I’m late, I know, I know, but it’s better late than never right? Here I am again with another game recap, but this time instead being pretty close to the game’s finish I am writing this diatribe 6 days after the fact. Yes, I know you’ve read recaps at BlazersEdge. Yes, I know you’ve read the AP Press recap. And, furthermore, I know you have read Oregonlive’s recap. Just give me a shot here, because I am sure you’ll enjoy this one thoroughly. Plus, it is a great time of the year to be reading fan musings and reading about the Blazers is always a good thing and makes time fly like, well, a fly. Prepare for a grand retelling of the Blazers season opener against the Suns.
I feel it should be told up front that I work at the Rose Garden and during the Blazers’ season I usher entry A3, the section that is right behind the opposing team’s bench. It is pretty BAMF and I have been thankful to have been awarded the spot for the 4th consecutive season. So I have a glorious perch to intake all Blazers games and also interact with the fans that sit in the section I monitor. I’ll have to twitpic it or something, but I digress. Prior to the game starting, a fan that had sat in my section my first two years, but moved to another due to the economic crunch and the ruthless (but understandable, I guess) rise in ticket prices stopped by to gab about life and he left me with this nugget: “The spread for the game is 7. The Blazers will double it.” Now, sit on that statement for a bit and you’ll see why.
Opening night is a grand night, and while the theatrics and show-y atmosphere is get the fans riled up, I just wanted to see some ball. It had been too long since I had seen a meaningful basketball game. With the starters announced, Mark Mason begins to roll off the officials for the game. This is the point where I try to listen to their names, and since I have worked there four years I have seen just about every official (I have gotten it down to where I know them by appearance only) to referee an NBA game. This astuteness comes with trepidation because as often as David Stern swears there is no crookedness to his madness, I have noticed eerie trends on how certain referees call games. Like Rodney Mott… sorry, I’ll save this for another time, but Rodney is a homey in the 4th quarter #trust. Anyway, Mason says the one name I loathe more than any ref, even Steve Javie: “… and Violet Palmer.” I turn away and utter an “Are you effing kidding me?” and relive the countless times she has botched any game I have seen her in. Immediately, I am already thinking that this is gonna be a loooooooooong night (Editor’s note: Nobody even likes Violet Palmer, all the fans in my section at least can’t stand her. I liked it better when she was gone.) Finally, the game starts and I couldn’t be more excited listen to the cheers and roars of the crowd as the Blazers won the opening tip.
With the first offensive possession at hand, Alvin Gentry went ahead and decided to defend Portland exactly like he did after Andre’s Game 1 explosion in last year’s playoff. The countermove to this solid strategy that wasn’t exploited due to Nate uneasiness was attacking the defenseless Nash with Batum/Rudy/anyone Nash tried to stand in front of. It looked like this was something Portland expected and with Batum’s growing confidence, thanks in part to stellar World Championship play, decided to finally attack about 6 months too late. Give and go with Roy-Batum for two and then a backdoor cut and suddenly the Blazers seemed to be rolling. The two teams traded baskets back and forth for the better part of the quarter: Brandon Roy nailing two threes and continuing to show he has extending his range and Jason Richardson continuing to be a thorn and a racehorse by sticking open jumpers (3s mostly) and galloping for fast break dunks. It was the length and tenacity on the boards that allowed Portland to shoot a high percentage, run their own semi-fastbreak and make sure the Suns didn’t do three man weaves all night. I was happy with the first quarter because we had shown improvement, but most of that came from Amar’e not being there. It was still troubling to see guards continually knife through the perimeter and get to their spot and also that men were left wide open behind the line and hitting shots. This trend kept up for the whole second quarter.
Interesting note was the play of Rudy Fernandez in his first shift. He had one play that when I saw it, I knew that he was into this game and was willing to bring that Spanish flair back to Portland. The ball was inbounded to him and he was dribbling up-court taking on some light pressure from Dragic and once he reached the top of the key he took a probe dribble, brought it out and zinged a bullet lob to a cutting Roy for a foul. Would we have seen that last year? No, not all, because Rudy would seize if he had to bring the ball up-court by his lonesome. Would the pass be made with so much gusto? Nah, Rudy had the confidence of an Eeyore and probably would have thought against it half-way through the completion of the pass, end up gifting it to the defender and in trying to catch up and to rectify the mistake he would foul and give up an and-1. That’s how the script went last year. Anyway, that play, the confidence and trust he displayed had me going happy because those little things build to a crescendo because seconds later he would nail his first three-pointer of the year off of an Armon Johnson dish (more on this kid later).
