"Well get on with it motherf—"
—Stringer Bell, budding entrepreneur, impromptu eulogist.
This game is meaningless.
Or at least, it should be, by all normal measures of importance. But that's the fun of sports: You can easily manufacture meaning where there is none. You can imbue a situation with as much or as little gravity as you wish. Because - and this is a thing I have a hard time convincing my nerdier friends - sports is all about storytelling.
Sure, it's primarily a physical contest designed to determine who on the court/field/what-have-you possesses the most cumulative skill and ability to succeed at their chosen goals, but it is also a metaphor. For what? For whatever you want it to be. Some make it a metaphor for war, or class struggle, or equality; it can reveal nobility in the unfortunate, hostility in the meek, and provide shading to the bland. Each sporting event is a blank canvas, with a ready-made plot skeleton waiting to have the muscles and sinews of story laid across it: Triumph is the goal, antagonists are there to thwart your attempts to claim it, and at some point, skill has to make way for emotion, and intelligence, and cunning; and how all those elements bounce, warp, and morph makes up a new story every night, a story that almost always possesses some universailty, so long as you're willing to look for it.
So, tonight could simply be the first in a meaningless string that closes out the 2011-2012 Clusterfucked Season of Confusion and Consternation, if that's how you choose to see tonight's story: A bunch of young guys scrambling and scattering all over the floor in equal parts frustration and raw eagerness, fighting valiantly against inevitable futility. And there can be something positive in that story, watching people facing unbeatable odds, and fighting them anyway. And there can be something tragic and sad in that story too, witnessing those trapped in a terrible situation having to see their damnable burden to its bitter end, "Get on with it motherf—" representing the most appropriate eulogy possible. Either story can be compelling, if told/played well.
But why choose from either of those options, when you could tap into something a little more primal and a lot more emotional?
Tonight is the last home game for these Trail Blazers. If they want, they can make that mean something. It's not a given that they will - professional sports doesn't work that way anymore, if it ever did. But I'm willing to bet Coach Canales (aka the most earnest man in the NBA) is definitely trying to push that angle to his players.
But don't mistake me for arguing on behalf of forming a story out of sap and sentiment straight from the set of Hoosiers. Because that's not the story I'm choosing to pull out of the drawer and slap onto the skeleton of tonight's game.
It's the final home game of the season. It's fan appreciation night. I think these fans would appreciate some sweet, sweet revenge.
You see, the Utah Jazz are assholes. They always have been, they always will be. As I've said before, they are the Nellie Olesons of the NBA. They might as well be named the Utah Joffreys. And if people love anything, they love seeing Joffrey get slapped.
To make this potential story extra sweet - Utah needs to win this game to keep their playoff hopes sunny. Losing here would really ruin their day. And as a fan, I would appreciate nothing more than to metaphorically do to Utah's season what Dallas' Delonte West did to the ear of Utah's Gordon Hayward
There have been rumors that Brandon Roy might show up at today's game, and that would be heartwarming. But does this city even want heartwarming leaving its warm, sticky sweetness all over this tasty, cold dish just waiting to be dug into? Tonight could, instead, play out like a nihilistic noir. It's not about who wins in the end - it's about how far, and how hard, you get the other guy to fall. And there could be some serious satisfaction to be found if one looks down on the court, and sees Utah looking back up like this:
Let's see which of these stories plays out tonight. Lets see if we can find some meaning in the meaningless.
Portland's Starters: Hasheem Thabeet, Nolan Smith, J.J. Hickson, Wesley Matthews, and Nicolas Batum. That is not a starting 5 primed for maximum revengening.
Before the game starts, Kaleb Canales takes the mic, heads to center court, and gives a heartfelt, halting speech about how much he loves the fans, and how this team is going to be here for Portland this year, and the next year, playing hard for them. It is an adorable pep rally speech. I'm not being a smartass about that either. Shit was legitimately cute.
CUTE HAS NO PLACE IN A REVENGENING.
