TO SET THE STAGE
Distraction, thy name is Raymond Fucking Felton. Captain Cupcake has returned to Portland with a chip on his shoulder, probably that new Sriracha flavor from Lays.
Distraction, thy name is tired fat jokes and faux-schadenfreude. Felton is an ashed out effigy for a dead season, a therapeutic madsock we're thumping against the mattress to work out all the frustrations and anger we feel for getting our playoff hopes up in a season when we knew better than to do that.
That's not to say there isn't some legitimate hurt to be worked through. Portland hurt Felton. Felton hurt Portland. Then Felton hurt himself. He disappointed his coaches, some of his teammates, and a LOT of writers here. And then he voided himself of all responsibility, filled the resultant hole with so much artificial bravado that he became something like a perpetual fronting machine. A predatory feedback loop was formed between him and the media, and the sawtoothed wave of sadness was such that it stripped all self-confidence from him. He left Portland a pouty, wobbly mess, unsure he could do anything right. You know that mewling thing Dumbledore shows Harry during his trip to the afterlife at the end of Deathly Hallows? That was Felton. That's who we elevated to the level of Portland's personal fucking Voldemort.
I would suggest this was a bit of an overreaction on Portland's part, and is even more so now. Reducing an insecure man to his vibrating, atomic elements of embarrassment didn't get any extra wins on last season, and won't really have anything to do with winning this game, either. What will help get this game won?
Being young. The Knicks have gotten their shit WRECKED two straight games in a row, and they're still a little wobbly from that carnage. So much so that Tyson Chandler isn't playing, and Carmelo Anthony isn't even here. This leaves a team whose best players are probably Kurt Thomas, Marcus Camby, and Jason Kid; a formidable nexus... in 1997. Felton, in a fit of false bravado this past summer, mentioned that he might drop 50 points on Portland when he finally returns. He's probably gonna have to in order to make this a game.
But there we are: focused on The Distraction. Will he be a fun distraction, or a really, really annoying one? Either way, this crowd is here to HATE. Fit em up with Silky Johnson's 100% rat-ass coat, and stick a toothpick between their teeth.
Tonight is a themed night, and that theme is '80s night. Portland isn't really doing it right. Fake-retro "Rip City" jerseys instead of the vintage real deal ain't '80s. Blowout afro wigs on Blazers employees ain't '80s. Fluffy mullets, acidwash jean jackets, and aviators on the flippy muscle dudes who toss both women and t-shirts into the sky with equal flair? Pretty '80s. But the most '80s dude on the court is Knicks guard Iman Shumpert, who is sporting a high-top fade that would have made former Blazers bruiser Mark Bryant nod solemnly in approval.
You may think this is not a good look for anyone, then or now, but at least it's better than this.
This half-ass Stephon Urquelle horseshit is like a plastic butterknife scraping my corneas. How none of his friends staged an intervention for this ridiculousness, I don't know. I try not to think about it. It gives me Alex Vanderpool-era nightmares.
THE FIRST HALF
Felton touches the ball, and the boos rain down. Expected. Iman Shumpert scores on a layin, and half the building cheers. Very unexpected. There are a lot of Knicks fans in the building, and the Knicks give them much to cheer about initially: The Blazers are not capitalizing on the Knicks mobility issues, and the Knicks are doing some Aikido shit out there, Blazers flying past people like Treebeard Thomas, cEnter, New York Knicks. He even managed to pump fake LaMarcus Aldridge on a play, Aldridge basically pulling a face like "that was hasty of me" while Thomas"Hoom Haroomed" a slow-motion jumper into the bottom of the net.
Batum is still trying to make up for his shitty wrist, with two threes and an alley-oop feed. The threes prompt the jumbotron to play a quick video, featuring Batum holding up three fingers, giving a dead-eyed smile to the camera. It looks like he's trying to be a Swarovski Crystals spokeswoman.
Kenyon Martin, a man who has had every joint south of his armpits either soldered or welded back in place, is getting in on this Entmoot that Thomas is sparking, spinning off JJ Hickson down low to deliver a strong dunk, which, no matter how fragile his body has gotten, manages to stay as ferocious as when he first got in the league. Hickson checks out, Meyers Leonard checks in; a tall glass of tapioca, wide-eyed and eager. J.R. Smith instantly oops another fisftul of ferocity to Kenyon Martin. Marcus Camby checks in for the Knicks later, and he gets himself a one-hand, roaring putback off a J.R. Smith miss. What the fuck is going on with the old and the infirm tonight? I'm about to leave my seat to go check their bus to see if Wilford Brimley's on it, keeping everyone's cocoon warm.
