Here we are for just the second Blazer home game and I ought to be a little more upbeat. Now, don't get me wrong, I am indeed happy to be here--for there is no better way to beat the rain-soaked gloom of the Oregon winter than sacking out inside the glistening Rose Garden. It's just that the Rockets are fucking good--not to mention they are especially suited, with an especially intimidating, physical defense to whack the Blazers in the solar plexus. That said, perhaps I'm underestimating the extra gas Rose Garden pours over this young team.
Added importance on getting the home win, because the Blazers only have one more game here before an extended road trip. A win tonight and a gimme against the T-Wolves here on Saturday would sure help by putting the Blazers back to .500 before what is sure to be a maddening stretch. So I guess, if nothing else, home performance is something to look at with a critical eye, as trends are far from set at this point. Another interesting bit should be the grit and hustle of LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy, who were called out today by Oregonian beat-writer Jason Quick for playing just "OK."
Now, on to the ways the Blazers can win: Roy scores 30 or more, Rudy gets hot and helps the team pour in 100+, Ron Artest gets in foul trouble, and... uhm... Yao injury?
Jesus, I can hardly think straight--too much buffet, all the blood has drained out of my head into my stomach. An extra helping of tidbits before we tip-off:
- Rockets were the only team to beat the Blazers four times last year.
- Von Wafer, a Blazer for a minute, has been picked up by Houston.
- National media again tonight--the TNT crew plus a number of ESPN writers.
- Blazers owner Paul Allen, who missed the home-opener with an undisclosed illness, is here.
Oh! Tonight's official line is Rockets -5. Any takers?
PREGAME: Pretty goddamn full in here and we have yet to tip-off. Nice to see Rick Adelman still gets much love from the Rose Garden faithful. Rowdier than usual in here I'll say--due to two things: 1) ridiculous off-season expectations and 2) the season is young.
FIRST QUARTER: OK. Well, so much for all that doubting. Przybilla blocks Yao (!) which turns into a one-handed Aldridge dunk on the ensuing break.
8:22 - Aldridge is off and running, a quick start with six points. His defense also sucks as Rocket guard Rafer Alston threads the needle and scores around LaMarcus' outstretched arm. And good God, that Nic Batum sure knows how to sneak down the baseline lanes. Blake finds him for a and easy two.
5:32 - Jerome Kersey pops up during a timeout to dedicate the season to the memory of Kevin Duckworth. Biting my tongue here... Duck was a nice guy, but his skills, well, they left a bit to be desired.
2:09 - Traivs Outlaw pops a three and puts Portland up four. Rudy Fernandez is also on the court, but unlike Ezra, I will manage somehow to refrain from coming on to him.... somehow. Blazers get a stop and Frye drops an outside jumper.
:34 - Yao clangs another one. Dude is ice cold. And the rest of the Rockets, well they're just fucking old. It's ridiculous--they're like the John McCain of basketball. (Remember when all the old jokes used to be about Bob Dole?).
:00 - Sonnofabitch! Aaron Brooks drains a three right before the buzzer. Well, you little bastard, so much for cashing in on a little Oregon love. At the end of one, Blazers 21, Rockets 18.
And the Duckworth tribute continues. Good god. This latest video is in soft focus, scored with near acapella, glowing and sepia toned. It's as if Duck is up in heaven right now, clanking a chip-shot on Patrick Ewing. Wait, Ewing is still alive? Holy shit.
SECOND QUARTER: Brent Barry, remarkably, can still shoot threes. His grandkids must be proud. I wonder if when he learned to shoot they were still using that two-handed technique... On the other end Rudy answers from deep (no pun intended--sorry Ezra). Portland up five, 30-25.
8:39 - I think I just heard fourth-wave ska come over the PA. The wanky up-beat puts a spring in Yao's step and he finally gets on the board. Rudy ALMOST comes up with a slick dunk. He's just a little short but the ball rolls in anyway. SCHMUNK! The Portland crowd doesn't care, however, cheering as if he actually flushed it.
6:40 - The Rockets offense seems to be finding their efficiency. Takes a quarter or two to warm up those creaky ol' bones I suppose. After the game I'm going for an icebag count in the Rockets locker room.
6:17 - Timely shooting keeping the Blazers afloat--well shit, actually, in the lead. They're up four after Rudy's second hit from downtown. Portland 38, Houston 34.
5:46 - OK, this whole thing is just getting weirder. The Blazers "alumni ambassadors" were just introduced on the court, including Blazers founder Harry Glickman, Dale Schluter (first Blazer ever, I guess), Jerome Kersey, Chris Dudley (who got a surprising amount of love), and Brian Grant, the "rookie ambassador." Yeah. I'm about as dumbfounded as you are. What in the hell?
4:43 - Blake rushes the lane and drops in a pretty left-handed layup. Hot damn Blakey Boy, sure would like to see a few more of those. On the other end Roy intentionally fouls Ron Artest, who would've dominated him low on the block. Ron Ron gets one of two at the line and the Blazers call time. Portland 40, Houston 35.