11:38 - Al Jefferson draws first blood with a post move on Thabeet that leaves him goggling up at the sky confused. Nolan Smith spots Batum cutting straight down the center of the lane, tosses him the oop - but Jefferson swats it out of the sky. DeMarre Carrol knocks down a two, and the game goes dead for a second until Wesley Matthews gets a pass from Batum and knocks down his own jumper. 4-2, Jazz
10:14 - Hickson goes to the line after drawing a foul on Paul Millsap. This is going to be a tough game for Thabeet: Jefferson's faced up on him twice now, and both times, he's just toying with the dude. Hickson's gonna have to rotate over and help him out, otherwise I can already tell Jefferson is looking to eat him alive. Hickson hits his free-throws, Devin Harris hits a three. 7-4, Jazz.
8:52 - I don't know when the Blazers got addicted to the double-clutch (I blame Babbitt) but there have been two possessions now where the ball has touched multiple Blazers, and each Blazer (Hickson, Smith, Thabeet) who got a hand on it double or triple-clutched before giving it away or chucking up a bad jumper. I don't know if there's a more useless move in basketball than the double clutch. It's like a pump-fake for idiots.
8:08 - Gordon Hayward just got a dunk off a fast break. I really hate that. You guys can't know how much I hate it when that Percy Weasley lookalike motherfucker gets an in-game dunk. It's just wrong. It's wrong like Lin Shaye in the rearview mirror.
7:23 - Devin Harris with a tricky runner with the shotclock running down. The fans are not appreciative of anything that's happening right now. Boos aren't raining yet, but those clouds are definitely forming. Nicolas Batum just finally attempted his FIRST jumper of the night, which clanged. Devin Harris gives the fans a bit of juice by fireballing a pass into the 5th row, but the satisfaction in others failure is short-lived, as the Blazers offense tonight is nothing BUT failure. Another clanged miss from Batum, Devin Harris gets hacked by Smith, hits em both. Kurt Thomas comes in for Thabeet, shoots a "jumper" (his feet didn't even come close to leaving the ground) that skids off the side of the rim like a wet turd.
Did anyone call dibs on the story where a team leaves the building to a smattering of boos and disappointed shrugs on fan appreciation night? 16-8, Jazz.
3:45 - Nolan Smith hits a three off a pass from Hickson. The Jazz have missed a couple shots, and Wesley Matthews is starting to move inside, discombobulating the Jazz defense, leading to kickout opportunities, such as the dish he just served up for Kurt Thomas, who actually put some JUMP into his jumpshot, which helped tremendously. Nolan Smith tries his Wesley Matthews impersonation next trip down the court, and scoops to the hoop for two, Devin Harris knocks down another two, and Wesley is fully alive now, pulling up from three and draining it sweetly. Utah time-out. 21-18, Jazz.
1:35 - Devin Harris kills another three (someone wanna GET OUT ON THAT DUDE) and Gordon Hayward jumps a pass from Jonny Flynn and takes it all the way back to the house. The ball ends up in Babbitt's hands on the other side, and the crowd noise rises in anticipation. Babbitt is feeling himself after his performance against the Suns, and tries for his brand of herky-jerky corn-fed razzle-dazzle. It doesn't work, but the Blazers clean up the offensive board, and Wesley Matthews, waiting patiently in the corner, recieves the ball, and deposits it back in the net for three more points. 26-21, Jazz.
10.7 - Babbitt jumps the passing lane and gets a pick of his own, and that aforementioned herky-jerk corn-fed razzle dazzle I was talking about? He actually pulls it off this time, taking off from the dotted line and laying up a pretty athletic looking circus shot. That's the quarter. 26-23, Jazz.