Just as it seems the old folks are about to run the younguns out the building, Lillard pops a three to keep the Knicks within a safe distance. Meyers Leonard decides to slow the olds down a little, ruining a slash to the rim from Camby by throwing his hip at Camby's hip (when I dip you dip we dip). It doesn't really faze Camby. But the airballed three from Damian Lillard fazes the crowd. It's hard to get amped up when the team is down 30-22 by the end of the first. Cue The Distraction: Whenever Felton touches the ball, a sustained booing oozes out of the crowd like the black liquid on Zorg's head in The Fifth Element. They will not fail to do this for the rest of the game, even in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, even when given the option to cheer, or asked to chant "De-Fense" or instructed via jumbotron to yell "Let's Go Blazers."
Maynor checks in, and is doing a decent Lillard impersonation while Dame struggles to find a consistent groove. The Knicks sub in Jason Kidd, so their combined age on the floor is something like 732 years old. Problem is, Kidd at age 350 is still slicker than frozen snot, and Camby/Thomas don't have to move when Kidd can fool an entire defense like a rented magician doing tricks at a bar mitzvah. Camby is basically drywall with legs, but midway through the 2nd he's got 8 points on 4 of 5 shooting. Kidd is, amazingly, still the best point guard on the floor, and there are four of them out there right now - him, Maynor, Lillard and Felton. How frustrated is Stotts? I don't know. I've never seen him express an emotion. It's like he gets his soul botoxed before every game.
Aside from some rebounding here and there, Hickson's a non-entity, however, by the end of the night, that "here and there" will end up accounting for 16 total boards. Lillard's got 11, thanks to a couple threes - but he's airballed a couple shots as well. Aldridge is having a rough time knocking down open shots, only Wesley Matthews seems at all active. It's almost as if the Blazers themselves are ossifying just by being on the same court with these olds. And while they slow down, the Knicks shooting is stays nice and toasty. They'll end the half shooting just shy of 60% from the floor
As if on cue: The Distraction chooses 2:30 left in the second, his team maintaining a 10 point lead, to finally let the Blazers crowd get to him. It sounds like a herd of mooing cows hiccuping every time he touches and then gets rid of the ball, and it's as good a reason as any to explain the string of shitty passes, bad decisions, and questionable drives he takes. All of these decisions lead to Blazer baskets. A timeout is called when he sees an opportunity to shut up the Portland crowd, and forces it: He attempts a fancy juke on Lillard, which fails utterly. Flustered, he barfs up an awkward 23 foot fadeaway. It splashes off the glass and drips down into Hickson's hands in gooey chunks. New York coach Mike Woodson just stares at him. The look on his face is almost exactly the same look Steve Harvey gives to the fucking morons he has to deal with on Family Feud.
These actions comprise the final two minutes of the first half: Hickson gets a board and a putback and the and one; Aldridge spanks a shot from Shumpert back down to earth, gets his ass back downcourt, shakes Martin & Thomas with one single, swooping move, and hits the reverse; shortly thereafter, Damian Lillard scoops up the ball after J.R. Smith pulls a classic Raymond Felton and slides it off his own shin, Lillard goes coast to coast with it, absorbs contact from Shumpert, banks home a falling, hipshot layup and when the red lights flash and the horn sounds, Portland, which has been down by 10 for almost the entire game, has run off 13 straight points and is enjoying a 51-48 lead.
THE SECOND HALF
That youthful exuberance we closed with hasn't gone anywhere. Batum & Aldridge jointly swat the shit out of a Shumpert attempt, quickly followed by Matthews delivering a flying lob to Aldridge, who has already beaten everyone else back to his rim, and tips it home.
But it appears the refs have forgotten their whistles in the locker room. Copeland and Aldridge are basically slapping the shit out of each other, stopping just short of delivering the sort of meaty, Hogan-esque chest chops that would fit right in with '80s Night. Hell, Aldridge is getting downright contemptuous with his play. He's sauntering and swaggering as opposed to running. Copeland keeps sticking his hands in the general vicinity, and Aldridge sneeringly beats him about the shoulders for it. Not a tweet to be heard. Kurt Thomas eventually retaliates, responding to Aldridge giving him two or three headfakes on a truncated drive to the hoop by just swiping at Aldridge's wrist like an old dog, sick of people all up in its grill.
