cold, chaotic world in which we live is not as mysterious as we hope.

If there were those greater forces governing the chaos and rewarding lives well led, then Damian Lillard would have received a better prize for his exemplary performance. 30 points on 16 shots. Pull-up three-pointers of the kind that don’t feel loaded with hubris, but just seem to be examples that some players (such as Lillard) should not be subjected to the same rules of shot selection as others. There was also his finishes at the rim, including a completely insane and perfect and divine and-1 on a wild, possibly blind, fling towards the rim while being knocked to the floor, at a weighty moment late in regulation. The kind of finish that Dwyane Wade will tell his grandchildren about and pass off as his own. Even on defense, an area of study that Lillard rarely ventures into beyond the most basic survey courses, he effectively applied some added effort in a key possession in overtime in which he found himself defending James Harden one-on-one in isolation. Not that any of it mattered. For his efforts, Lillard received some nice chants and maybe someone gave him a hug. Hugs are nice.

Harden, meanwhile, is hailed as the conquering hero despite scoring his 37 points on a Kobe-Bryant-“I-don’t-leave-any-shots-in-the-chamber-[even-when-I’m-Jesse-Ventura-in-Predator-with-that-giant-gun-and-the-ammo-backpack-and-I’m-spraying-shots-into-the-jungle-at-an-invisible-monster-until-I-have-no-more-bullets]” 35 shots.

LaMarcus Aldridge, as the cruel world cuts down the mightiest among us, was made to look less like a god and more like an imperfect human. His midrange game wasn’t a disaster, but without being fed the likes of Terrence Jones and Chandler Parsons, Aldridge could not bully Dwight Howard or Omer Asik on the block, and so he struggled to find those easier shots to build a scoring rhythm.

In fact, maybe the world isn’t chaos but worse, a chaos governed by the forces of darkness. Patrick Beverley scored the first 6 points of the game. He finished 4-6 (66.6%) from beyond the arc. He totaled 16 points. Also he played 42 minutes and 4+2 is 6. Patrick Beverley is evil, as we knew, but the depth of his evil is a terrifyingly empty abyss.

Oh yeah, Troy Daniels. That’s his name.

TRAIL BLAZERS VS. ROCKETS GAME 3 PREVIEW: NOW WE CAN SEE

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(Corbin is sitting inside a golden dirigible with a massive painting of the Trail Blazers pinwheel on the side. The cabin is filled with Trail Blazer memorabilia: Clyde Drexler fatheads, marble statues of Walton and Lucas, a representation of Sheed as a Madonna. He is wearing a ruby and diamond encrusted robe that says “TRAIL BLAZERS: WORLD CHAMPIONS ‘77, __.” He presumes the empty space  will be filled with the number 14.  He is drinking a bottle of Night Trail brand fortified wine, the official alcoholic bevvy of the Portland Trail Blazers. Somehow the liquid in the bottle is colored alternating red and white. He is considering a presentation sized NBA playoffs bracket and chewing on the capa red and white colored marker. The Rockets are crossed out and he has written “Beverly Sux” in the margins 10-12 times.)

CORBIN: Hmm. If the Mavericks win, that’s a sweep in the second round for sure. Now the Spurs? I suspect it might take five, maybe six games. Perhaps those games will prove important for building the legend after the trophy has been claimed. (Sighs) The life of a wildly successful Trail Blazer blogger is full of mental challanges….

(KATIE, Corbin’s faithful assistant for whom he has a very deep respect, enters. She is wearing a white pantsuit and a red blouse.)

CORBIN: …Nowitzki is over the hill, but I think everyone agrees that, at this point, Tim Duncan WANTS to lose. It would be a mercy to see him put out of his mis… Oh, Katie, hello!

KATIE: Corbin.

CORBIN: Pardon my rudeness. I was just sitting here, considering which team I would prefer the Blazers play in the second round. What do you think? Should they play the Mavericks, against whom they can perhaps rest the starters whole games, or is it more important for everyone to get 20 or so minutes a game in, you know, keep their conditioning up before the Finals?

KATIE: …the Blazers haven’t won the series yet, Corbin.

CORBIN: What? Well, not technically, but it is patently absurd to keep dwelling on this series that is destined to be a sweep. My many millions of readers need contentment about the inevitable future.

KATIE: Oh. Hmm.

CORBIN: Hmm? What do you mean, hmm?

KATIE: Just, “Hmm.” Are you so sure the Blazers are going to beat the Rockets?

