Ugly is a surprisingly versatile descriptor. At the most basic level, ugliness is Quasimodo, something so horrifyingly unpleasant that the only way to deal with it is to lock it away in a bell tower where no one except prying gypsies will ever find it. But another understanding of the word is in the description, “winning ugly”. To win ugly generally means to purposefully create an environment that is unpleasant and inhospitable to everyone except the designer. It is ugliness carefully crafted for a specific outcome, which sort of makes it not ugliness at all, since ugliness is the absence of anything attractive, and executing a plan to win is an undeniably attractive idea. Then there’s the kind of ugliness that is the mole on Cindy Crawford’s face. It’s when the sheer power of the surrounding beauty transforms a glaring, ugly imperfection into an interesting mark of character that only makes the beauty feel more special. I wish I could say that the Trail Blazers’ 94-84 victory over the Clippers on Friday night was ugly in the last sense, or even the second sense, but I’m afraid it was just a case of a nice gypsy with little care for physical appearance finding her way into the bell tower.
When NBATV finally cut over to the action at the Staples Center after the Bulls and Pacers finished their contest in Chicago, the still scoreless line at the 9:50 mark in the first quarter felt almost like a polite courtesy from the two teams for those of us arriving late. However, it soon became clear that the lack of scoring was more indicative of the poor quality of play, rather than any kind of thoughtfulness. The Blazers jumped out to a 7-0 lead, but their carelessness with the ball out-uglied the Clippers’ shooting woes, and the first period ended with the Clips holding an 18-15 advantage. With Wes Matthews and LaMarcus Aldridge sidelined due to injuries, Will Barton and Joel Freeland started in their steads, and the lack of on-court chemistry surely contributed to the Blazers racking up a mind-boggling 19 turnovers in the first half, finishing with 26 turnovers for the game. But though discontinuity with some of the new lineups may have contributed to the sloppy play, it could not have been wholly responsible for the abjectly embarrassing display of ball security, highlighted by the Blazers somehow turning the ball over twice in one possession. Let the physicists of a future age theorize the explanations for how that happened. While they’re at it, they could probably also try to explain how, despite 19 turnovers and some alarmingly spectacular DeAndre Jordan feats of strength, the Blazers only found themselves down 43-42 at halftime.
Last Friday against the Utah Jazz, Damian Lillard took it upon himself to destroy the very fabric of Trey Burke’s existence, to menacingly grab a loose strand of yarn on the sweater of Burke’s soul and watch the rookie walk away. Of course, that was a week ago and Trey Burke is a weak and feeble rookie and it happened in Boise without television and so who even knows, right? But in the third quarter of this game, Lillard took it upon himself to destroy Chris Paul’s existence and, holy cow, was it so much more awesome. Beyond his usual array of pull-up jumpers and pick-and-roll prowess, Lillard drilled a deep jumper from a healthy two-step behind the three-point line, and backed Paul down hard in the mid-post for an easy turnaround floater. Lillard finished with 12 points in the quarter (and 16 in the game), including a 7-0 personal run, and even his defense looked inspired as he frustrated Paul into not being able to get his normal shots and facilitate the Clipper offense. After the game, Chris Paul’s son “Lil Chris” would be quoted by CSNNW’s Chris Haynes identifying Lillard as “the good one” and led by the best one on the court in this contest, the Blazers took a 66-59 lead into the fourth.
The Clippers fell behind by 17 points at 80-63 with nine minutes left in the game until Darren Collison started doing…umm…non-Darren Collison things. Collison, a solid backup point guard for most of his career, all of a sudden turned into the molten hybrid of Allen Iverson and Nate Robinson in this game, finishing with a game-high 31 points and keying a 15-2 run that cut the Blazer lead to 82-78 with about five minutes remaining. Fortunately, the Blazers bench was led by Will Barton’s 10 points and 10 rebounds, Victor Claver who drained a dagger three in the final minutes, and Thomas Robinson’s 13 rebounds, and they managed to hold back the Collison tide and hang on for the win. When I say “fortunately” there, I mean that without any hint of preseason sarcasm because for those players fighting for rotation spots, losing a lead like that so quickly could cripple their limited confidence heading into the season. Preseason or not, learning how to win and building the vital mutual trust in these games is critical for the development of these young bench players. Meanwhile over on the Clippers bench, young center Byron Mullens continues to audition for the role of glaring, ugly mole on the otherwise Cindy Crawford face that is the Clippers roster by shooting a stunning 0/7 from three-point range. Sometimes ugliness is just too perfect.