Game report: Suns 109, Blazers 102 (OT)
The worst losses are the games that you had in the palm of your hand, and let slip away. That was the story for the Blazers Tuesday night, as they fell to the Phoenix Suns in overtime. The Suns played without MVP Steve Nash, whose old shoulder injury is suddenly acting up, and so it was an even matchup with the Portland squad. The Blazers dug themselves a hole early, brought it back to a close game throughout the second half, tied it up at the end, but just could not quite get over the hump. A healthy-size crowd at the Rose Garden was thrilled, but in the end disappointed.
Blazer forward Travis Outlaw had a fairly wide-open layup with the score tied and around three seconds to go in regulation time, and he flat-out missed it. That was pretty much the story for the Blazers as they battled the high-flying, high-scoring Suns. The Suns don't play much defense, and the smaller Blazers (especially Jarrett Jack) seemed able to get to the hole with relative ease, but when they got down there, they met Amare Stoudamire and Shawn Marion, two big, athletic guys who don't fool around. It was no wonder that Outlaw was hearing footsteps when he went in for that crucial layup.
Another guy who was hearing things out there tonight was rookie tall guy LaMarcus Aldridge, who was a real liability. As much as I love him, the bigger, more experienced Suns ate him up. The kid needs 15 pounds and some NBA smarts. It may be a while.
On the bright side, Zach Randolph (33 points, 10 rebounds) is an unstoppable force of nature this year. No one in the league knows what to do with him, and the Suns had nothing new to offer. This is an enormously talented basketball player, and he's working his tail off on the floor. If we can keep him out of jail, we need to learn how to love him.
Rookie sensation Brandon Roy (27 points) also had a fine night. At times it seemed that the best thing for the Portland squad to do was to give him the ball and get out of his and Zach's way. Four years in the Pac-10 was time extremely well spent for Roy, and he deserves the accolades he's getting.
Ime Udoka was also solid, and Jamaal Magloire contributed, albeit modestly, on the positive side. The big Blazer letdowns of the night were the absence of Sergio Rodriguez, who's still got a banged-up ankle, and the subdued presence of Joel Przybilla, who in less than seven minutes on the floor contributed nothing and seems like the odd man out. Martell Webster got a lot of minutes but didn't do too much with them. He landed a gorgeous three-pointer just a fraction of a second after the third quarter ended. If he had gotten the shot off before the buzzer, the Blazers most likely would be celebrating right now.
Phoenix is a good team even without Nash. Backup point guard Leandro Barbosa (25 points, 7 assists) killed the Blazers by raining down three-pointers in the second half and the overtime. Stoudamire scored 36 and snagged 9 boards. Marion scored only 12, but he had 13 rebounds and 5 steals -- his usual one-man-fantasy-league-team self. Raja Bell scored 15. About the only player in purple whom the Blazers didn't allow to get going was Boris Diaw, who ultimately fouled out with 8 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists -- not a bad night by a lot of guys' standards, but perhaps a little flat for him.
After my last visit to the Rose Garden, I was talking playoffs. Now, following three close losses in a row for the Blazers, two in overtime and one by 2 points, I'm ready to concede that that is not going to happen this year. But what kind of year will it wind up being? The team that was on the floor tonight can win lots of games in the NBA. They have a lot of heart, and they are playing with enormous discipline under Nate McMillan. I think they'll play hard this season, right down to the end. I plan to see them do so at least one more time.
And now, on with the out-of-focus pictures. I was at the game on my own dime for the first time in I can't tell you how long -- well over two years -- and the riffraff tickets my buddies and I got were not the greatest. But they weren't terrible seats, either -- certainly not as terrible as the Original Digital Camera that I always bring with me. The thing is so clunky that tonight one of the ushers actually hassled me, thinking it was a videocam. "It only takes still pictures," I assured her. Then I showed her the thing in action -- press the shutter button, wait a full two seconds, bad flash, see blurry picture -- and she backed off, knowing that there was no danger of my pirating any images of the Blazers that anyone would pay for. "I don't blame her for asking," I confided to one of my mates. "You could probably broadcast the whole game to Japan on a cell phone nowadays." "You're right," he replied, "and it would take a lot better pictures than your camera." After a while, we concluded that there were in fact two problems contributing to lack of photo quality: first, the camera was too old; and second, I was too old, causing the camera to jiggle too much while firing.
It may have been the beers and the Blazer dog, but here are a few of the anemic shots I took. Any action photos were hopeless blurs, like this one:
If it's going to be that bad, might as well go with a garage-sale-artsy mess:
Seeing how badly the action photos were going, I settled on taking pictures of quiet moments. Even then it wasn't exactly Sports Illustrated stuff. Like this Blazers huddle during a timeout, posted just in case you were having trouble falling asleep:
Here you can barely recognize Brandon Roy about to take a foul shot:
Here's Zach attempting a free throw toward the end of the fourth quarter:
Feel the drama as the fourth quarter was winding down:
Along with the awful final outcome of the game, the absence of the Blazer Dancers was a sour note. You talk about keeping Portland weird -- whoever's choreographing them these days seems to be taking whatever Paula Abdul is on. But you come to expect to see the gals out there, and we missed them tonight. Curses on whoever the dang employment lawyer is who's insuring that they get a night off once in a while.
All we were left with to keep us occupied during the timeouts were the T-shirt cannons. These are the bazooka-like things that are brought out to shoot Blazer shirts high into the crowd. They're quite powerful -- they can reach all the way to the upper back corners of the cavernous arena. So awe-inspiring were the guns that they raised some interesting questions that no one in our party could answer: Who invented the T-shirt gun? Is it patented? When will the patent expire? Your intellectual property quiz of the night.
Anyway, though it was a rough evening on the court for the Blazers, I think they made a lot of friends (if not believers) in the stands. As I've been saying all season, they are definitely worth rooting for, and only one step away from becoming a really good team. And that's just with the core of young fellows that's here now. No big trades are going to be necessary. Just time.