CORBIN: Katie. The last time the Blazers won two straight road games to begin a playoff series…

KATIE: …was 1977 and they won the title. I mean, I know that, we all know that. But that sort of selective stat isn’t really informative and you would know that if you weren’t…

CORBIN: If I wasn’t what, Katie? Seeing the truth?! Seeing in clear terms the Blazers’ road to ultimate victory, the parade through the streets of Portland, women and children weeping for joy, the urban hipster and the suburban Portland resentment-bot finally letting go of their differences and embracing in a citywide hug to celebrate victory?!

KATIE: …I was going to say “fanning out.” Corbin you should know that those two victories were abnormal games for the Blazers. Overtime victory? Close game victories have a lot to do with luck…

CORBIN: Uhh, have you heard of a little something called CLUTCH?!

KATIE: …and Lamarcus basically had the two best games of his career in close victories.

CORBIN: Yeah, because no one on the sadsack Rockets can guard him! He’s a perfect player and I’ve always thought that!

KATIE: Certainly, Aldridge is a problem for the Rockets’ defense. He’s torched everyone they’ve thrown at him, and some of the options they’re trying are downright perverse: Asik and Howard on the court together is spacing poison. But Aldridge made a LOT of midrange twos in game two, which was impressive, but he doesn’t always make those shots. He can’t just KEEP having the best career of his game over and over!

CORBIN: Who cares? the Blazers have had the Rockets ON LOCK.

KATIE: Well, they’ve defended non-Dwight Howard Rockets very well, certainly. But did you watch Dwight eat up Lopez like he was made from marzipan in that first quarter?

CORBIN: It doesn’t matter what DWIGHT does, since James Harden has lost his damn mind.

KATIE: James Harden is very good…

CORBIN: Yeah, at FLOPPING.

KATIE: …he averaged 25 points on 60+% true shooting for the season. It’s not reasonable to think he’s just going to keep playing poorly. I mean, do you really think this is going to be a sweep? Against a team with all that talent?

CORBIN: I don’t think, Katie. (Leans in, lots of tension.) I know.

(CORBIN walks dramatically out of the room. He slips and falls face first into a Jerome Kersey shaped cake.)

GAME 2, TRAIL BLAZERS 112 – ROCKETS 105: HEADED TO THE CLASSIC

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DEAR LAMARCUS NURAE ALDRIDGE,

 

I LOVE YOU.

OH YEAH, YOU DON’T KNOW ME—I MEAN, UNLESS YOU READ THIS BLOG A LOT. BUT EVEN THEN, READING SOMEBODY BULLSHITTING ABOUT DRAGONS AND THE UNDERAPPRECIATED ARTISTRY OF WILL BARTON ISN’T THE SAME AS KNOWING THAT PERSON, AT LEAST WHEN IT COMES TO FEELING THE WARMTH OF THEIR LOVE.

SO ANYWAY, HELLO, MY NAME IS JOE AND I LIKE THE BLAZERS AND YEAH I’VE WATCHED YOU, MOSTLY FROM AFAR, SINCE YOU ENTERED THE LEAGUE.

I REMEMBER YOUR DRAFT DAY. I WAS 18 YEARS OLD AND DRIVING ON I5 SOUTH TO MY SUMMER JOB IN WOODBURN. HAVE YOU BEEN? GOOD MEXICAN FOOD! ALSO THE ARBY’S THERE IS PRETTY DOPE. I RECOMMEND THE MOZZARELLA STICKS. BUT I DIGRESS. I’M TRYING TO TELL YOU ABOUT HOW DEEPLY I LOVE YOU, NOT CHOP IT UP ABOUT THE BEST MOZZARELLA STICKS WITHIN EASY DRIVING DISTANCE OF THE WOODBURN OUTLET MALL. BESIDES, THAT’S A QUICK CONVERSATION. IT’S ARBY’S.

SO THERE I WAS, WINDOWS DOWN, DOING LIKE 75 OR SO, LISTENING TO THE DRAFT ON THE AM RADIO, LETTING THE GRAINY PLAY-BY-PLAY BLAST OUT INTO THE SUNLIT WILLAMETTE VALLEY. I HOPE YOU FEEL THE RICH COLORS OF THIS IMAGE I’M PAINTING FOR YOU. MEANWHILE, IMPORTANT PEOPLE IN NEW YORK CITY READ THE NAMES OF 20-YEAR-OLDS AND ASSIGNED THEM TO RANDOM CITIES BASED ON THE FICKLE WHIMS OF OLD WHITE DUDES AND PING PONG BALLS. SCIENCE!

WHEN THEY SAID YOU WENT SECOND, TO CHICAGO, I DIDN’T KNOW MUCH ABOUT YOU. THEY SAID YOU HAD POTENTIAL. LOTS OF POTENTIAL. THOUGH I TEND TO IGNORE DRAFT PEOPLE SAYING SOMEONE HAS POTENTIAL. “POTENTIAL” SEEMS LIKE DRAFT PEOPLE PROJECTING THEIR OWN HOPES AND DREAMS, THE ONES THAT DIED LONG AGO IN THEIR LIFE OF DISAPPOINTMENT THAT LED THEM TO BECOME DRAFT PEOPLE, ONTO THE NEXT GENERATION OF KIDS WITH LONG ARMS, SOLID YOUTUBE TRAFFIC, AND EASY SMILES. NO OFFENSE.

BUT THEN THEY ANNOUNCED THE TRADE! THE BLAZERS WERE PICKING TYRUS THOMAS FOR CHICAGO AND YOU WERE COMING TO PORTLAND! ALL OF A SUDDEN, WOW, YOU HAD POTENTIAL!

I WAS AT YOUR FIRST GAME, THE 2006 SEASON OPENER IN SEATTLE AGAINST THE SUPERSONICS. RIP. I DON’T REALLY REMEMBER HOW YOU PLAYED THOUGH, OR EVEN IF YOU PLAYED AT ALL. I WAS MORE SMITTEN WITH THE OTHER ROOKIE, BRANDON ROY, AND THE WAY HE HIT TOUGH SHOTS AND LOCKED DOWN RAY ALLEN LATE TO GET THE WIN. HE WAS SO SMOOTH. HE WAS THE OBJECT OF OUR AFFECTION. YOU WERE THE AFTERTHOUGHT. YOU WERE THE KID ON THE BENCH WITH POTENTIAL.

OVER THE NEXT FEW YEARS, YOU REALIZED THAT POTENTIAL. OR SO WE THOUGHT. YOU MOVED WELL. YOU REBOUNDED WELL ENOUGH. YOU WERE TALL. AND YOUR JUMP SHOT, WELL, YOUR JUMP SHOT HAS ALWAYS BEEN ALL AUDREY HEPBURN – A SYNERGY OF CLASSIC BEAUTY AND SOPHISTICATION.

YOU BECAME A MACHINE THAT RELENTLESSLY CHURNED OUT 20 AND 9 EVERY GAME. BUT THAT WASN’T ENOUGH.

YOU AND I, WE’VE HAD A ROCKY RELATIONSHIP FOR MOST OF YOUR CAREER. WE’VE BEEN IN A BOAT TOGETHER AND THAT BOAT HAS BEEN SCRAPING OVER A LOT OF ROCKS.

I DIDN’T LIKE YOU. I MADE A LOT OF DEROGATORY REMARKS ABOUT YOUR ABILITY AS A BASKETBALL PLAYER. I PROCLAIMED YOUR UNWORTHINESS TO ANY WHO WOULD LISTEN. I’M SORRY.

YOU WEREN’T THE FOLK HERO THAT ROY WAS. YOU WERE DOMINATED IN THE PLAYOFFS BY LUIS SCOLA. I KNOW I ALREADY TALKED ABOUT THAT IN MY LAST RECAP BUT I JUST CAN’T LET IT GO. LUIS SCOLA. GEEZ.

EVEN WHEN YOU PUT UP THE NUMBERS THAT YOU ALWAYS DID, I WONDERED IF IT CAME AT THE EXPENSE OF THE TEAM. MIDRANGE JUMPERS ARE DUMB. YOU SETTLED FOR BAD SHOTS BECAUSE YOU COULD MAKE THEM BUT THEY WERE STILL BAD SHOTS. ALSO YOU WERE BORING. YOU SHOWED NO EMOTIONS. AND NOT IN THE COOL ASSASSIN WAY, MORE LIKE THE VACUUM CLEANER WAY. VACUUM CLEANERS HAVE NO EMOTIONS BECAUSE THEY ARE VACUUM CLEANERS. ALSO, VACUUM CLEANERS ARE NOT COOL.

I CALLED YOU SOFT. I WONDERED IF YOU EVEN CARED ABOUT ANYTHING BEYOND YOUR 20 AND 9. AGAIN, I’M SORRY. BUT I AM A MEMBER OF THE #SPORTSMEDIA (LOL) NOW AND THAT MAKES ME A BARBARIAN WHO WONDERS ABOUT THE MOTIVATIONS OF OTHERS WHO ARE FAR MORE SUCCESSFUL THAN ME. WELL ACTUALLY, I MAY NOT BE IN THE NBA BUT YOU DON’T HAVE A BLOG, SO LET’S NOT QUIBBLE OVER WHO’S MORE SUCCESSFUL THAN WHO. THE POINT IS, FOR MANY YEARS I SAID A LOT OF BAD THINGS ABOUT YOU THAT I’M NOT PROUD OF. BUT I DID MEAN THEM.