11:12 - Luke Babbitt starts off the quarter dropping threes out of the sky. He drives at the hoop, leaves it for Jonny Flynn, who goes up, gets contact, and maintains enough control to kiss his falling layup off the glass. He doesn't get the and-one, but that's okay because suddenly these Blazers have discovered the power of offensive rebounding. It leads to Kurt Thomas at the line, going one-of-two. Thomas is then replaced by Thabeet, because why go one-of-two when you can go none-of-two with 3 falling downs and 15 "huh what" expressions.
Luckily, Gordon Hayward just crapped up a near-airball, and so, on the other end, Hasheem Thabeet sets about to making me look foolish for daring to criticize him. He recieves a pass on the block, and with no hesitation, goes at the hoop like it owes him money. The dunk is vicious. The crowd loves it. Hayward hits a three on the other end, however, bringing the room down to earth. 31-28, Jazz.
8:26 - after about 2 minutes of ineffectual basketball from both teams, Jonny Flynn sees Batum going in. He lofts the pass. Batum catches it and flushes it in one smooth, quick motion. 32-30, Jazz.
Oh, before I forget to mention this - before the game started, there was entertainment from a youth dance troupe. This happens frequently. Dancers ranging from ages 12-15, performing their decently choreographed routines, dancing their smiling, innocent little hearts out. Their teacher has selected "Greased Lightning" from the musical Grease as the music scoring their routine. She appears to not realize that "Greased Lightning" is about inducing female ejaculation via automobile. At least the song faded out before it got to the part where the virtues of owning a real pussy wagon were extolled.
Dance Teachers: Grease is a gross story about 30 year old teenagers trying to bone each other as artlessly as possible. Stop having cute moppets dance to it.
6:32 - Jonny Flynn to Craig Smith (remember him?) to Luke Babbitt, who nails the three from deep. Not as deep as his last attempt, which was about 30 feet out with a man right up in his face, but you gotta like the confidence from Luke. I don't know if I dig the P.A. playing the Star Wars theme EVERY time he hits, but you take the good, you take the bad. You take them both and you have 38-33, Jazz.
did you guys know there's an in-stadium contest where people in the crowd are encouraged to pull out their Wells Fargo card and wave it around in the air so the camera can see it? There's people in this crowd double fisting credit cards and dancing like it's 1999. My brain just broke.
5:01 - J.J. Hickson with a jumper. I just now noticed that J.J. hasn't totally flipped out, Tom Cruise style. I don't mean emotionally. I mean a lot of Hickson's possessions include a moment in which he physically replicates Tom Cruise's Jerry Maguire flail when he "just FLIPS OUT!"
4:24 - Al Jefferson knocks down another jumper. Hickson backs him down on the other end, pushes him almost under the basket, but negates the turnaround jumper he just put up by taking about 5 steps before going skyward. STILL - it was a controlled travel. Still no flip-outs. I like it. I dont' like Hickson getting up in Devin Harris' shorts about 26 feet out - and Harris STILL hitting the three in his face like nothing. Nolan Smith answers on the other end with an almost-three (Brandy told us Almost Doesn't Count) and then lays out Devin Harris as he tries to set up the offense.
When Smith fouls, he fouls HARD. I can see him, should he last in this game, abandoning all hopes of being an offensive threat, and becoming someone like Bruce Bowen or Raja Bell - you have him out there because a team plays different when they know the other guy will just fucking flatten you to cool you off. Wesley Matthews gets picked trying to drive to the hoop, the ball ends up in Gordon Hayward's hands on the fast break yet again, and J.J. Hickson bodies the shit out of Percy Weasley, preventing another dunk. Thank you, J.J. Timeout Blazers. 48-37, Jazz.
1:47 - Jazz came back from the timeout with two quick jumpers, and the Blazers had no response. Hickson got a nice look at the basket, missed, got his own board, got fouled on the putback, hit em both, and Babbitt checked back in. Devin Harris is toying with Nolan Smith, and Al Jefferson takes advantage of the Blazers soft D by feeding a cutting Gordon Hayward for two. I'm REALLY sick of Percy Weasley getting these easy buckets. Canales needs to teach his bigs the Cruciatus Curse at the half. It's super effective. Next trip down, Devin Harris sets up behind the three point line, and simply waits for the ball to make its way around the horn to him. It does. Babbitt is WAY late getting in front of him. 57-39, Jazz.
