Game report: Blazers 95, Pelicans 94
After a dark, dark week, we needed to cleanse our mind, and sports can do that. We watched a bunch of football between napping and chores this afternoon, but the real opportunity for clearing out the muck came in the evening. Through the grace of a long-time friend, we found ourselves with tickets for good seats to see the Blazers play the New Orleans Hornets. It would be easy to yawn at that matchup. The Hornets are suffering so badly as a franchise that they are talking about changing the team name to the Pelicans. Because there are so many Pelicans in New Orleans? The desperation is palpable. The Blazers are an o.k. non-playoff team from which not too much can be expected other than the joy of competition.
But hey, they are NBA teams, and so they're going to have at least a few players each. The Hornet guys have Anthony Davis, the no. 1 pick from last year's college draft. They also have Ryan Anderson, a Cal kid who can shoot up a storm if you let him. And there's Austin Rivers, Doc's son, who's clearly got the DNA. And so nothing can be taken for granted against them.
The mostly new Blazers put on a nice show in the first half, racking up 54 points behind a strong performance by big man J.J. Hickson and some expert ball-sharing by French vet Nicolas Batum. The Blazers' own top rookie, Damian Lillard, ran the show with confidence and competence. Veteran Portland guard Wesley Matthews tried to give it a go, but he only made it up and down the court a few times before it was time for him to sit down with a continuing hip injury.
The rest of the Blazers are a bit of a ragtag crew, including forward Luke Babbitt, who got a lot of playing time. There were Ronnie Price and Will Barton and Sasha Pavlovic and Victor Claver, all of whom seemed o.k. but far from spectacular. Rookie center Meyers Leonard played only a few minutes; he picked up two quick fouls and was benched for the rest of the night. Leonard had a fatherly guy in a suit sitting next to him on the pines, talking to him and seemingly no one else, all evening. The two were engaged in plenty of conversation; they certainly had lots of opportunity for it.
The two teams played pretty much even in the third quarter, but in the fourth, the Hornets' offense woke up and the Blazers let them climb back into contention. With seven minutes to go, a Blazer lead that had been 16 points at one point had dwindled down to 7; with six minutes to go, it was 6; with five minutes to go, it was 5; and so on until the last few seconds of the game, when indeed, the score was tied.
Anderson and Greivis Vasquez, New Orleans's young point guard out of Maryland, did most of the damage during the comeback. Davis, who's battled injuries in this young season, was also a factor, but he didn't seem to be quite in sync just yet. He is extremely long and lean, and he has a relatively tiny head. Something about his moves signaled that he has enormous potential, as soon as he's 100% and the team figures out how to use him.
The scene at the Rose Garden was typical of modern-day Blazer contests. The crowd was as quiet as a church congregation except when the infernal hype machine told it to get loud. The Blazer dancers performed in some ghastly outfits, and the Junior Blazer Dancers also did a couple of numbers, which seemed vaguely wrong. The stunt team was gorgeous, and a group of volunteers led a bunch of young special needs athletes in a halftime game of some sort, which we missed in favor of a $6.50 bratwurst.
There were a couple of chippy moments. Robin Lopez, one of the underachieving Stanford twin centers, came down unnecessarily hard across Hickson's shoulder, drawing a flagrant foul call. And later Batum, the Olympics groin-puncher, was a bit too enthusiastic in trying to block a Davis shot. He smacked Davis on the nose in the process, and got called for a flagrant. Davis is just recovered from a concussion, and so the officials were not amused at bopping him in the face. It felt like a Jefferson Smith flashback.
Just when the Blazer slide was at its worst, LaMarcus Aldridge went down with some sort of injury to his lower left leg. It seemed as though he might have turned an ankle, but whatever it was, it was bad, because with the game totally on the line, he was immediately helped off the court.
The Blazers got the ball with 11.5 seconds to go, and the score tied at 92. Portland was setting up its last shot when Vasquez took the foul that New Orleans had to give with just 4.2 seconds to go. The Blazers took the ball out and Babbitt got it to Lillard, who hit a wonderful three-point basket just as the clock expired. The place went nuts.
The referees checked the video and told the timekeeper to put 0.3 seconds back on the clock, but it was over at that point. With that little time, there's not even a chance, as a practical matter, to catch and shoot, and so if the Blazers did not foul, they were sure to win. The Hornets did score on an uncontested alley-oop, but it was meaningless.
Hickson wound up with 24 points and 16 rebounds. Batum had quite an all-around game, with 11 points, 10 assists, five steals, and five blocked shots. No one's done that in an NBA game in the last 11 years. Aldridge had 20 points, but only three rebounds. New Orleans out-rebounded Portland 43-36.
We got a lot of the cleansing that we needed. It was great to see all the young kids in the stands at the ballgame, which started at 6:00. They, and we, got an interesting contest and an exciting, happy ending. Damian Lillard and Anthony Davis are both going to make their marks in the league, and we got to see them face to face. At one point Davis threw in a poster-esque dunk on a followup shot right in front of us, and that will be etched in our brain for quite a while. And as for Lillard's game winner, we'll be seeing that one over and over all season. If you haven't caught it yet, it's here.
Thanks to our benefactor for the tickets, and to our buddy Bill McDonald who joined us at the Rose Garden. For us there's no better commentator than Bill on sports, on youth and age, or on anything else in the world for that matter.
And now, in keeping with our tradition, the blurry cell phone photos:
Here are a couple of Batum getting ready to launch, and later actually launching, a three-pointer:
A scary moment as LaMarcus is helped to the MRI machine:
A happy Blazer bench as the refs check to see how much time should be put back on the clock after Lillard's shot. Note that the arena clock said 0.0. The horn had gone off:
Here are Claver and Matthews on their way off the floor. A non-night for both of them:
And to the hero goes the post-game interview: