Just about everything from Saturday night’s game against Seattle went perfectly. First, traveling across the country, coming off a double-OT game the night before, playing the dreaded 4th game in 5 nights, and in general sucking, the Sonics were handed to us on a silver platter. Second, Charlotte continued to defeat the teams that it should defeat. Third, Jason Richardson justified my love by asserting his ability to dominate, drilling 4 3-pointers for 14 points in three minutes during the 3rd quarter and thereby catalyzing a victory. Fourth, Ryan Hollins put in another 25 minutes of solid work, collecting 6 points, 7 rebounds, a block, and a steal; as long as Hollins keeps this up, Coach Vincent can continue to yank starter Primoz Brezec faster than Viva Laughlin. Finally, we held Seattle to just 31% shooting and committed just 15 turnovers in another inspired team effort.
In fact, all in all, there was just one small problem: I couldn’t watch any if it because the game wasn’t televised. I swear to Pat Riley, I was pretty darned angry when it wasn’t even available on League Pass. I tried to make due with watching the running ticker on NBA.com, but after about twenty minutes or so, ayo! I was tired of using technology. Instead I flipped over to the Nets-Heat game, observed Vince Carter in a suit, and gave silent prayers of thanks to our management for not signing him to a 4-year, $66 million deal (with the whole MJ-VC-UNC thing, it had been one of my greatest fears this past spring—in fact, next time I see a Jumpman insignia, I’m going to cross myself). At least they ran some highlights on NBA TV Daily the next day, although they were of the "cheerleader-cam" sort: directly under the basket and hard to make anything out. I remember this happened twice last season, but not until much later in the year.
Oh, and one other semi-related note on this one: did anyone see Peter King’s “MMQB” column on SI.com yesterday—the part where he wrote about the ongoing NFL Network-Cable war? King actually wrote the line, “I don't watch the Network much, because I don't have time to watch much NFL programming other than games…I have nothing against it, and I'm sure I'm missing things by not watching the regular programming. But there's a sea of NFL programming on ESPN and Fox and everywhere else, and you could go blind watching it all.” Umm, anyone have a problem with this admission? King doesn’t have time? How could you be a paid commentator—who covers only one sport, I might add—and not watch the network that’s solely devoted to your sport? And then the “ESPN and Fox is enough for me” part—brother, no wonder they all sound alike…We need some sort of indie-sportswriting revolutionary figure to topple these empires. I can see it now: t-shirts of The Basketball Jones’s Skeets and Taz looking like Che Guevara.
Anyway, onto last night’s game with Portland, wherein we got our first look at their prized hulking rookie…Josh McRoberts. Josh played his first minute (not minutes) of the year, but he didn’t do much other than exhibit his wild-looking hair. Jeez, the last time I saw him flaming out at Duke, he had a crew-cut. Now he looks like he played one of the Dylan parts in I’m Not There.
Anyway, onto the game itself. We were in firm control for the better part of three quarters, thanks to foul trouble to bigs LaMarcus Aldridge, Channing Frye, and Joel Pryzbilla (who’s not much more than a rich man’s Primoz Brezec anyway). The lackluster play of their interior was a key aspect of Portland’s loss. "Not to blame LaMarcus and Joel,” Coach Nate McMillan said after the game—and I love when jocks use the phrase, “Not to blame,” because then they go on to do precisely that— “but the two of those guys had two rebounds.”
The Blazers narrowed the score to 40-36 at the half, courtesy of Steve Blake’s ridiculous half-court shot at the buzzer, but we came out charging in the third. “You never know when it’s going to come,” Coach Sam Vincent said after the game, speaking of Jason Richardson’s 24-point performance. Actually you do, Coach, it’s going to come in the 3rd quarter. Richardson had 14 points in his latest third quarter outburst and had us hovering around a double-digit lead. “Sometimes the basket is the size of an ocean, sometimes it's the size of a cup,” Richardson later told reporters, and for one terrifying second I thought he was going to recite a poem that he had written. Thankfully, he simply added, “When you see the ocean, you shoot.”
All of a sudden, though, the Blazers came back, even briefly leading by 3-points at the beginning of the 4th quarter. This was mostly due to some really cheesy referee work, in my opinion (not to blame them, but…). Gerald Wallace and Jeff McInnis both got called for some ludicrous charges and touch fouls (even the Portland announcers believed they were bogus), and of course Crash was crushed on a bunch of drives that weren’t whistled at all. I think the refs were subconsciously refusing to foul out Aldridge, Frye, Pryzbilla, and Brandon Roy. Jarrett Jack (18 points) also deserves some huge credit for sparking Portland off the bench, as does Blake (4-5 3’s, 14 points, 6 boards), and even though Roy had a somewhat muted night (14, 5, 5), he was still a 2nd-half force.
But Raymond Felton refused to lose, getting 16 of his 24 points and dishing 7 of his 10 assists in the last stanza. Gerald Wallace also had his 3rd straight 27-pointer, plus six steals and some truly demoralizing stuffs. Okafor had a solid 12-12 double-double. And even though neither scored much, Matt Carroll and Ryan Hollins both had 2 huge offensive rebounds to bail out the offense and keep the possessions going.
We’re now 6-4, and yeah, we haven’t exactly been facing the 1996 Bulls night in and night out, but we haven’t been facing the 2007 Bulls either. These are some solid young teams we’re beating, and the wins are especially impressive when they come despite blowing leads. And just think, last year at this time we were 2-8.