:10 - Devin Harris holds for the last shot, takes the entire Blazers D off the dribble, but his layup rolls gently off the front of the rim. Kurt Thomas swallows it up, gets it out to Nolan Smith, who finds Wesley Matthews running his ass downcourt. He gets the ball just in time to pull up from three before the buzzer sounds. It clangs. Halftime. 57-39, Jazz.
11:42 - Quarter starts w/ Hickson getting off a nice jumper, and then Hasheem Thabeet trying for a rebound and flailing as he loses it, right into the hands of Luke Babbitt trying to recover, and flailing as he loses it, leading to Percy Weasley knocking down a three on the other end. 60-39, Jazz.
Oh shit, forgot to mention the Blazers shot 37 percent for the half, and had 11 turnovers. I should mention that now so I don't notice Hasheem Thabeet fighting a war against the bottom of the rim and losing. TWICE.
9:54 - Nolan Smith gets the ball to Wesley Matthews, who won the Maurice Lucas award from the organization at halftime, and looked legitimately astonished at the warm reaction he got for receiving the tiny glass trophy. He wants the ball REALLY bad right now, and what he does is go baseline with it, goes up and under and gets the deuce. 66-43, Blazers.
Just after the sorta kinda touching award presentation to Wesley Matthews, the jumbotron segues to something called "Regurgi-cam," wherein they run footage of people eating stadium food in reverse. It is REALLY FUCKING FASCINATING. I can't stop watching it.
6:53 - Wesley Matthews seems to be the only player out there tonight who wants anything to do with a game of basketball. Well, him and Weasley, who just ducked under J.J. Hickson and skied for a putback off the Al Jefferson miss. But Wesley's not getting the ball, and when he is, he's not getting help from the rest of the squad. 70-47, Jazz.
5:06 - Devin Harris finds himself all alone, heading for the hoop. He doesn't see a frustrated Wesley Matthews trailing him. He goes up, and suddenly he's not alone at all. He's been joined by the grabbing, smacking arm of Mr. Matthews. The force of the collision sends Harris into the 2nd row. Matthews personally pulls him out of the stands, and they trade butt-swats. Devin hits both shots after having a couple laughing words with the poor sap who got a lapful of Harris. Wesley takes a seat, Jonny Flynn comes in. 72-51, Jazz.
4:08 - J.J. Hickson takes Paul Millsap down low, bodies him out of his way, goes up and under and gets the deuce. It looked very, very smooth. I know Kurt Thomas has been talking to the kid, helping him out with his game, and it seems to be taking. Next trip down the court, Babbitt gets another three attempt, and while he's having a lot more fun driving to the hoop, whenever he's gotten a wide open trey, he hasn't hesitated, which is what you want to see. Millsap hits a jumper, Jonny Flynn answers with a layup. The Blazers aren't even close to whatever zip code "Striking Distance" resides in, but the crowd is starting to wake up a little. 76-58 Jazz.
2:06 - Jonny Flynn was hoping to draw a foul. Instead he just kinda artfully jumped up and fell down. A layup happened in there somewhere, but it didn't go. Devin Harris gives it to Al Jefferson, who actually turned and stared down Kurt Thomas while palming the ball. He tried to stare down CRAZY EYES. Jefferson flicks a pass to Millsap, and the stare is broken. He is lucky, for Kurt can harness the power of the Penance Stare if given reason. Millsap hits both free throws. Next trip down the court, Millsap does the same thing: Squares up on Thomas and just stares into the CRAZY EYES. Millsap's constitution is not as strong - he immediately bungles the play, the ball just lazily bounding away from him. No lie, Kurt Thomas just STARED the ball out of Millsap's hands. Baller. Luckily for the Jazz, the ball winds up in Percy Weasley's hands. He goes around Thomas, eating a shoulder for his trouble. No whistle - and no problem for Weasley as he lays in another two. That's effectively the end of the third. 81-60, Jazz.
