My goodness it's relaxed here at the Rose Garden tonight and it couldn't be more welcome. The Blazers, for the first time this season, are facing an opponent who, well, let's face it, totally blow. And thank God--every game thus far has been against playoff and title contenders. Plus there's no national media clogging up the place with longer and more frequent timeouts.
Oh, and there's that whole afterglow of The Greatest Shot in Blazer history--you know the one.
But as relaxed as things feel, the Blazers simply can't be caught sleeping against the 1-4 Wolves. Portland's next five games are on the road, where the Blazers have struggled without the home crowd rush. So getting the record back to .500 before a potentially difficult stretch is certainly high priority.
Yeah, important game... sort of. I mean, really, the Timberwolves do suck though. They've lost to Oklahoma City for Christ's sake. Their one win came against bargain basement peers the Sacramento Kings. Tip-off is just about to strike, but I want to cram in a few last notes:
- Kevin Love is here for the first time. I hate him. Lake Oswego + Jersey Beard + pasty flab = no friend of mine.
- Bassy Telfair is also here. Despite his tragic run in Portland I wish the him the best. He was a very kind, congenial guy--much more so than many of the other Trail Blazers at the time. In this young season he's been pretty good too.
- Mark Madsen is still on an NBA team. I know.
- Official line on tonights game has the Blazers -8.
One last thing that came to me during dinner: There's a pretty good chance the Timberwolves franchise (at least in Minnesota) would probably not exist right now if it weren't for their luck drafting the selfless yeoman Kevin Garnett, who actually stuck around after his rookie contract.
Alright, follow the jump for the game.
Something really strange just happened--the National Anthem, for perhaps the first time ever, made me pause. Usually I could give a shit, but tonight, thinking about Obama, I felt a profound sense of pride...
6:40 - Pretty ordinary start. Scoring is spread around equally on both teams, no players emerging yet as especially dominant. Roy continues an alarming trend, missing badly a pass to Steve Blake that sails out of bounds. Portland 8, Minnesota 10.
2:49 - Roy just splits three defenders like threading a needle and swishes a layup inside. He's got seven points, more than he had in the whole first half last game. Maybe that miraculous game-winner jump-started his otherwise slow start. Blazers 14, Wolves 16.
:50 - I'm all for Sergio Rodriguez getting more minutes, but offensive possessions like that one--where he dribbled around the three point line, let the shot clock wind down, the pass to Rudy Fernandez for a difficult bail-out three (which misses)--simply isn't going to cut it.
At the end of one the Blazers are down six, but there's really no worry here in the Rose Garden crowd. Seriously--you couldn't trade most of the Wolves roster for the what's left in the bottom of a soggy Burgerville dumpster. Or, to use the parlance of Blazers GM's past, "we couldn't trade him for a chair." For trivia points, what GM said that, and what player was he referring to?
10:29 - Oh man... Outlaw streaking on the break. Head full of steam... a big bouncing step and...hoooo-DAMNIT! He's fouled. Shit. I was getting my hopes up. I can't quite remember a phenomenal dunk yet this season from Travis, and by God, it's time. Mark my words, it's going to happen at some point in this game. Outlaw--or "Catfish" as he'll further be known as--hits one of two, and on the ensuing possession swishes a high fading jumper from the top of the key with a defender in his eye. GO CATFISH!
8:52 - Best dressed Blazers on the screen... Bayless in a sharp suit and lime green tie gets it, easily, as the rest of the Blazers featured are stuck in lame club shirts. Last game Bayless was also fashioned in a slick, cream themed suit. Other Blazers that know how to dress: Frye and Martell Webster, who dare to go outside the lines a bit. Webster comes from the Kanye West school of fashion, where Frye is almost indie rock, slapping on Vans and Chucks and shit. Sometimes Sergio does alright for himself, but sometimes he finds himself looking like he's stuck in line at a Eurotrash disco where dude is NOT getting in.
7:41 - Oh but Frye, that defensive play was definitely NOT cool. He lets Craig Smith (who?) have and EASY lay-in, and give him the most cursory, ticky-tack, slap-on-the-wrist, wuss foul I've ever seen. I could've followed through and scored on that one. Jesus, John McCain could have. McMillian shares my ire over Frye's lack of mettle and sends him directly to the bench.
5:31 - The Blazers are not really scoring. They've got just 29 points and we're halfway through the second quarter. The offense is just out of sync--there's no focal point and, if plays are being called, they sure are covert, because nothing much is happening except for the occasional clear-out. It's one on one and it's not working. Minnesota is up 10. Blazers need a time-out and take one. 39-29, Wolves.
Still, not really worried. I mean, it's the Wolves.
3:13 - Holy shit. Aldridge just got fucking MANHANDLED inside by Al Jefferson. He misses a dunk attempt, which is perhaps blocked. Jefferson forces a miss on the putback attempt, which careens to Blake at the top of the key. Blake zips it back to a momentarily open Aldridge but Jefferson is closing. He violently rejects Aldridge's dunk attempt. On that possession, LaMarcus looked like a boy amongst men.
2:20 - Thank God for Rudy. His three brings the Blazers back to within nine. Wow. OK. Back within nine? This is starting to get ridiculous. Wolves score again. Yeesh. Blazers are shooting just 37%. My waining confidence is propped up only by the fact that, as soon as they enter the locker room at half-time, Nate McMillan is going to tear the lackadaisical Blazers a set of new assholes. Wolves 45, Blazers 34.
:45 - I knew McMillan would be on the war path. He just picked up a Tech, which came a pretty goddamn unfortunate time, as it nullifies Rudy's three. Rare for Nate to get T'd up, so you know he's pissed.
