Game report: Rockets 100, Blazers 86
As planned, we attended the Blazers-Rockets game this evening. But not as originally planned, through the kindness of a friend, we had the privilege of sitting in the second row behind the Houston bench. As the whole point of the outing was to get as good a look as possible at Rockets center Yao Ming, this was an incredible stroke of good fortune. You couldn't get a better view of the visiting team. In fact, you couldn't get a much better listen, either, as we could hear some of the Rockets' bench talk from our excellent vantage point.
I have watched a lot of professional basketball over the last 35 years, and sat in quite a few good seats in several arenas, but I had never experienced anything like this. Sitting almost on the bench itself, I got a firsthand look at what a game night is like for an NBA road warrior.
Like a clown, I brought my ancient digital camera with me and tried to capitalize on my location. Of course, the results were underwhelming, but just as the fans around me indulged me while I took the photos, so too I ask readers here to indulge me while I display them:
Coach Jeff Van Gundy.
Yao and assistant coach Patrick Ewing.
Ryan Bowen and Dikembe Mutombo.
We didn't manage to get a decent shot of Rockets star Tracy McGrady, who was far and away the best player on the floor. When time out is called, T-Mac heads straight for the bench and sits right down. Thus, when he wasn't moving, he had his back to us.
It was an enjoyable game to watch -- close throughout the first half, but with the Rockets gradually pulling away in the second. Yao was sporting a wicked-looking band-aid over his right eye, and a gash on his left nostril. "He looks like he was in car wreck," I observed, but apparently the main blow had been suffered on the court last week. Tonight, Yao had a bad night. He got himself into foul trouble in the second half and eventually fouled out, and at one point in the fourth quarter he blew a defensive assignment so badly that his coach called a time out just to let him think about how royally he had fouled up. But Dikembe Mutombo, one of the NBA's oldest players, picked up the slack admirably. The Rockets actually played better with Mutombo at center than they did with Yao.
McGrady was huge. He had a few lapses on defense, but each time, he went down to the other end of the court and made up for it. I think he wound up with 35 points, which for him is just a routine day at the office. If he and Yao stay healthy, the Rockets should make the playoffs.
The Blazers, on the other hand, clearly won't. They're basically a developmental league team, now with just one healthy, legitimate NBA starter in Zach Randolph (and even that's open to debate). But to me, the team's inexperience is more good news than bad. I love attending a game at which winning doesn't matter as much as heart, and given that these teams have two of the worst records in sports right now, the emphasis was on the process and the effort as much as on the result.
As I suspected, it felt just like the games at the Memorial Coliseum in the early '80s, when the Blazers' record stunk but they played hard, and lots of Portlanders came out to show their support and enjoy the only big league game in town. The smallish crowd made getting in and out easy, and somehow I felt better paying through the nose for refreshments knowing that the profit on them was going into my own pension fund rather than Paul Allen's pocket.
Seated just a few rows behind Mr. Allen was ace blogger Chris Snethen, whom I was happy to bump into at halftime. We both were having a great evening, but we noted the peculiar challenges that come with sitting too close to the floor. In my case, there were two points in the game at which the Rockets' players were standing up to cheer on their colleagues, and during those fairly extended periods we couldn't see some of what was going on at our end of the court.
If it had been a game whose outcome was crucial, that would have been frustrating. But given the low stakes involved, the fun we had being that close to the bench greatly outweighed the inconvenience of those huge guys' blocking our view part of the time.
In the end, it came down to youth vs. experience. The Blazer no-names were up against old hands like McGrady (maybe not that old, but his body is), Mutombo, David Wesley, Juwan Howard, and Derek Anderson. I was half expecting to catch a whiff of Geritol as the bench assistant handed out the drink bottles. It was clearly a case of guys on their way up against guys on their way down, and tonight the latter group won handily.
Be that as it may, my faith in Blazermania is finally restored. It is a great relief. We'll probably be back for another game before the season's out, but I think we'll wait a while. Given our experience tonight, for the time being, we are spoiled.