THIS YEAR THERE WAS NOTHING TO SAY ABOUT YOU EXCEPT THAT YOU WERE BRILLIANT. I WON’T SAY THAT I WAS RIGHT TO CRITICIZE YOU FOR SO LONG BUT YOU PROVED THAT 20 AND 9 EACH NIGHT ON SPOT UP JUMPERS AND TURNAROUND FADEAWAYS WAS NOT YOUR CEILING. NOT EVEN CLOSE. THERE WAS A SILENT FEROCITY BURNING INSIDE YOUR EMOTIONLESS EXTERIOR. THERE WAS ALSO A DEVASTATING POST GAME IN THERE NEXT TO IT. JUST AS I ALWAYS IMAGINED.

YOU COULD CARRY A TEAM NOW. YOU COULD CARRY A PLAYOFF TEAM. YOU COULD CARRY A PLAYOFF TEAM INTO AN ORNERY ROAD ATMOSPHERE AGAINST A PLAYER SPECIFICALLY DESIGNED BY PATRICK EWING AND HAKEEM OLAJUWON TO RENDER YOU INCAPACITATED AND YOU COULD MAKE THAT PLAYER LOOK LIKE BARBECUE CHICKEN OR WORSE, SHAQ YELLING INCOHERENTLY ABOUT BARBECUE CHICKEN.

YOUR PERFORMANCE IN GAME 1 WAS MAJESTIC, THE SORT OF THING TO MAKE WISHES ON, AND TATTOO ON THE FACES OF YOUR KIDS. WHAT A SPECTACULAR GAME. BUT WE KNEW IT WAS A RARE GIFT. LIKE A SOLAR ECLIPSE OR JAY ELECTRONICA TRACK. SURELY YOU COULDN’T DO THAT ANY OLD TIME, GO OFF FOR 46 POINTS AND 18 REBOUNDS AND DOMINATE THE GAME LIKE KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR CROSSED WITH JAY BILAS’S PEYOTE VISIONS OF EVERY LEAN YOUNG FORWARD WITH A JUMP SHOT.

THEN TONIGHT HAPPENED. 43 POINTS. 28 SHOTS. YOU PROVED THAT WHAT HAPPENED IN THE FIRST GAME WASN’T A FLUKE. NOT THAT THERE’S ANYTHING WRONG WITH A FLUKE. YOU HAD BEEN THROUGH A LOT OF SHIT HERE. FROM ZACH RANDOLPH TO RAYMOND FELTON TO EVEN LAST SUMMER WHEN THERE WERE FALSE RUMORS MADE ABOUT YOU WANTING TO LEAVE. YOU STAYED. YOU STUCK IT OUT. YOU EMBRACED US AND FORCED US TO FINALLY EMBRACE YOU. YOU DESERVED A FLUKE. BUT YOU EARNED TONIGHT.

TONIGHT WAS—WELL, I’M STILL NOT SURE HOW TO DEFINE IT. IT WAS MESMERIZING. EVEN WHEN YOU DID THINGS WE DIDN’T EXPECT, THE RESULT FELT INEVITABLE.

BY THE TIME YOU WERE APPROACHING 40, THERE WAS STILL A FEAR THAT THE ROCKETS WOULD COME BACK. A FEAR THAT GREW INTO A LEGITIMATE TERROR WITH A COUPLE MINUTES LEFT. BUT I WASN’T WORRIED MOST ABOUT LOSING BECAUSE THE BLAZERS NEEDED THE WIN – WHICH THEY MOST DEFINITELY DID. I WAS WORRIED MOST BECAUSE I DIDN’T WANT YOUR PERFORMANCE TO BE FOR NAUGHT. THE BLAZERS HAD TO WIN BECAUSE YOUR GREATNESS NEEDED TO BE ON DISPLAY FOR THE WORLD. THOUGH I SUPPOSE I NEEDN’T HAVE WORRIED AT ALL, AS YOUR GREATNESS WAS WHAT ALWAYS GUARANTEED THE WIN.

SOMEDAY THEY’LL HANG YOUR NUMBER UP THERE IN THE REALM OF THE FLOATING FORD ESCAPE. THEY’LL RANK YOU WITH THE OTHER GREATS. YOU MAY NOT EVER PASS WALTON’S BRIEF FLOURISH OF GENIUS OR ROY’S RESONANCE WITHIN THE CITY, BUT YOURS IS A PERSONAL STORY UNLIKE ANY OTHER PLAYER I CAN REMEMBER. YOU’VE IMPROVED EVERY SINGLE SEASON OF YOUR CAREER, AND YET YOU’VE ALWAYS BEEN DEFINED BY WHAT YOU WERE NOT.