Oden's mug pops up on the big screen and he gets a handsome amount of applause. He looks away, sheepishly. For his sake I have a proposal: we put a total moratorium on ANYTHING Oden related--talking, looking, hoping, pontificating, praying, whatever. Just pretend like dude doesn't exist until he's established himself on the court and works into some kind of comfort zone. This ought to lift a bit of the weight on his humble, all-too-worried, psyche. Remember--not everyone can be as cool as Barack Obama in the glare of immense expectation and bright lights.
Basketball happened while I wrote that, though nothing too spectacular. Timeout, again. Portland 44, Houston 41.
2:15 - OK, WOW. Roy stupifies Yao with a little show and go underneath. Hot, hot shit. In less dramatic, highlight-reel fashion, McGrady answers to bring the Rockets within one. The Blazers miss, McGrady hits the streaking Artest for a dunk and the Rockets take their first lead of the second quarter.
:46 - Blake hits a wide-open three but the crafty, crafty Luis Scola gets an easy bucket against Ike Diogu.
:2.9 - Roy finds Aldridge for a foul-line extended jumper to take back the lead. 52-51. A Houston pass the length of the court goes straight out of bounds but on the ensuing possesion Roy is unable to make a buzzer-beater. Still, Blazers are up as they head into the locker room, which they ought to be thankful for as Houston knuckled down in the final minutes. At the half, Blazers 52, Rockets 51. LaMarcus Aldridge leads all scorers with 14. Brent Barry leads all players in age.
THIRD QUARTER: First play the ball goes down to Aldridge, who is covered by Luis Scola, by all rights a player who he should be running at. Here Aldridge does with a step-back jumper that rolls in. The Blazers should continue to exploit this matchup. 56-51, Blazers.
9:49 - Aldridge jams inside on a nifty pass from Steve Blake. But all the credit, however, goes to the Vanilla Gorilla, who tipped Blake's previous miss back out from the thicket of Rockets. Aldridge scores again with a jump-hook on the block. Blazers are up seven.
In the pre-game I said a Blazers win would take 30 points from Brandon Roy. I'm revising that, putting LaMarcus in place of Brandon. I figured against the Rockets' large, physical front line, LaMarcus would have a tough time. Not so. On the other hand, Roy has been having a hell of a time with Artest, McGrady and others. Who knew?
8:00 - Batum gets out on the break and scores after double-clutching a layup. Kid gets in where he fits in quite nicely--finds a way to score with absolutely no plays called for him on offense. 62-57, Portland. As Portland jumps out early they keep the crowd strong. This matters.
6:31 - A bobbled dribble turns into an unexpected opening as Aldridge cruises into the lane and finds Przybilla for a two-handed dunk. Jesus, LaMarcus is feeling it, and there's not a damn thing Scola can do about it. Portland is feeding the hungry Aldridge in the post and he's killing it. Another jumper swishes through. The Rockets call time, as it's well past time make some defensive substitutions. 68-61, Grumptown.
4:43 - Tracy McGrady has decided to show up, it seems. In all honesty I nearly forgot he was playing--his presence has just been a little transparent tonight. Well, that was up until a minute or two ago. He's got the Rockets last five points plus a steal. It's times like this when they just dump the ball to him and the only thing that can make him miss is his own hand--which just did, thankfully. But he got the shot he wanted. Portland 68, Houston 66.
3:05 - Roy drains a deep two, which, thank God, proves that he is indeed alive (he's got just 6 points so far). To match the now-charging McGrady, Brandon needs to really fire it up. Like during this timeout, drink eight cans of Red Bull... That's a start.
2:20 - Roy hits over Brent Barry, which is nice and all for Roy's confidence, but I could probably step back and hit over Brent "McCain" Barry. Roy clangs his next shot, a turnaround. Portland 72, Houston 69.
0:00 - "Terrible execution," on the last play says Blazersedge.com writer Ben Golliver. And, by God, he's quite right. Sergio finds a defended Rudy Fernandez for a deep fade-away three that's well short. Not exactly a good shot. Not even close. And so Sergio finds his way back to bench-warming. 74-71, Portland.
FOURTH QUARTER: Brent, the hairy Barry, AIRBALLS a three. Off by about a foot. On the other end Rudy pump fakes Barry out of the picture, steps aside and nails his own three. A defensive stop and this crowd is going fucking bananas.
10:00 - Rudy crosses over Barry, who's left slapping at Fernandez's arms from behind and burns into the lane. He switches hands, gets fouled, and, despite the raucous crowd's best wishes, the ball rolls just out. Still, strong stuff from the Spaniard. Timeout called. Portland 79, Houston 71.
9:12 - Fucking hell! With a whole lot of loopy running, Rudy just burned Ron Artest and layed a teardrop over the outstretched paw of Yao Ming. Hot Damn. Blazers up 10, 83-73.
