This week’s Blazers’ Corner is a little different. Unlike every other column where I watch the team from the comfort of my living-room couch in Springfield, Tuesday brought me a little closer to the Blazers as EDN was granted press credentials to the game between Portland and the Milwaukee Bucks.
But instead of doing a simple recap (everyone does one of those), I thought I’d share my experience at the game as well as provide some analysis on the game itself.
My partner in crime for this trip was photographer extraordinaire Craig Strobeck. We left Springfield at 3:30 and traveled up north in Craig’s Lincoln town car in hopes of beating the 5:00 traffic in Portland. We did for the most part.
After leaving the car at the first paid parking lot we could find, we made our way down to the Rose Quarter and attempted to find the media entrance which was an adventure in and of itself. The traffic guy with the funny accent didn’t know. Neither did the two fellas siting in a Fox Sports media car (you’d think they would know). Eventually we were escorted by a gentleman in a fancy suit to the elevator that took us down to the loading dock.
Around 6:00 we finally settled in to the media center after obtaining our press passes. We stored our gear and enjoyed a nice free buffet. I had the salad, broccoli and some sort of pasta. Any meal that’s free is a good meal in my book.
We then got a lay of the land out on the court. Craig found his designated spot on the hardwood floor where he would spend the next three hours. I then preceded to walk to the different press tables to find where I would be sitting for the game. Along the way I sheepishly walked through the camera section where Todd Bosma, Director of Game Operations & Events, put me in my place by saying, “Get low, we’re shooting right now.” Rookie mistake on my part.
After foolishly thinking I would be sitting with the big boys (The Oregonian, Associated Press, etc..), I quickly discovered that I would be sitting at the kid’s table on this night amongst other smaller publications like Blazer’s Edge and Willamette Weekly in the upper section. I could care less.
As for the game, the Trail Blazers as usual provided fans with another heart-pounding, stress-induced performance against the lowly Milwaukee Bucks. If not for Nicolas Batum’s hot start (16 points in the first quarter), the Blazers would have found themselves in a bigger hole after the first quarter.
The second period was decidedly better as the Blazers outscored the Bucks by eight points. Mo Williams was the catalyst in the period scoring 10 points including two 3-pointers.
Through three quarters, Damian Lillard was having perhaps his worst game of the season. In fact, he had more turnovers (5) than field goals made (2) and yet the team maintained a three point lead heading into the fourth quarter (you can do that when you play the Bucks).
The fourth quarter and overtime belonged to the Portland backcourt. Lillard emerged from the slump he was in and scored 15 points including the game-tying layup that eventually sent the game into overtime.
Wesley Matthews also poured in 15 points in the final 17 minutes and he mixed outside shooting (two 3-pointers) with post-up plays which led to a five-for-five night at the foul line in crunch time. The capper on the Blazer win was a Matthews steal which he then turned into a behind-the-back pass to Lillard for the dunk. The crowd that was left (people actually starting leaving at the end of regulation) erupted. The Blazers defeated the Bucks 120-115.
At the press conference following the game, Terry Stotts walked up to the podium looking like he had just ate some bad fish. Had to have been the most demoralizing victory of the season for coach.
“I’m glad I’m standing here after a win instead of a loss,” said Stotts. “We didn’t come out with the urgency that we needed. … I hope we understand that we were very fortunate to win the game tonight.”
The mood in the locker room wasn’t exactly jovial. Lillard was just happy to escape with a win.
“If we would have lost that game everybody in here would have been sick,” said Lillard.
Matthews reiterated that sentiment. “[The Bucks] should have put us away. We should have been in the locker room pissed off. But they didn’t.”
Batum summed it up best. “That was a weird game. I don’t want to talk about it. … I want to forget that game.”
I met Craig back in the media center and found a bag of popcorn to eat on the way home. Exiting the loading dock, a crowd of Blazers fans were excited to see Matthews approaching them for a few autographs. It’s always a lot easier to please the fans after a win.
The Blazers will play Washington on Thursday night before embarking on another five-game road trip.
Random Game Notes:
The two teams combined for 39 points in overtime which has to be some kind of record.
Batum finished one rebound and one assist shy of a triple-double.
Good Meyers Leonard: His outlet passes after rebounds.
Bad Meyers Leonard: Missed dunk, total lack of inside presence, inability to block any shot whatsoever, the camouflage pants he was wearing after the game, etc..
Portland’s 20-4 record (83.3 percent) against the Eastern Conference is the best mark of any West team against the East this season. And yet they still lost to Philadelphia at home.
Lillard is the first NBA player with at least 3,000 points and 900 assists in his first 150 career games since some guy named Lebron James.
Portland is 22-5 when Mo Williams scores in double figures.
Robin Lopez recorded his 26th double-double of the season. He had 15 for his career entering the season.