YOU BEGAN AS PURE POTENTIAL, AND EVEN WHEN YOU BECAME GOOD, YOU WERE CRITICIZED FOR WHY YOU HADN’T REALIZED YOUR POTENTIAL TO BECOME GREAT. BUT NOW, YOU ARE GREAT. YOU JUST SCORED 40+ POINTS IN BACK TO BACK PLAYOFF WINS ON THE ROAD. THERE IS NO VISIBLE POTENTIAL TO BE REALIZED AND NOTHING LEFT THAT CAN BE ASKED OF YOU (APART FROM WHY YOU DON’T TAKE ONE STEP BACK AND MAKE THOSE LONG TWOS INTO THREES) AND SO NOW I’M MORE EXCITED THAN EVER TO SEE WHAT YOU CAN BECOME NEXT. BUT I’LL HAPPILY TAKE WHAT YOU ARE RIGHT NOW.

 

LOVE,

 

JOE

TRAIL BLAZERS @ ROCKETS GAME 2 PREVIEW: LARIAT

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Oh boy, that was sure exciting. Overtime game, the Blazers erased a deficit in the fourth AND in overtime, LaMarcus drilled a crazy three. Woo boy, basketball’ll get your blood racin’. Gawlee.

Tonight’s game probably won’t be as exciting, or certainly won’t be more exciting. I mean, it theoretically could be more exciting, but there would have to be, like, multiple buzzer beaters and second or third overtimes or half court stepbacks that are somehow worth five points and cut the lead to seven with seven minutes to go. Robin Lopez would have to drag Clutch the Cat onto the court and behead him, making official both his war with mascot kind and the city of Houston. Game 1 set a high bar to clear!

LaMarcus Aldridge probably had the best game of his career last time out, and although it would be unreasonable to expect that to happen again, there were still encouraging signs that he has purged some of his less efficient tendencies for the playoffs. Terrence Jones and Chandler Parsons are too short and lack beef and burl enough to deal with him in the low post. LMA played these matches about as well as he could last time out, not settling for turnarounds but backing down and going in for layups. Aldridge has also apparently sworn off swearing off playing center. This allows for offensive mismatches against Howard (The last Blazers playoff team had the best offensive lineup in the NBA, and it featured Aldridge at center) Aldridge even handled the Dwight Howard-in-the-post assignment really well. He is taller than Howard, after all.

The Blazers used a hack on Dwight in game one and it worked and I find that troubling. Dwight is not some apocalyptic free throw shooter. 54% still means 1.08 Points Per Possession, a mark that would distinguish an offense as one of the best in the NBA. Fouling Dwight allows the Rockets to set their half court defense. But this is not terrible devastating for Portland, as they don’t fast break very much and have a really good half court offense. Part of the reason #hacking #Dwight #disruption worked on Sunday is that McHale got scared and pulled Dwight, giving the Blazers one minute without one of the NBA’s best players. I can’t imagine we’ll see that again if the Blazers opt to go for a hack again. The other reason it worked is that it slowed down the clock and gave the Blazers more time to execute; that was a highly situational circumstance, though. What I’m saying is that my eyes will roll out of my head if they hack Dwight in the middle of the game and they’re up 10 or something.

Wes Matthews might not be equipped to guard James Harden. Wes is a very aggressive and physical defender, which works against a player who likes clean shots and shit. But Harden is not this player. Now, some people out there will take this opportunity to drag Harden in the mud; words like “flopper” and “cheater” and “Frito-encrusted beard” will get thrown around. I am a gentleman who will be more civil than that. James Harden is very good at shooting and driving into contact and making sure that he gets foul calls on that contact. Some people regard this as low level cheating that was invented when Europeans started playing basketball. THIS IS NOT THE CASE: check out this highlight mix of Bob Pettit, the 1956 and 1959 NBA MVP; he leans into contact on practically every jumper he takes. Lay off James Harden, guys. Does he practice basketball witchcraft? Absolutely. But everyone has some deal with the devil at their job. Anyway, Batum is probably a better option on Harden, when Portland can get the matchup.

Dwight, in deference to big man tradition, told gathered reporters that he needed the ball in the post more. How should you feel about this, if it actually happens? Well: Dwight, on the whole, is a more efficient pick and roll player than he is a post-up player. Post-ups are, at this point in NBA History, less efficient by their nature and Dwight is not a terribly fluid mover on the block or a terribly good passer out of it. But he is very fast, and Robin Lopez, the Blazer that has drawn this matchup the most, is not very fast. So when Dwight gets the ball in perfect position, he has a pretty effective drop-step-two-dribble thing that makes points. I actually thought — without the benefit of Synergy data or anything — Aldridge looked better on Dwight. LaMarcus is stronger than Lopez and Dwight is not tall so that’s not really a problem. We’ll see what happens!

