A little over a week ago it looked like this game could be a big one with playoff implications. But no, the Blazers locked things up days ago and as such chose to rest most of their key players. Lillard, McCollum, Crabbe, and Aminu were all out. Their opponents, the New Orleans Pelicans, had long since given up hope on this season and didn't even bring their all-star front court of Boogie Cousins and Anthony "The Brow" Davis. So this game was strictly for the bench dudes, many of them deep bench dudes, and in the end the New Orleans b-team pulled out the win, 103-100, their first at the Moda Center since 2010. But it didn't really matter much.
The Moda center looked to be only about 2/3 full, mostly on account of the lack of star power and significance, but savy fans were able to find a little drama in the subplots of this game. Mo Harkless, the Blazer small forward, had $500,000 at stake in the form of an incentive bonus. If he maintained a 35% or better three point percentage on the season he'd receive the money. Going into the night he stood at 35.1. So if he missed one or more three pointers and didn't make another, he'd loose 500,000 smackers, just like that. It was sort of fun watching him avoid a shot that has been his bread and butter all season. Smart guy that he is, Mo didn't take anything close to a 3 point shot all night and thus made his bonus. Other players, like reserve guard Pat Connoughton, are facing contract extensions over the summer and needed to make the most of those rare prime time minutes. Pat did well, scoring a career high 19 points with 7 rebounds and 7 assists.
Regardless of the cast of characters on the court, the game remained close. It was tied at the half and I was interested to see what the fans were up to during this last regular season break. Here's some pictures:
This enterprising fan showed her support for both Damian Lillard and Allen Crabbe, but sadly neither of them were playing on this night. Allen Crabbe isn't her favorite player, by the way, she just happened to have this crab hat lying around:
A mother and son:
This guy here has been a season ticket holder since 1978. He started rooting for the Blazers in '77 after they won the championship. His favorite era was the amazing Clyde Drexler years in the early 90's. Ah, memories.
Pelicans fans! This guy was from New Orleans and claimed he came all the way up to Portland for this game. His friend might have had something to do with it as well since she lives here. Not sure why she was showing support for the Pelicans though:
This gal dyed her hair and eyebrows Blazer red for the upcoming playoff run. Nice!
Look, it's portland rocker Adam Shearer with his son!
These two just looked happy to be there:
The crowd stuck with it as the second half started up and the Blazers gained the lead behind the strong play of Shabazz Napier who ended up with 25 points on the night. Coach Stotts took him out in the final quarter though to give crunch time to the less experienced players. New Orleans took advantage and pulled ahead with 4 minutes to go. This could have been a real triumph for the the young guys as Noah Vonleh and Jake Layman hit some key shots and they slowly appeared to be mounting a comeback. Even Tim Quarterman, the least seen Blazer this season, got some buckets. Here's what he looks like, in case you are wondering:
It was fun to see those newer guys play on the big stage, but in the end it was Meyers Leonard who took the final key shots for the Blazers, and sadly, he missed them all. The comeback fizzled, though the game was close, at least. In the locker room afterwards Leonard held his head up and was the first player to take questions from reporters. "I know that I have to improve as a player," he said.
Anyway, we're on to the playoffs! The Blazers have a date with the best team in the entire NBA, the Golden State Warriors, this Sunday at 12:30pm. National TV, big time. Damian Lillard says they are prepared to "shock the world", and a Blazer win in this series would certainly be a pleasant shock for Portland fans. It's David vs. Goliath y'all. Bring it on!