With this, my third year covering the Trail Blazers, I think it’s become very apparent I am a Blazers fan myself. I try not to put too much of my bias on display, but yeah, the Blazers are great. That being said, I don’t believe I am a homer. For those unfamiliar with that term, a homer is someone who has blind loyalty for a team, often ignoring any faults they may have. That style of coverage is not for me. If the Blazers looked like diarrhetic cat crap opening this 2017-18 season, I wouldn’t mince words in describing their shape and smell. Thankfully, there has been nothing but signs of glory coming from the home team in this fresh season.
First off, the Blazers have already been breaking records. Their 48 point win against the Suns is the biggest season opener victory in NBA history. On Tuesday's game against the New Orleans Pelicans, the Blazers won their 17th consecutive home opener, breaking the record they themselves set last year. Starting a season out with some bragging rights never hurt anyone.
The most exciting potential this season holds lies in some hot new contributors, and some suddenly woke old ones. For example, Mr. Pat Connaughton has flipped a switch and become quite the asset. After spending most of last season playing clean-up in garbage time, he came flashing out in the season opener and scored a career high of 24 points. He’s been getting lots more time on the court, he’s displayed confident, elegant cuts to the rim, and he’s got some smooth three point shots too. The Blazers have a hot new MVP! A "most valuable Pat," that is.
Rookie forward Caleb “Biggie” Swanigan has been a solid new addition, and he's been looking like a complete monster. His is scraping hard for loose balls and rebounds, and he has good radar for where the rim is for quick put-backs. Aside from a few rookie flubs here and there, Biggie already looks like he has the instincts of a player that has been in the league for several years.
In the previous season the Blazers struggled to pull it together on defense. There was definitely more than a few games where they looked like welcome mats on the defensive end. Judging from the first four games of this season, it’s very apparent they spent a bulk of the off-season working on protecting the rim instead of dropping bombs through it. We all know the Blazers can shoot, but it's nice to see them block shots and force turnovers.
Last night the Blazers went toe to toe with the dreaded Los Angeles Clippers. It would be the Blazers first real test of this young season. While the Clippers traded off Chris Paul in the off season, the Blazers still had Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan to deal with. As expected it was a fierce battle, but a big three point shot from Griffin in the final seconds of the game would seal the deal for the Clippers, 104-103.
The Clippers proved hard to contain in the first half. All the Blazers could do to stop them was foul them. With four and a half minutes left in the first quarter, the Blazers had already racked up five fouls and put themselves into the penalty. They had a bit of a softer touch for the rest of the first quarter, but that unfortunately left the Clippers to go four for eleven from the three point line.
In the second quarter, the Blazers reached the foul penalty even faster than the first, accomplishing it with seven minutes left in the half. They looked frantic trying to stop the Clippers from scoring. That awesome D they displayed in the first few games of the season had seemingly gone flaccid. The Clippers took full advantage and shot 51% from the field in the first half. They held their lead throughout the half, and took a nine point lead into the locker room.
Despite looking questionable on the defensive side, the Blazers kept it fairly together offensively. Their shooting percentage stayed in the mid to late 30s for virtually the whole game, but somehow the Clippers lead never got up to double digits. Dame turned it up in the third quarter pushing his point total from nine to 23, and Al-Farouq Aminu went four for six from the three point line, finishing the third with 14 points.
Finally about half way through the fourth, the Blazers got a sustained lead. They clawed like hell to keep it, then lost it, got it back, then lost it again. It was a true Trail Blazers nail-biter all the way to the final, very contentious last 20 seconds or so. With the Blazers up by two, it was a buzzer-beating three from Blake Griffin that put the Clippers over the top in the final five seconds of the game.
You could’ve pointed to any number of things through all four quarters that lost last nights game for the Blazers, but in his succinct press conference after the game, Coach Terry Stotts only referenced two things: Griffin’s game winner, and defense.
“Very disappointing loss. Griffin hit a great shot at the end. Tough way to lose a game. I was disappointed with our defense in the first half. I liked the way we came back, competed, and put ourselves in a position to win, but losses like this are tough.”