Hey, Damian was really good, even with Beverly face-guarding him! Beverly might have knee troubles right now and could be playing not quite at 100%. You never wish knee problems on anyone of course, even if they are a basketball terrorist who has no regard for human life and might’ve slowly poisoned Jeremy Lin so he could take his minutes, but if Lillard has an edge, you know he’ll go at it. Hey, is Beverley really going to play on a maybe injured knee? Seems like a bad idea.

 

GAME 1, TRAIL BLAZERS 122 – ROCKETS 120 (OT): ON THAT OTHER LEVEL

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LISTEN, I’M NOT IN ANY SORT OF A PLACE TO WRITE A RECAP OF WHAT HAPPENED IN THIS BASKETBALL GAME OR ANY EVENT HAPPENING ANYWHERE. I HAVE NO SENSE OF TIME OR SPACE OR ANYTHING. I CAN’T EVEN REMEMBER LIFE BEFORE THIS GAME STARTED OR IF I EVEN EXISTED BEFORE IT STARTED.

I CANNOT PUT THIS PERFORMANCE INTO ANY KIND OF PERSPECTIVE BECAUSE I HAVE NO PERSPECTIVE.

A SINGLE WESLEY MATTHEWS BUCKET AT SOME POINT IN TIME BROUGHT ME INTO EXISTENCE AND SO MY ENTIRE WORLD BECAME A FLAT TELEVISION SCREEN WITH LIQUID CRYSTALS FLYING AROUND – THE SCIENCE IS NOT SOUND, I KNOW – WITH LIGHTS AND COLORS THAT PUT FORTH A SPECTACULAR PERFORMANCE TO VISUALLY REPLICATE A BASKETBALL GAME THAT WAS HAPPENING IN HOUSTON, TEXAS, AND THE EXPERIENCE WATCHING THOSE CRYSTALS DO THEIR CRYSTAL THING TRIGGERED CHEMICALS IN MY HEAD THAT HAD NEVER BEFORE BEEN TASTED BUT OH MAN DID THEY TASTE DELICIOUS.

HERE ARE SOME ASSORTED THOUGHTS, FUELED BY PEEPS AND JELLY BEANS, ON THAT EXPERIENCE.

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LET’S TAKE IT BACK TO A MEMORY I HAVE OF APRIL, 2009.

TWAS THE DAY OF THE BLAZERS FIRST GAME IN THEIR FIRST PLAYOFF SERIES SINCE BEFORE THE AGE OF DARIUS MILES. TWAS SUNNY IN PORTLAND THAT DAY, AS I RECALL. MY BROTHER AND I, HEARTS AND MINDS BOTH AWASH WITH HOPE, STROLLED THROUGH THE ROSE QUARTER SOAKING IN THE RESURRECTED VIBES OF THE RIP CITY RENAISSAINCE AS WELL AS THE SUNSHINE, BOTH OF WHICH FELT LIKE RARE TREATS. WE WENT INTO THE ARENA. WE GOT PO’SHINED. WE WENT TO OUR SEATS. THEN, BEFORE WE COULD EVEN HUSH OUR PUPPIES, YAO MING SCORED LIKE 8 POINTS IN A ROW AND THE ROCKETS WERE UP LIKE 11-2 AND THE BLAZERS ONLY FURTHER COLLAPSED EN ROUTE TO TOTAL DEFEAT.

BLAZER GOD BRANDON ROY LOOKED UNCOMFORTABLE THROUGHOUT MOST OF THAT TERRIBLE SERIES. IN FACT, I MAINTAIN TODAY THAT RUDY FERNANDEZ WAS THE ONLY TRAIL BLAZER WHO ROSE TO MATCH THE GRAVITAS OF THE MOMENT. BUT THE REASON I BRING THIS ALL UP WAS THAT THE MOST TROUBLING ASPECT OF THAT SERIES WAS THE ABUSE PUT UPON A YOUNG LAMARCUS ALDRIDGE BY LUIS SCOLA. SEEING THE FUTURE, AND SUPPOSED PRESENT, OF THE BLAZER FRONTCOURT RELENTLESSLY BULLIED BY A MAN WHOSE GO-TO POST MOVE IS “SWARTHINESS” IS NOT A SIGHT ONE SOON FORGETS. THE SCAR MAY FADE AND LAMARCUS MAY CHANGE THE STORY OF THE SCAR WHEN IN AN INTIMATE SITUATION WITH A YOUNG ALDRETTE, BUT WE WHO WERE THERE WILL ALWAYS REMEMBER THE HORROR.