Lillard and Matthews are now having a fun ol' time just trading threes, extending the lead out to 10 points rather quickly, and the Knicks couldn't buy a basket even if they had the available cash to do so. They're completely assed-out right now. The only things keeping them close are the offensive missteps of JJ Hickson, and the struggles of Nicolas Batum to get his wrist to work right. Batum launches up an airballed three (this is the third airball from behind the arc the Blazers have yawned into the sky tonight) but makes up for it by hustling back on defense, sticking a limb in front of a Felton fastball, recovering, and feeding to Lillard, who goes up on one side of the hoop, is engulfed by the defense, and pops out the other side, still in mid-air, gently banking home a reverse layup. Felton responds by doing that sweaty, shrugging, palms up "I just can't explain how I could possibly be fucking up this badly, what a mystery!" dance he does. His coach?
After a Knicks time out, they run a perfect, three-pass play that results in Martin beating the shit out of the rim again. Unfortunately for New York, this is the only field goal they're going to hit reliably for the rest of the night, as what went ice cold in the 2nd, stays cold enough to keep all Coors labels in the stadium a bright blue. Matthews throws a couple cubes in their shorts by knocking down another three, and then Aldridge, with that same sneer on his face from earlier, swats the living fuck out of an ill-advised Felton layup.
The crowd just orgasmed with a noise only the most satisfying of hatefucks could possibly produce.
That pic is from Face/Off one of John Woo's most fun movies. Lillard has absorbed all the heat the Blazers are feeling right now, and channeled it into this one metaphor of a move. By simply dribbling, he has pulled 3/5ths of the Knicks over to the right side of the court. No fancy moves, no stutter steps. Just a steady, speedy drive to the right hand side of the court. And then there was just... He was like, 3/4ths sideways, in mid-air, like Castor Troy diving out of the plane with two guns, and the shot was in the air before anyone even knew there was a shot. Like his jumper had a silencer on it.
The Knicks, at the beginning of the fourth, seem almost seem scared to shoot. They're definitely way more hesitant. Hell, Copeland just stopped to TIE HIS SHOE while the rest of the team tried to run a working offense. Hey, Coach Woodson?
JR Smith is starting to heat up, which is the Knicks only hope at this point, because he's the only one on the team that appears able to move reliably. Back to back threes, followed up by a spin move on Lillard and a finish at the rim. Stotts quickly calls time out, because an eight point run just happened. Strangely, coming right out of the time out, instead of inbounding - Stotts calls timeout again. Unlike icing the kicker in the NFL, this actually works, as the New York J.R. Smiths, forced to stand around their bench for about four-to-five straight minutes with no activity, get back into the game and resume spanging Spaldings off the glass with regularity.
Felton checks back into the game with six minutes left, and the joyousnessin the building as the Blazers were jumping lanes, getting fastbreaks, and finding the open man? All that shit is shoved in a closet as the Rose Garden becomes the Vendetta House. However, it doesn't take more than a minute or so before that ugliness is washed away in a rain of three pointers. Lillard. Matthews. Even Batum gets in on it, late in the fourth, putting the Blazers up 92-78.
Lillard seems to have a bit of the assassin in him. There is no letting up off the gas pedal. Even now, with the game seemingly in hand with about two minutes left, he's trying to shove the dagger in and twist as hard as he can. He drives straight into Copeland's elbow with his eyeballs, and still hits the runner. He doesn't get the and-one because he's still wearing Copeland's elbow skin over his forehead, but the and-one isn't even needed: All the Knicks are doing in response is standing around, watching J.R. Smith work way too hard for his team-leading 33 points.
And with 50 seconds to go, Felton gives Portland the gift of one last ugly, ugly shot to moo at, the Knicks throw in the towel, and it's a matter of running out the clock, watching the confetti fall, and filing out the door, picking up a coupon for diarrhea in a diaper from your local pseudo-mexican fast food franchise du jour, exultant in the Blazers 105-95 victory.
In the end, Felton didn't matter; He shot 4/12, for 11 points and three assists. But he didn't need to matter. He just needed to aspire to the level of distraction. He did that. I kinda wish he hadn't though, because hating Felton meant people weren't paying as much attention to the smoothly efficient way Aldridge racked up 22 points and 10 boards, or how Lillard got 26 points and 10 assists. They were shortchanged on cheers tonight. The Portland crowd thought their energy was better spent being a shitty ex instead.