Game report: Blazers 107, Nuggets 106, OT
You talk about your Groundhog Day scenes. It was 20 after 4 yesterday afternoon, and we were thinking about a mellow evening ahead, when the phone rang. A friend was on the line with Blazer tickets that were going to go unused. Great seats -- courtside, in fact -- and were we interested?
Felt awfully familiar.
The Mrs. and I had made no other plans for the evening, although both the kids were going to be gone at a sleepover and we were expecting to do something. I was not sure that a trip to the Rose Garden would fill the quotient of romanticism that the evening called for, but she agreed, and off we went.
As it turned out, it was about as magical a night as one can experience at a ballgame. A fan from out of the stands made a halfcourt shot to win a truck. Then, almost as improbably, the Blazers, led by Brandon Roy, staged a storybook last-minute comeback to take their game with the new-look Denver Nuggets into overtime. And in the extra period, Portland prevailed by the skin of its teeth. Holy moly.
The seats were in the fifth row behind the basket down at the visitors' end -- the opposite end from owner Paul Allen's seats (which were empty when we looked down that way). At this location, the stanchion that holds up the basket is actually a bit of an issue, but it's made up for by the closeness that we experienced to the action:
In keeping with the Groundhog Day theme, just as in Wednesday night's devastating loss to the Lakers, the Blazers took care of business in the first half. They led by six points after the first quarter, and by 10 at the half. Denver was without one of its main big men, Kenyon Martin, who was home with the flu, and they were leaving most of the scoring duties to a tall, skinny guy from Italy, Danilo Gallinari, who immediately caught the Mrs.' eye. "Except that his head is too small for his body," she remarked.
Now that Carmelo Anthony has finally left, Denver actually has quite a team. Ray Felton, J.R. Smith (a Newark prep school boy, after my own heart), Wilson Chandler, Al Harrington -- they have a lot of guys who can beat you. When his shot gets hot, this Arron Afflalo can add the word "Assassin" to his already A-list name. And for comic relief, they bring in their Bird Man, Chris Andersen, who actually glared back up into the stands when a fan yelled down to him that he sucked.
Toward the end of the first quarter, Roy checked in for the Blazers, and we shuddered a little. Clearly just a shadow of his former self, Roy has been out of the playing loop for a long time. It's painful to think that his career is so soon on the down slope, and to wonder how soon it might be over entirely. But he was still out there, going through his paces. And his teammates wanted to get him the ball. LaMarcus Aldridge seemed to be forcing that issue, in fact, but point guard Andre Miller, a true basketball wizard, was finding even better opportunities for him. Roy looked downright decent.
At halftime, a Russian gal and two big Russian guys performed stunts in which they threw her into air from, and caught her time and again on, a narrow plank of some highly pliable substance.
In the third half, the Blazers walked the plank. They lost the quarter 33 to 16. Nothing worked. Toward the end of the quarter, Nate McMillan tried a Patty Mills-Brandon Roy combination. Mistake-o grande. Mills logged eight minutes, and the Nuggets picked up six points on Portland over that stretch. Suddenly Portland was down by seven, and it seemed like an eternity before Miller was reinserted into the lineup with 9:45 to go in the fourth.
With a nine-point deficit to make up, Miller had his work cut out for him. "Plenty of time," we told him as he set up to take free throws. And he actually looked up at the clock at that point. Then he started finding people -- Roy, Matthews, Aldridge -- and the Blazers came back to life. But the Nuggets' shooters pumped in some shots of their own, and with 1:52 to go, Denver was ahead by six.
Here's a shot taken during that timeout. Note how many fair weather fans had gone home, and how the Nuggets' bench players were yucking it up and having a good time, thinking that their third straight win was in the bag:
And the score stayed at 94-88 Nuggets all the way down to about 40 seconds left to go. Then Miller found Roy, who hit a three-point shot, and the place went nuts. Felton made a two at the other end, quieting things down considerably, but after a timeout, Rudy hit a quick three with 15 seconds to go. More screams, Nuggets by two.
Cranky old Joey Crawford called a mystery foul on Miller, but the Italian rooster Gallinari missed one of his foul shots, Roy got the rebound and it was a three-point game, Blazers ball, time out, 13 seconds to go.
At which point, the Blazers did what any script writer would have told them to do. What the gods of fate would have instructed. If Willis Reed were there, he would have given the nod.
They gave the ball to no. 7, up top to the left of the basket.
Where he has worked magic before.
And did so again.
Three points! Pandemonium.
A lightning-quick timeout by George Karl, just down to our right. Denver with one last chance to win in regulation -- five seconds. Ty Lawson layup -- fail! And it's on to overtime we go, again.
In the extra stanza, the Blazers relied on LaMarcus Aldridge, who somehow still had a little left in the tank. The home team survived by a single point. Denver had two shots to win it at the end -- the Rooster missed, the ball went out of bounds off the Blazers, and with less than two seconds to go, Assassin Afflalo missed another one.
Blazers win. As barely as barely can be. A single-point margin.
We've attended four Blazers games so far this season, and three have gone to overtime. This was the first of the three that the Portland squad won.
You worry about Aldridge. He's playing way too many minutes. Against the Lakers it was 49. Last night it was 51. Both games were prize fights from start to finish. How long before we start reading about surgeries and heartbreak with LaMarcus? Scary. New Blazer Gerald Wallace was there last night in a suit, but he didn't play because the physical exams that come with the trade haven't been done yet. Let's hope he gets into uniform and takes some of the load off Aldridge post-haste.
After the game -- elated, dizzy really -- not sure of our late-night dining options, we settled for jambalaya and a nice pinot gris at the Bistro Montage. Now there's a slice of Portland that hasn't changed much in 20 years. It looked as though they might have swept the floor eight times over those two decades. You expected Peter Lorre to sit down next to you and start telling you his troubles. It's not the kind of place you would probably wish to see in the bright light of the afternoon. But at midnight, in the rosy glow of a classic Blazer win, it was totally steppin' out. A million thanks to our ticket benefactors for a night that won't soon be forgotten.