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LAMARCUS ALDRIDGE HAD 46 POINTS AND 18 REBOUNDS TONIGHT, IN A PLAYOFF GAME, WITH A HOSTILE AND LIVELY CROWD, AGAINST ONE OF THE BEST – IF NOT THE BEST – POST DEFENDER IN THE NBA, IN DWIGHT HOWARD. HE MADE JABBARIAN RUNNING HOOKS OVER DOUBLE TEAMS. HE MADE TWO THREE-POINTERS, THE SECOND OF WHICH COMING AFTER HE PUMP FAKED ON A MIDRANGE JUMPER TO GET HOWARD IN THE AIR, BUT DIDN’T GET THE FOUL CALL WHEN HOWARD SORT OF LANDED ON HIM AND KNOCKED THE BALL LOOSE, SO ALDRIDGE JUST STEPPED BACK AND COLLECTED THE BALL AND BANGED THE THREE RIGHT IN HOWARD’S COUNTENANCE. PUT UP YOUR THREE-FINGERED MONOCLE, MEYERS LEONARD.

THE BLAZER OFFENSE LOOKED PRETTY BAD AT LEAST THROUGHOUT THE MIDDLE OF THIS GAME. POOR BALL MOVEMENT, QUESTIONABLE SHOT SELECTION, A FEW UGLY TURNOVERS, AN INABILITY TO MAKE EVEN THE WIDE OPEN SHOTS FROM BEYOND THE ARC. BUT IT WAS ALDRIDGE WHO CARRIED THE TEAM THROUGH THOSE ROUGH PATCHES AND MOST OF THE SECOND HALF, DECIMATING WHOEVER WAS PUT IN FRONT OF HIM WITH JUMP SHOTS, HARD DRIVES, FOLLOWS ON MISSES, AND EVERYTHING ELSE OUT OF STRUNK AND WHITE’S MANUAL, ELEMENTS OF POST GAME STYLE. WHEN THE BLAZERS ENACTED A CONTROVERSIAL BUT EFFECTIVE “HACK-A-DWIGHT” STRATEGY IN THE FOURTH QUARTER THAT FORCED HOWARD OFF THE FLOOR, ALDRIDGE TREATED TERRENCE JONES MUCH THE WAY THAT ALDRIDGE HAD BEEN TREATED BY SCOLA ALL THOSE YEARS AGO. ALDRIDGE MAY NOT BE A MOST VALUABLE PLAYER CANDIDATE ANYMORE BUT HIS PERFORMANCE TONIGHT WAS THAT OF A HALL OF FAMER, THE BEST PERFORMANCE THAT I CAN REMEMBER FROM A BLAZER WHO WAS NOT RIDING ON THE WINGS OF ANGELS FOR ONE FINAL BLAZE OF GLORY. TONIGHT TWAS PURE HEROISM.

REMEMBER WHEN I SAID I HAD NO PERSPECTIVE ANYMORE?

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EVER SINCE BONZI THREW DOUBLE BIRDS AT THE CUSTOMERS AND QYNTEL WAS DECORATING THE WALLS OF HIS HOUSE IN DOG BLOOD, THERE HAS SEEMED TO BE A NOTICEABLE, IF UNDERSTANDABLE, ABSENCE OF BAD-ASSERY IN THE ON-COURT ATTITUDE OF THE BLAZERS. THE FRONT OFFICE WANTED PLAYERS WHO WOULD BE SPOTTED TAKING PICTURES WITH KIDS OUTSIDE LOCAL FOOD TRUCKS AT LUNCHTIME, NOT BLOWING TREES IN THE PARKING LOT OF A SHARI’S AT 4AM. AND SO IF THAT MEANT SACRIFICING THE FREQUENCY OF HARD FOULS AND DUDES SWAGGERING AROUND AFTER DUNKS AND TELLING SOFT EUROPEAN BIG MEN TO GO BACK TO OLIVE GARDEN, WELL THAT’S JUST HOW IT HAD TO BE FOR A WHILE.

BUT, AS SOMEBODY WHO RELISHES IN THE BAD-ASSERY OF TEAMS LIKE THE GRIZZLIES AND PACERS—WELL, BAD EXAMPLE RIGHT NOW, BUT YOU GET THE IDEA—I HAPPILY NOTICED THAT IT WAS THE BLAZERS WHO CAME OUT AND SET A VILLAINOUS TONE EARLY AND OFTEN AND SHOWED THAT THEY WOULD NOT BE PUNKED BY THESE ROCKETS.

