Walking the halls of the Moda Center and the streets surrounding it was a stomach turning experience last night. There was an insanely inappropriate amount of Cleveland Cavaliers fans plugging up the place. It’s a similar scene when Golden State comes to town, but Lebron James isn’t on that team(yet?). Seeing as how “King” James is arguably the best active player in the NBA, if not ever depending on who you ask, it makes sense that there would be a lot of maroon and gold roaming the grounds. But, man if it didn’t look like there were more Cleveland fans than Trail Blazers fans! They were even cheering when Lebron would make shots during fucking warm-ups, for crying out loud!! (WREEETCHHHH!!)
In some pre-game press, Lebron touted his infallible “basketball mind,” and generally displayed his massive ego. He sort of had some kind things to say about Damian Lillard, but most if it was hidden behind a thin veil of shade. Honestly, he’s earned his crown, but is there anything better than seeing a MASSIVE ego like that get deflated? Well, maybe not for Cleveland fans…
If anybody could pop Lebron’s bubble, it was the Blazers. Going into last night’s match-up the Blazers were running strong on a 10 game winning streak. Currently, it’s the longest running streak in the NBA. Ever since Dame put up 21 points against Lebron’s team at the All-Star game in February, he and all the Blazers have been playing like unhinged maniacs. As of last night, Dame’s average points per game were sitting at a cold 26.9. Wouldn’t you know it, that’s the exact same average as Lebron James!! Makes you think, doesn’t it?
In true Blazers’ style, the game was a wire to wire nail-bitter. The King did his darnedest, but his 35 points and 14 rebounds were not enough to defend his kingdom from an entire team of ravenous players out to clutch his crown. In the end, The King was unseated, and the Blazers won with confidence, 113-105.
The battle was real right from the start. The tension on the court was palpable. Both teams were playing with taut precision. It was very clear that the Blazers wanted a win bad, and the Cavs knew that they were gonna have to fight tooth and nail if they wanted to take it from them. After a few minutes of tight play, Lebron perpetrated a thunderous, posterizing dunk. The Moda Center erupted with cheers. It was bonkers.
The Blazers responded by continuing to play excellent team basketball. Their points were spread evenly across the starters, they moved the ball well, made the right shot choices, and they scrapped hard for loose balls. No high-flying fireworks from Lebron were gonna fracture their focus. The Blazers’ impressive determination helped them finish the first with the score tied at 29.
CJ McCollum started the second quarter popping and locking all over the Cavs. He slipped his way through the Cavs defense like he was dipped in Crisco for a series of short, delectable jumpers. The Cavs called a time out to cool him off. Then they came out, turned the ball over, and CJ danced past them again to the hoop for a slick lay-up. With just over five minutes left in the quarter, he was the Blazers high scorer with 12.
Lebron did what he could to push back, but the Blazers were still playing team basketball. They held the lead for almost the entire duration of the second quarter. Their lead got as big as nine, but they took a five point advantage into the locker room.
Before the Cavs could blink the Blazers pumped their lead back up to nine in the third. Lebron heinously threw the ball away to CJ, and the Blazers took it down the court and scored. The Cavs took a time out, and Lebron hung his head and shuffled to the bench. It appeared that the game was swiftly becoming entirely mental for him, and everyone. It wasn’t about strength or stamina, it was about who’s mind would crack first. After that Lebron came out and schooled Al-Farouq Aminu on two up and downs with a fade-away jumper. He sloughed off his funk quickly.
At just under the five minute mark, the Blazers’ lead was 12. Then Dame drained a big three, making it 15. After that two fans wearing Lebron jerseys just to the left of the press area left their seats in a hurry. They probably went to Rip City Clothing Company to trade them in for the letter O.
The Blazers’ barrage continued through the rest of the third. They took an 11 point lead into the final quarter. The Blazers could’ve been up by 40, and it still wouldn’t have taken away the white-knuckled mania that filled the air. The Moda Center was awash with stress sweat and bulging eyeballs.
With nine minutes left in the game, the Blazers’ lead was 13, and Lebron had picked up his fourth foul. The Cavs were starting to realize the gravity of their situation. Lebron's demeanor and the way he carried himself on the court began to change. He looked like a guilty child that hangs its head and slowly sulks over to its mother for a scolding. The cracks were widening.
Just to make sure nobody left the room without nearing death, the Cavs cut the Blazers’ lead down to three. Those Blazers and Cavs fans in the arena that weren’t God fearing individuals were instantly converted and started praying.
With less than 30 second left, Lebron missed a huge fast break layup, the Blazers got the rebound, and quickly started rushing the ball up the court. Before Moe Harkless was fouled, and play was still in progress, Lebron stopped, turned to the Blazers’ bench, bent at the waist, and put his hands on his knees. Once the whistle was blown for the foul and play was stopped, he stood up, flipped his palms to the sky, and shrugged as if to say, “Ok. you got me.”
It was magic.
Speaking at the press conference after the game, coach Terry Stotts shrugged off the notion of momentum, and gave another reason why the Blazers won their 11th game straight.
“I don’t know about momentum. I think we’re playing well. Each game is a challenge. Obviously, to string together the wins that we have, we’ve been doing good things on both ends of the court. I think tonight was an example of that, as well.”