Live from the Moda Center as the Portland Trail Blazers host the Memphis Grizzlies.
Tonight, Rip City remembers a legend while welcoming it newest member.
Every seat in the arena is covered by "JK25" placards honoring the late Jerome Kersey, who passed away on Wednesday at the all-too-young age of 52 and left every Portlander who ever interacted with the gregarious big man (and there were many) shocked and saddened. The cover of tonight's official game program bears a black-and-white image of Kersey looking to the heavens in his home No. 25 uniform, and the team itself will wear patches on their jerseys in memoriam.
That includes Arron Afflalo, a sharpshooting, athletic seven-year vet who will make his debut in a white No. 4 kit tonight after being traded from Denver along with small forward Alonzo Gee (so long, Thomas Robinson, Will Barton, and Victor Claver) and practicing with his new 'mates this week.
And while Afflalo has been a starter much of his career, the UCLA/Compton product made both his intentions and expectations clear earlier this week when news of the trade dropped, insisting he'd be happy to come off the bench if it meant guiding Portland to a title. I'm thinking Blazer backers would gladly take that deal, especially after the squad started the post-All-Star final stretch with their worst loss of the season, a defeat that fell somewhere between "puzzling" and "horrid."
Can Rip City turn it around against one of the most bruising frontcourts in the league? Click past the jump for a series of words that may very well describe such an event.
Memphis Grizzlies (39-14, 2nd in West)—Mike Conley and Courtney Lee at guard. Jeff Green and Zach Randolph at forward. Marc Gasol at center.
Off the bench: JaMychal Green, Jarnell Stokes, Russ Smith, Jordan Adams, Tony Allen, Nick Calathes, Beno Udrih, Jon Leur, Kosta Koufos.
Portland Trail Blazers (36-18, 4th)—Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews on guard. Robin Lopez in the middle. Nicolas Batum and Meyers Leonard up front.
Off the bench: Dorrell Wright, CJ McCollum, Arron Afflalo, Steve Blake, Allen Crabbe, Alonzo Gee, Chris Kaman, LaMarcus Aldridge.
PREGAME: A woman just walked up to Blazer radio announcer Brian Wheeler, and held up a picture of her and Kersey. She got Wheeler's attention and gave the picture a kiss.
A lot of fans clearly here early for the pregame ceremonies honoring Kersey. Arena is very full and buzzing a bit as the clock winds down to triple zeroes.
The lights go down and the PA announcer calls Kersey a "beloved figure" and one of Portland's "most prolific" players. The crowd then observed 25 seconds of silence for Kersey before erupting into applause.
A moment later, the video board at center court showed a clip from 1989, when Kersey helped Andy Stokes sing the National Anthem at the Memorial Coliseum. Very cool. And not a bad voice, either. Fans cheer for the video like they're cheering for Kersey.
A late scratch to the Portland lineup: Leonard gets the start tonight over Aldridge, who's still dealing with a thumb injury. LA is in street clothes on the bench.
FIRST QUARTER ... Blazers win the tip.
11:33—Batum gets the scoring started with a little leaner inside. Blazers strike first and Portland would love to see Batum get rolling in the home stretch of the season. Battling injury much of the season, Batum might have benefitted the most from the long All-Star break.
10:01—Batum finds Leonard, who is given a wide-open look from 3. He stops, dribbles, and shoots with all the time in the world...and drains it. Blazers up 5-4 and Memphis might want to at least pretend to guard Leonard from there—the blossoming big man has shown the ability to knock down that shot. Especially if you let him dribble once and get set.
7:20—Lillard finds Leonard getting behind the defense on the run, and Leonard jams one home on the breakaway. Grizz up 9-7, but LA's sub filling in nicely so far offensively.
6:50—Leonard left wide open again, and again he makes Memphis pay for disrespecting his 3-point shot. Blazers up 10-9 behind eight points from Leonard. That's the good news. The bad? Leonard already has two fouls.
5:31—Timeout on the floor, Memphis up 13-12. They're showing another tribute video to Kersey now, which includes former teammate Terry Porter's press conference from earlier this week. Getting dusty in here...back to action, and Afflalo makes his debut, subbing in for Matthews. A nice applause from the crowd for the newest Blazer, who gets a standing O from a number of fans.
4:40—Afflalo scores on his first touch. Big roar. Lillard feeds him in front of the Portland bench, and Afflalo drills a mid-range jumper. Cool moment, and for Portland fans, hopefully a sign of things to come.