THOMAS ROBINSON, THE BAD-ASSIEST, ENTERED THE GAME FOR HIS FIRST MINUTES IN THE FIRST HALF AND IMMEDIATELY ATTEMPTED THE SORT OF DUNK THAT COULD IMPREGNATE VIEWERS, MALE OR FEMALE. LATER IN THE GAME, HE HARD FOULED THE HOLLOW SOUL OF PATRICK BEVERLEY, WHO WOULD HIMSELF LATER BE THE RECIPIENT OF ANOTHER SOMEWHAT HARD FOUL, DEEMED A FLAGRANT, BY MO WILLIAMS. ROBIN LOPEZ RECEIVED A TECHNICAL FOUL FOR HURTING DWIGHT HOWARD’S FEELINGS, AS THE TWO BIG MEN HURLED INSULTS AND LOOSE LIMBS AT ONE ANOTHER FOR MOST OF THE NIGHT.

THE BLAZERS LOOKED GULLY, AND IT’S HARD TO THINK THAT SOME GULLINESS DID NOT COME IN HANDY WHEN GRINDING BACK FROM A DOUBLE-DIGIT FOURTH QUARTER DEFICIT.

OF COURSE, I WOULD BE REMISS IN DISCUSSING GULLINESS IF I DID NOT SPEAK OF DAMIAN LILLARD OF OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA. LIKE HIS TEAM IN GENERAL, THE GAME DID NOT KNEEL DOWN IN FRONT OF YOUNG DAMIAN AND BESTOW UPON HIM THE JEWELS OF ROYALTY. HE HAD TO GO OUT AND STEAL THOSE JEWELS – RUN THE JEWELS, OR, “GET UP OFF THEM GODDAMN DIAMONDS,” IN THE WORDS OF THE MASH OUT POSSE.

WHILE BEVERLEY HARASSED HIM FROM THE OPENING TIP AND PROBABLY BEFORE THAT TOO, LILLARD OVERCAME. HE’S TOO TOUGH AND PROUD AND QUIETLY FEROCIOUS TO ALLOW A SIMPLE HEEL LIKE BEVERLEY TO DISRUPT HIS GAME. OVER THE COURSE OF THE GAME, LILLARD BEGAN TO LOOK MORE AND MORE COMFORTABLE IN THE PICK-AND-ROLL, LIKE HE SOLVED THE PUZZLE OF THE HOUSTON DEFENSE AND REALIZED EXACTLY WHAT HE NEEDED TO DO TO SET UP OPPORTUNITIES FOR DEATH-DEFYING ASSAULTS AT THE RIM. WHEN HIS JUMPER WASN’T FALLING, THOSE ASSAULTS PUT HIM ON THE FREE THROW LINE AND DID THEIR PART TO PUT HOWARD INTO FOUL TROUBLE. THEN, DURING THE “HACK-A-HOWARD” STRETCH OF THE GAME, LILLARD FOUND HIS COMPLETE SCORING FORM, CULMINATING IN A SILLY PULL-UP LEANING THREE-POINTER FROM TWO STEPS BEYOND THE ARC DURING WHICH HE WAS FOULED AND STILL MADE THE SHOT (THOUGH HE MISSED THE ENSUING FREE THROW). A FEW MINUTES LATER, LILLARD WOULD HIT THE THREE-POINTER TO TIE THE GAME AT 104 AND, AFTER TWO JAMES HARDEN FREE THROWS AND A ALDRIDGE TIP-IN OF A LILLARD MISSED TIP-IN OF A WES THREE-POINTER WITH TWO SECONDS LEFT, SEND THE GAME TO OVERTIME.

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THE OFFICIATING WAS TERRIBLE. THE BLAZERS DID NOT SHOOT WELL, OR PLAY OFFENSE WELL, FOR MOST OF THE GAME. MO WILLIAMS WAS ATROCIOUS. DWIGHT HOWARD KIND OF DOMINATED ROBIN LOPEZ ON THE BLOCK. PATRICK BEVERLEY WAS MADDENING. DORELL WRIGHT PROBABLY PLAYED TOO MUCH. THOMAS ROBINSON PROBABLY DIDN’T PLAY ENOUGH. THE BLAZERS FELL BEHIND BY 11 WITH 4 MINUTES TO GO. BUT STILL, SOMEHOW, ON THE GRACE OF TWO OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCES BY DAMIAN LILLARD AND MOST OF ALL LAMARCUS ALDIRDGE, THE BLAZERS MANAGED TO WIN. NONE OF IT IS PROBABLY RELIABLE TO BE COUNTED UPON FOR THE NEXT GAME, BUT LIKE THE CLICHÉ SAYS, EACH GAME IS ITS OWN INDIVIDUAL UNIVERSE SEPARATE FROM OVERALL NARRATIVE, AND LIKE I READ ON THE LIPS – OR LIKE I WANTED TO READ ON THE LIPS – OF AN ASSISTANT CONGRATULATING STOTTS AS SOON AS HARDEN’S FINAL SHOT MISSED AND THE BUZZER SOUNDED, “WHAT A FUCKING WIN.”