If anyone needed anymore proof that Rip City is back…you got it last night.
First, a trip down memory lane. A trip to the last time I can recall ever feeling something quite like this. April 13th, 2003. A Sunday afternoon in the Rose Garden. It was the first time I’d seen ABC in the building instead of NBC. Rasheed Wallace’s three with 4 seconds left sent the Rose Garden into a frenzy. More importantly, it sent the Shaq/Kobe Lakers packing withan L on national TV. This 2002-03 season marked the last Blazer appearance in the playoffs for six season. It was also the last time the Blazers won 50 wins until this season. You’d also have to go back to this date to see the last time Portland beat Los Angeles at home in a meaningful contest. One where both teams were headed to the playoffs. And let me tell you, there’s nothing better then watching the Blazers beat the Lakerswhen it matters to both teams.
Why did I take that trip down memory lane? Because it was the first thing I thought of after watching last night’s game.
The intensity. The strong play. The atmosphere. The passion and desire. It was all on display and some last night. Portland beat a healthy, 63-17 Los Angeles Lakers team in an intense, back-and-forth, playoff-like game. It does not get any better than that. And after the past few years, I’m so glad this fanbase gets to experience it again. There’s a different feeling you get as a fan when a really good Blazer team takes down a really good Laker team. This wasn’t the typical home win over the Lakers of the past few years. Those wins were kind of like cocaine: you felt pretty good for a while until you realized you’re in the lottery….again. This was different. It’s the kind of win that’s hard to describe. This was one of those wins that everyone in the city got hyped about. The type of win that gets strangers high fiving strangers in a bar. The type of win that makes that walk in the concourse feel special. The type of win that gets horns honking in the parking garage. One of those wins where people rushed to their Facebooks to update their status withpride. It’s a feeling that on the outside cannot be understood. Kind of like girls obsession with the Jonas Brothers.
Also if you wanted anymore proof that this team is legit, you also got that last night. Last night confirms what we’ve been saying: if Portland can get home-court advantage they will make some noise in the playoffs. Not only that but they are playing witha ton of confidence right now. The swagger transplant was scheduled at just the right time. How many teams can say they’ve traded punches with the Lakers in the 4th quarter and come out on top? I’d venture to say not too many.
To the game. As I said, this was a great back-and-forth contest. You know when commentators say that “it’s a game of runs” and you want to clothesline them? Well….tonight is an example of what they were talking about. This might have been the definition of a game of runs. The first quarter was the obligatory feeling out process. Neither team seemed like they had their footing quite yet. Odom and Rudy Fernandez gave offensive sparks for their respective teams. In the second, things continued this way until the Lakers landed the first blow. A 16-2 run from the 7 minute mark to just about the 2 minute mark gave the Lakers a 50-40 lead. It seemed like the type of lull which had doomed the Blazers all year against the better teams in the league. It wasn’t as the Blazers ran off 9 straight off their own before a Sasha three before halftime put the Lakers up 4. In the third, the fighting continued. Bolstered by LMA’s 10-point performance, the Blazers at one point went up 7 but watched the Lakers go on a 12-2 run. That run was stopped by Greg Oden absolutely beasting Pau Gasol and dunking. That type of stuff…that makes me drool. I thought I had stumbled across Cinemax for the first time all over again. Also, helping Oden out were Travis Outlaw and Rudy Fernandez hitting huge three’s and the Blazers went into the fourth with an advantage.
The fourth saw Rudy and Sergio go all Spanish Connection on em’ and give me a nice, warm, fuzzy feeling. I felt like I was watching Muppet Babies. That was until, Shannon Brown had a throwback moment to when he had cornrows and played for Michigan State. I had forgotten he could shoot the ball and there he goes draining two three’s. And this was where I wish the years of Lakers torturing the Blazers hadn’t been ingrained in my head because I was on the verge of a mental breakdown. Shannon Brown was Robert Horry in my eyes. Of course his three’s bled right into Mamba Time as Kobe scored 9 of the Lakersnext 11 to keep them in it. Matching him? Brandon Roy. During that stretch, Roy had 6 points, keeping the Blazers ahead. None more fun to see than Roy sticking a nasty pull-up jumper with Kobe guarding him. And I say nasty because it was one of the rare times Kobe was frozen as a defender. Neither superstar would score another point the rest of the way. Steve Blake’s huge pull-up put the Blazers up 3 and I just about had a heart attack as Kobe and Fisher took three’s and the Blazers missed free throws.
(Sidenote….umm…even though I was freaking out when they took them…why did they take them? I’m not complaining at all but I was definitely expecting Kobe to try and bulldoze his way to the cup. Also weird, I’m pretty sure that D-Wade took a three in Boston tonight when he really didn’t have too. LeBron? He took pictures, played air guitar and hummed Afrikaa Bambataa.)
Both teams saw their superstars “struggle” if you will. Brandon Roy….not-so-much. He was phenomenal down the stretch, just doing the sorts of things that Brandon Roy does. You can’t help but be impressed by his poise as Kobe tried to will the Lakers to victory. One of the keys to success that Coup mentioned in his pre-thoughts was the battle of the benches.Anytime Kobe Bryant goes 9-for-24 and Bynum has equal amount FGA’s and PTS (13) the Lakers are going to need some help. Ditto for the Blazers when LaMarcus Aldridge goes 6-for-18. Both second units showed up in a big way. I bet if you told Laker fans they were getting 35 points from their bench tonight they would have celebrated. Odom’s 17 and Brown’s 10 off-set Kobe’s 9-for-24 performance. Portland’s guys showed up to play big-time basketball as well. Greg Oden has quietly put together two of his better games of the season against two of the tougher teams in the NBA. It’s not just the 10 points and 6 rebounds, it is also the presence he brings to the table. Watching him play the last two games, it feels more natural when he’s on the court. I’m not checking to see if Joel is in foul trouble or got injured as much. Travis had 10 but struggled (2-for-8 from the field, 5-for-9 from the line). You can tell by the way he was defended tonight that his X-Factor’ness may not be as much of a secret as we thought. Rudy Fernandez was the game changing x-factor off the bench. We’re shockingly only 11-5 when Rudy scores 15+ but it makes a world of difference when he can go all Microwave off the bench. These two and Blake are going to have to start bringing it consistently.
I was impressed with a couple of stats. Portland won the battle of the boards (44-39) and also the battle at the free throw line (37 attempts to LA’s 20). I know that Laker-land will probably point to that was a poorly officiated game. I won’t. There were a few times when Oden should have been at the line and wasn’t. I really like when Portland plays aggressive and attacks and tries to get in the paint and get fouled. We need to pull a Sugarland and stop settlin’ for the rest of the year. (+5 to me for sneaking a country reference in there)
Portland has done a phenomenal job finishing up the season. The trap is set though. Playing at the Clippers on a back-to-back after such an emotional high is just the definition of a trap game. As great of a feeling as this win was, a loss to the Clippers will be just the opposite.