:00 - HO-LY SHIT. A phenomenal and very, very lucky end of the quarter for the Blazers. Rudy gets back the three Nate stole from him earlier. The Blazers get a stop, and after a Steve Blake miss on the break, Roy grabs the board and scores at the buzzer. That five point run cuts the Blazers deficiet to six. Portland 43, Minnesota 49.
10:30 - Remember that sweet little five-point Blazer run? Minnesota just erased it. Jefferson for two and Mike Miller, who manages to make long hair look really lame, nails a three. Wolves are up 11 again. Fucking bastards.
8:27 - Aldridge slaps the ball away from a driving Kevin Love, who regains the ball only to be fucking STUFFED by a soaring Nicolas Batum. Unjustly, Love is sent to the line. I guess the refs must've felt sorry for Chunk (my new nickname for Love), who just got dominated by a lanky kid from France. The only way for the Lake Owsego product to earn my love? Do the Truffle Shuffle at the foul line--c'mon Chunk, do it!
He doesn't. And my disgust remains. Minnesota 57, Portland 49. The Blazers need a shot of pure adrenaline--like a punch in the face. It's time to start acting like this thing matters.
6:52 - A good start: Batum hits a three and the crowd wakes up. They're shouting "De-fense" now and the Blazers get the stop. Roy scores and the deficit is cut to three. Timeout Wolves and the Portland crowd is on their feet.
It's early yet to say, but this could be a poignant moment in the Blazers growth. Might they have coasted through the first-half, knowing they could "turn it on" when it mattered? It's something you see veteran teams like the Celtics do all the time.
5:33 - Aldridge with an offensive board and put-back. Blazers within one. That is, until Corey Brewer swishes a three. But Aldridge answers again. Blazer blood is pumping. Portland 58, Minnesota 60. McMillan no longer totally pissed.
2:11 - For the first time tonight the Blazers appear to be running an offense. They're moving the ball, effectively running the pick and roll, and finding the open man, rather than isolating into futile one on ones. Driving to the hoop Roy is fouled and heads to the line. He could give the Blazers their first lead since early in the first quarter. Hits the first. We're tied. Second rolls around and out. Even at 66.
1:10 - Sergio Rodriguez just unleashed his anger (because he's getting so few minutes) on Mad Dog Madsen, tearing the ball away from his stubborn clutches. Shit, Sergio just looked TOUGH for the first time in his career. It's as if he was saying, "Give. Me. Some. Fucking. Playing. Time." I Like it. McMillan's got to like it as well.
:00 - Timberwolves 70, Blazers 69.
11:50 - Damn that Rudy is something. Just nails a really difficult leaning three from the corner. No other player on the team aside from Roy would ever be allowed to even think of taking a shot like that. Honestly a dumb one from a player without grapefruit sized balls and confidence to match. With that, Blazers lead.
10:19 - LaMarcus hits a two, then two free throws on the next possession but Bassy Telfair cuts the Blazers six-point led in half. Portland 76, Minnesota 73. Oh, and a quick note, the once baby-faced Mad Dog Mark Madsen is showing strange signs of wear and tear. It's hollow, pale and pointed like an addicts--maybe all the stress of going to the free throw line (where he once historically produced two consecutive airballs) caught up with him.
8:02 - Spanish Connection says "FUCK YEAH" (in Spanish). Sergio lobs to Rudy who catches and scores on a twisting one-handed layup as he is pushed to the ground. No worries. Balls for days. See you on Las Ramblas.
7:00 - OK. Fearless as he is, Rudy gets no love from the officials. He gets chopped in the face by Al Jefferson in the key but no whistle. Bull. Shit. It turns into an and-one. Junk. Thank god the Wolves have Kevin Love, who misses badly at the basket on a tip-in attempt. Portland 83, Minnesota 82.
4:09 - So much for my "turning it on" theory. While the Blazers have been markedly more efficient in the second-half, they sure aren't making easy work of the Wolves. They're going to win, I'll say right here and now, but not going away as they should.
2:00 - I'm not going to erase what I just typed, but Jesus, Mike Miller just tied things with a three. LaMarcus' jump hook puts Portland up two, which Al Jefferson duplicates on the other end. All tied at 89.
1:30 - After a number of misses Blake finally sticks a three, right in the nick of time. Well, it sure looked like a three from where I'm sitting. I'm 98% sure. But the refs believe otherwise and give Blake just two. Portland 91, Minnesota 89.
1:00 - Al Jefferson scores on Przybilla's single coverage and Brandon answers with two free throws. The Wolves go back in to Jefferson, who scores on a turnaround and is fouled. Foul is inconsequential I'd say, but he misses so who cares. Blazers recover. Roy pulls a turnaround from foul-line extended, akin to his first game-winner on Thursday (before Yao's answer and the three). Blazers up, 95-93. :31 seconds to play.
:09.5 - Remarkably the T-Wolves miss three consecutive shots at the rim. First Jefferson, who slips by Przybilla misses point blank, then Chunk (Kevin Love) misses an open chippy and Jefferson misses the tip. Aldridge rebounds, falls to the floor and calls time. This thing is about sewn up with a few free throws. 95-93, Portland.
:04.6 - The foolish Wolves waste five seconds before fouling. Outlaw to the line. Hits the first... One more to seal it and... It's good. Count on it. Catfish then steals the inbounds pass! It's over. Final score, 97-93. A little difficult, but hey, fuck it--the record is even at 3-3, which is nice before taking off on a five-game road-trip. Roy and Aldridge finish with 24 points each and LaMarcus pulls down a game-high 13 boards. Al Jefferson, who kept the Wolves competitive late, leads all scorers with 27. A nice way to start Saturday night.