The basket trading continued and it started looking more like a potluck or a prelude to Thanksgiving instead of a basketball game. Wes Matthews was bowling through people; Camby and Aldridge kept hitting the offensive boards and tacking onto the gaudy 2nd chance points. This all continued until about the 4 minute mark in the third. Camby had just finished making his second nice, double-pump, finesse lay-up of the night and the Suns came storming down off of the make and caught the Blazers flat-footed. Nash probed the middle, felt the defender, raised fading to his right and hoisted a moonshot while fouled. At this point, I’m thinking “he’s feeling it…hereeeeeee’s Nash-y!” free throw converted, 69-68 Blazers. Clank by Portland, speed shoes Phoenix, WIDE OPEN RICHARDSON FAR SIDE IN FRONT OF THE BLAZER BENCH FOR 3…canned orangeball 70-69. A pair of baskets traded later, and Nash is deflating the ball, one menacing and precise dribble at a time…notices a lane and in only Steve Nash style he flips in an over the shoulder falling to his left layup off the glass and in, 74-71. You have to be thinking, after watch what transpired, that Steve Nash was going to will this team to a victory no matter what because during the last 4 minutes of the third, the Suns went on a 15-6 run punctuated by a buzzer beating 3 by Mr. (ex) Portland, Channing Frye. At that point a fan and I were talking about how the Blazers just needed to hold on to the ball and not look as stagnant as they often do. The team had just missed a shot and Phoenix was operating and he says, “Well, it can’t get any worse can it?” and right as the question mark was visualized in my mind, Frye splashes the three. I kid you not. We looked at each other and mentally said, “Fuck!” and laughed. Little did we know we were about to witness a rookie singlehandedly keep our team in it until the starters and Bizness Batum came back in.
Fourth quarter has the Blazers down 6, with their bench unit of unproven scorers going opposite of a pretty good bench unit for Phoenix (Dragic is nice, Dudley is annoyingly good, Warrick is pesky). Rudy continues to show fearlessness as he drives to the tin and whips a pass to an open Matthews in the corner—pocket that, 81-78. After that point, the next 2 minutes or so, it became the Armon Johnson show. The scrappy rookie point guard, given the backup role with the trade of Jerryd Bayless, showed why Nate likes him and trusted him so late in a very, very, extraordinarily important game. He ran the team in those two minutes like he had been doing it for years. Shook and said peace to Dragic for a lay-in, assisted on a Matthews’ dive, took it right at the chest of Turkoglu and hit a leaner, as well as hit a nice pull-up jumper. When it was said and done, and Miller was coming back in and the crowd rose to its feet, Armon had scored 6 crucial points, assisted on another bucket and played as heady of defense a rookie could. Before Batum, he was the reason the Blazers had a shot at even sniffing victory.
Back to the title of this write-up, the Blazers then handled bidness, bizness and business. Down 91-88, the Blazers conducted one of the most methodical and workmanlike comebacks I have ever seen in person (and I was at the New Orleans Hornets comeback from 28 back in Roy’s rookie year). The team had been controlling both boards quite emphatically, and so much so that their road to this win was paved easier by limiting Phoenix to one shot. Miller to Roy, 90-91; clank by Phoenix, Miller baseline jay, 92-91. And then here’s where it’s gets really cool and crazy. Portland turns up the defense just a bit more, the crowd’s fever pitch chants of defense igniting the hibachi-like (sorry Gilbert) Rose Garden as another stop is forced. Up one, the Blazers come on down and Miller starts to work on the baseline post as Batum sweeps on by and to the near corner three. Hedo doesn’t follow Batum and Miller kicks it and Batum drops a hammer of a three-pointer. Another miss and this time Batum has it baseline, about 8 feet closer, and as Frye comes to check Nic rises and drops another pull-up. 97-91 and at this point, it is well in hand as the hometown team forces a couple more stops and the Blazers swish three more threes (two by Nic and one by Roy). Batum’s marksmanship netted him 19 total points, 11 in the fourth quarter and a spot in Blazers’ lore as a significant cog that started off the season right.
The Blazers played a shaky game, a game maybe a few years ago they would have lost. They have had many high volume rebounding games, especially with the offensive rebounds, that they have lost. I am reminded of the second game of the year last October. Thursday night TNT game. Melo had been steady caking, quaking and baking our defense to the tune of 40+, yet we were still in it thanks to our rebounding. The only thing that did us in was focusing on making the almighty free throws, poignantly punctuated by Oden bricking two after Miller had done consecutive 1-fers. This game was different though: that focus, attention to detail and execution was evident. There is no doubt that the team that has been written in the local media as being without an identity found one last Tuesday: business as usual no matter how the game is going. Using one of Nate’s favorite quotes: “never too high and never too low…just steady,” the Blazers kept an even-keel and just went about bidness. The ending was like one from show bizness. And that defense? Man, that shit was the BUSINESS! O, and the Blazers did actually double that spread which is good for gambling business. Enjoy the De La track, “The Bizness.” (Businessed out yet?)