4:01—Blazers run the clock all the way down and despite some good defense from Memphis, Batum drains a 3 from the top of the key. Good patience there. Blazers up 17-15.
2:37—Another timeout on the floor, and we're tied at 19 after Conley drives the lane and lays it in. Both teams shooting right around 50%. Leonard leads all scorers with eight points, Gasol leads Memphis with seven.
0:00—Blazers end the quarter on a fast break, and as the defense collapses on a driving Matthews, he finds Kaman running in from behind for a layup. Portland leads 21-19.
SECOND QUARTER...Grizzlies start with it.
10:43—Kaman with a jumper from the free throw line, and Portland leads by four. On the other end, Blazers force a charge and Memphis' second turnover in as many possessions.
8:43—Blazers in control of this one at the moment. Wright with a little jumper in the lane to give Portland its biggest lead at seven. On the other end, Portland forces the shot clock violation, highlighted by a block from Matthews on Conley as the clock winds down. These are two of the best defensive teams in the league, and it's showing right now.
7:03—Wright having himself a stretch here while Memphis struggles to find a bucket. Blazers on a 13-2 run behind six points and three rebounds from Wright this quarter. The Grizz, meanwhile, are shooting just 32% from the field.
5:05—Grizz with their first 3 of the game (from Lee) and suddenly Memphis has scored seven straight. Blazers still lead by 4, but momentum has shifted a bit.
4:14—Blazers with their sloppiest possession of the game. The shot clock ticks all the way down as Lillard can't find the handle. Allen takes it on the breakaway and dunks it home to put Memphis back within two.
2:50—Conley with a steal and easy layup to give the Grizzlies the lead. They're on a 13-0 run. Yikes.
2:01—Green with a posterizing dunk on Lopez. Memphis now up 36-33 and the crowd here is puzzled.
1:25—Finally, Portland with a field goal as Lillard finds Batum behind the defense. The latter dunks on the breakaway, and the Blazers shake off the curse.
0:48—Leonard hits another 3. We're tied at 38.
0:12.5—Timeout on the floor again after the Blazers give up another turnover when Lillard drives inside and passes back to nobody in particular.
HALFTIME: Blazers and Grizzlies are tied at 38. Leonard leads the Blazers with 11 points, Conley leads Memphis with eight in a defensive-minded match so far. Full stats here.
THIRD QUARTER...Both teams run their starters out there for the second half.
10:40—Lillard finds Lopez inside, and the latter scores his first bucket of the game. Portland would like to get him going, but Memphis' big men don't allow much room to catch the ball down low, especially with Aldridge on the bench instead of drawing a defender to the perimeter. We're tied at 42 as Lillard picks up his fifth assist of the night.
9:55—Leonard with his fourth foul after two quick ones to start the quarter. Big man playing a bit out of control (the steepest of his learning curves), and the crafty Gasol takes full advantage. He hits a pair of free throws, and Memphis has its biggest lead of the night, up 46-42.
8:21—Lillard drains a 3+1 from the top of the key. A small bump by Conley didn't bother Lillard, who walks to the line and converts the free throw. Blazers back within a point, 51-50.
7:42—Memphis coach Dave Joerger picks up a technical. He was squawking at the refs. Lillard hits the free throw to tie it up.
5:13—Blazers with a steal and Lillard dunks it on the breakaway. Crowd back into it. Blazers lead 59-58 and the Grizzlies take a timeout.
4:44—Lillard drains another 3. Blazers on a seven-point run and they've regained a four-point lead.
3:51—Now Batum hits a triple. He has 12 points, the Blazers have scored 10 straight and Portland is up 65-58.
2:23—Portland takes a timeout after Lopez battles to keep a possession alive with a pair of rebounds. Blazers still up 5.
1:32—Blake drains a 3-pointer from the top of the key, the fourth triple of the third quarter for Portland. Blazers up 68-60 and the momentum is squarely with the home team.
1:21—Afflalo. Triple. Blazers up 11.
0:32.1—And another 3-pointer from Blake! Blazers up 74-62 and they're running away with this one.
0:00—BLAKE AGAIN! He hits a fallaway 3-pointer as the clock winds down and the crowd absolutely loses it. Blazers with a 39-point quarter, and they lead it, 77-64. Wow, that was what you call a "low-percentage" shot from Blake there, but he nailed it. And the crowd it fired up heading into the final frame. Portland up to 45% from behind the arch, 49% overall. Lillard leads all scorers with 18, followed by Batum with 12. Blake has 10 after hitting three from long range that quarter.
FOURTH QUARTER ... Blazers start with it.
10:34—Randolph drains a jumper on the baseline, right over Kaman. Memphis back within 10.
10:01—Every Blazer touches the ball and it ends up in Blake's hands. He nails yet another 3-pointer from right in front of the Memphis bench, and Portland is back up 13.
9:10—Randolph goes to the hoop and flips it in +1. Z-Bo misses the free throw, Blazers still up 11.
8:51—Timeout on the floor. Blazers up 82-71, but Portland has just picked up its fifth foul of the half, so Memphis will shoot free throws the rest of the way.
8:10—Blake just threw it away. Miscommunication between him and Lillard. Memphis back within seven, but the Grizzlies are giving it their best shot down the stretch here—all with Gasol on the bench.
7:53—Wright drills a mid-range jumper +1. He hits the free throw. That's nine points for him and a 10-point Blazer lead.
6:56—Another Portland turnover, another fast break layin from Conley. Blazers up 85-79, but they're hardly putting this one away. Grizzlies hanging tough behind nine points this quarter from Z-Bo and a suddenly airtight defense.
6:03—Blazers settling for poor shots while Memphis dials up the D. The latest Blazer possession ends with a fadeaway from Lillard on the baseline that falls well short. Blazers missing LA here, big time, as the offense has nowhere to go in crunch time.
5:07—Grizzlies have a chance to tie it, but Lopez with a block on a dunk attempt by Koufos. On the other end, Lillard misses a pair of free throws. You don't see that every game—Lillard is typically close to automatic on those. He might be kicking himself for those later.
4:45—Gasol with a soft jumper, and unbelievably, we're tied at 85.
4:13—Grizzlies with a 2-on-1. Conley finds Green, who dunks over Matthews. Memphis leads 87-85 and the crowd is stunned. The Portland offense is standing still. Not a lot of movement, lots of fruitless long possessions leading to low-percentage shots.
3:10—Gasol with a turnaround jumper over Leonard. So smooth, and such a soft touch from the big man. Memphis back up 2.
2:50—Until Batum drains a 3! Blazers up 90-89 now, and this game is getting interesting.
2:27—Lee goes strong to the rim and hits the layup +1. We have a timeout and we'll come back to a Green free throw attempt, Memphis up 91-90.
2:02—Another terrible possession for Portland, unless you think a Matthews fadeaway 3 that gets blocked is a good ending to a possession.
0:43—Blazers have it down two with a minute left, and Lillard attempts a 3 as the shot clock winds down. His shot falls woefully short, and Portland is saying it was last touched by Randolph, who came out to put a hand in Lillard's face. Nope—Grizzlies will have the ball here after the refs review.
0:30—Gasol drains a jumper from the free throw line and pumps his fist as Portland takes a timeout. Wow. Memphis up 94-90 now and they're poised to steal one here. Portland appeared completely in control after the third up by as many as 13, but Rip City's offense has since disappeared.
0:20—Blazers come out of the timeout and get it to Blake. He tries to back down Conley, and attempts a fadeaway jumper on the baseline. Ugly. Another terrible possession for Portland—give Memphis plenty of credit for that—and the Grizzlies go to the line. They hit a pair of free throws, and the road team is up six. Ballgame.
0:7.5—Blazers try a pair of threes but both miss. Batum follows with a tip-in and Lee is quickly fouled on the ensuing inbounds pass. He hits both free throws, and again, Memphis leads by six.
FINAL: Memphis wins, 98-92. And that's a shocking result after Portland raced ahead with a 39-point third quarter and appeared completely in control. But the Grizzlies defense absolutely nullified Portland's Aldridge-less offense down the stretch to sweep the season series.
All five Grizzlies scored in double figures, led by 21 points from Gasol. Conley and Randolph added 15 a piece.
Portland was led by 18 from Lillard and 17 points, 10 rebounds from Batum, but the offense looked lost down the stretch with LA in street clothes on the bench. Blake added 13 points and Leonard had 11, while Afflalo chipped in eight points, 4 rebounds in his Blazer debut. Full final stats here.
This one is going to sting. Portland seemingly had this game in hand, but Memphis flexed its muscles late and stole a huge conference game with a dominant fourth quarter. That's two disheartening losses to start the final stretch of the season for the Blazers. Not exactly encouraging, especially considering Portland's next two games—Wednesday against defending champion San Antonio and Friday against OKC.