The last fourth quarter in the Rose Garden for this season looks like this:
10:40 - Pete Carroll, head coach of the Seattle Seachickens, is shown on the jumbotron sitting next to Paul Allen. The boos are loud, and consistent, and they do not cease until his face is pulled from the screen. Thank you, Portland. Luke Babbitt hits a jumper, and Enes Kanter, which is I believe the name of a dormant volcano in the Ukraine, gets a wide open look at the hoop from 2 feet out. He makes good. 84-64, Jazz.
9:24 - Jonny Flynn tries to draw another foul again, with the same results. Jump straight up, fall straight down, leave something ugly near the rim, sans whistle. Hickson cleans up the board, puts the ball in the hoop, and gets hacked. Now if he could only convert his and-ones. It doesn't help when the Derrick Favors gets an easy layup, the Jazz pick the Blazers inbounds, and it turns into a three from Alec Burks. Canales calls timeout. 92-68, Jazz.
8:40 - Wesley Matthews is back in the game, and within seconds of touching the ball, has drawn a foul and gone to the line for two. He hits em both, as Luke Babbitt checks back in. If this game is going to be even remotely close, those two need to chuck up more bombs than the bad guys in Peter Berg's "Battleship." Nolan Smith scores on an uncontested layup. That helps. 92-74, Jazz.
7:14 - Alec Burks hits another three. Nolan Smith tries to run a give-n-go with J.J. Hickson, leaves the pass in the vicinity of Hickson's ass, 2 seconds after his ass had vacated that space. The next trip downcourt, DeMarre Carroll goes for a board and turns just in time to accidentally headbutt Derrick Favors. Favors' noggin wins the conflict, and Carroll bends in half, waits, and then slowly crumples to the floor. Favors' offseason regiment includes running up the sides of mountains, finding angry goats, and dominating them. So try not to get hit by that dude's head, if at all possible. 97-74, Jazz.
5:58 - is it too early to call the dagger shot? Because I think Percy Weasley just hit the dagger shot. Solid Blazers D keeps the ball whipping around the horn with no available shots. The ball starts skipping riskily crosscourt, narrowly avoiding picks at least twice. And then the ball finds Weasley's hands, and w/ 2 seconds on the shotclock, he rises and drains with Babbitt in his face. If there was any wind in the room, it would have been sucked out. 100-77, Jazz.
3:50 - Wesley Matthews gets the ball after a timeout, goes straight at the Jazz D, and prevails with a gliding layup. Tell me again why he hasn't been the go to guy on tonight's JV game? Every time he's touched the ball SOMETHING has happened, and most of the time, it's positive. Instead, the team has 17 turnovers and Matthews goes long periods with no attempts, watching Nolan Smith scramble nervously all over the court. Enes Kanter answers with a jumper. Flynn answers that answer with a jackknifing layup that still draws no whistle, but at least finds the inside of the net. 106-81, Jazz.
2:00 - the two minute warning sounds after Nolan Smith gets hacked going to the hoop after receiving a quick pass from Matthews. And so, we come to the end of the story that was told tonight. There was no revengening. There wasn't even anything resembling competition, at least not since the 2nd quarter. It was the story of a young team, filled with people who probably don't have a place here next year, some of whom who probably don't have a place in the league, period (Who got Thabeet?) going through the motions, trying to find moments to shine, and grasping at them, mostly unsuccessfully. But the crowd is not walking out on them - nobody's leaving the stadium early on Fan Appreciation Night, and though the team has played poorly enough to earn boos, the hometown crowd is not giving them any. Maybe they've found some meaning in the meaningless.
Final: 112-91, Jazz.
Thus ends this Hot Live Blog Season.