7:02 - A slick assist in the lane from McGrady and a Ron Artest three = five. As in, cutting the Blazers 10 point lead in half. Timeout.
6:13 - Aaron Brooks is fucking fast. Faster with the dribble than others without. He scores on a fast break, beating Rudy to bring the Rockets within two. On the other end, Aldridge goes to work in the post and gets fouled. Houston is in the penalty from here on out. Hits one of two free throws, Mcgrady Answers with a three, and the Blazers lead is back to two. 84-82, Portland.
2:58 - After a stunning block of Yao Ming by Aldridge and an impressive offensive rebound by Roy, Brandon gets the ball back, breaks off Ron Artest and lays it in. He's fouled in the process, even if it isn't called. Aldridge grabs an offensive board, puts it back and the Blazers are up five, 90-85. Timeout.
1:47 - McGrady scores and, for the second time, Roy misses at the rim, a shot he would usually get the benefit of the roll. Przybilla and Yao tie it up. Jump and the Blazers win but Roy jacks up an idiotic three which bangs off the back of the rim. Rockets recover. Artest misses first free-throw. 90-87, Portland. Timeout.
1:02 - EEEEEEch! Rudy loses the ball in the lane. Hard to say if he's fouled, but it hardly matters now. On the other end, Joel gives McGrady a little hip and sends him to the line. Makes the first... and.... the second rolls in. Tie game. 90 all.
:33.8 - After a FUTILE offensive possession consisting of Roy doing a lot of perimeter dribbling and LaMarcus getting blocked out of bounds, the Blazers run a great inbounds that springs a wide open Travis Outlaw, only he bricks it. Still tied, Rockets ball, timeout. 90 all.
:10 - A risky trap on McGrady works, forcing a timeout. With four seconds remaining the Rockets fail to get off a good shot. Blazers corral and call time. Ten seconds remain, playing for the last shot.
:00.2 - My God. Roy is garbage tonight. He dribbles around the perimeter, LaMarcus shows a screen, which Roy doesn't use, and, rises up to be stripped by Artest, who was in his eye the entire time. Refs make a ridiculous call, saying Roy kicked the ball. Rockets to inbound with .2 seconds on the clock, which necessitates a tip-in. McGrady gets REALLY close, flubbing a pretty makeable pass. Overtime.
OVERTIME: Believe it or not, LOADS of people are flooding to the exits. This certainly sticks in the craw of Charles Barkley's assertion that Portland has the best fans. Of course, most of those splitting are coming from down in the lower bowl, but even in the cheap seats a few "fans" are making for the doors. BASTARDS! Maybe who gets tickets should have to take a test on the team history, or pledge to stay during games so that real fans who stay during CLOSELY CONTESTED OVERTIME CONTESTS aren't kept out of the arena when posh fools buy up all the tickets.
Blazers were 5 for 20 in the fourth quarter. Roy was 1 for 8. And that's why we're here.
4:12 - A better start to the extra period. Outlaw is fouled, makes both, then the Blazesrs force a turnover. Then Outlaw bricks it. Oh well.
2:46 - Remember when the Blazers were continually dumping the ball down to LaMarcus on the block and he was scoring in bunches? For whatever reason that winning idea was dropped in the fourth quarter, but it's back now. Aldridge draws the sixth foul on Chuck Hayes and is headed to the line for two. All tied up at 92.
1:27 - Carl Landry flushes a dunk and Joel Prryzbilla gets it back for the Blazers on a nice inside pass from Brandon Roy, who spent the previous 10 seconds dribbling aimlessly around the perimeter. Hey, we'll take it. Tied at 94.
:40 - McGrady makes a ridiculous off-balance jumper, hoisting it from his hip and probably being fouled in the process, though thankfully it's not called. Rockets up two, LaMarcus goes for a jam in gridlock traffic and draws the foul, then drains both free-throws. All tied up again at 96. :30 seconds to play. Timeout.
:1.9 - McGrady misses over the long arm of Aldridge. Outlaw rebounds, finds Roy, who runs the length of the court to the baseline, pivots, and swishes a turnaround. Shit, talk about erasing a otherwise terrible performance. It's so loud my eardrums are going to burst. 1.9 seconds to go.
HOLY SHIT. NO. NO NO NO NO. YAO HITS A TURNAROUND AND... WHAT! THERE'S A FOUL! OH JESUS NO.
:0.8 - Yao steps up and calmly swishes the free-throw. Good Lord. 0.8 seconds for the Blazers. The Rose Garden, everyone in it, is shocked. From above thunder sticks are being hurled down in disgust....
Last play: ROY GETS SPACE SOME FIVE FEET BEHIND THE THREE-POINT LINE, SPINS... WITH DAYLIGHT, LAUNCHES A HIGH-ARKING SHOT... IT'S GOOD! HOLY JESUS IT'S GOOD! UNFUCKINGBELIEVABLE. Of the 100+ games I've seen here at the Rose Garden, I've never seen such an ending. You're going to be seeing this clip for YEARS.