Sports

Sometimes The NBA Really Is FANtastic

Random thoughts and observations from the Blazers’ thoroughly entertaining 103-95 victory Monday over the Thunder:

— According to veteran observers (re: people who have been to every home game this year), the chant of “Mar-cus Cam-by; Mar-cus Cam-by,” was one of the highlights of the season. Camby certainly earned it, compiling 30 points and 13 rebounds and carrying Portland to a crucial victory.

But the thing that made it so special is that it wasn’t contrived. So much of the NBA’s “entertainment” value is forced and prepackaged that you forget how moving a spontaneous outpouring can be. So when the fans started showing their appreciation late in the game for Camby’s extraordinary performance, it really meant something.

From where I was sitting, the chant seemed to start somewhere in the 300 level — you know, where the real fans are — but it quickly spread throughout the building. And it was touching.

— Offensively, the Blazers were much more entertaining and effective without Brandon Roy. There was more movement and more passing, and the second half was a work of art. Portland scored 60 points in the final two periods, shooting 54 percent from the field and getting to the line for 20 free throws.

This is not a knock on Roy; it’s a credit to the other players and the coaching staff for making the necessary adjustments and making the best use of the resources at their disposal.

But don’t think that it can continue throughout the playoffs. It’s one thing to play well offensively without Roy during the regular season, when the opponent has little time to prepare; it’s quite another in the postseason, when the opponent has time to prepare and time to make adjustments from game to game. One of the most important things in the NBA — particularly in the playoffs — is having somebody who can create a shot in crunch time or late in the shot clock. And that becomes much more difficult for Portland with Roy on the sidelines.

— Portland did a great job on Kevin Durant in the second half, holding him to nine points and one free throw. The free throw came when the Blazers were called for a technical, meaning that Portland kept Durant from earning a single free throw in the second half. If you read this, you know how remarkable that is.

In the second half, the Blazers did a great job of keeping Durant from catching the ball where he wanted it, switching on off-the-ball screens and making him work just to catch it. Then they did a great job of sending a second defender at him as soon as he put the ball on the floor. Oklahoma City didn’t do a great job of adjusting to it.

Here’s the scary thing about Durant: He’s going to win the scoring title, and yet there’s so much room for improvement. He’ll develop some low post moves; he’ll improve his passing out of double-teams; he’ll continue to improve his defense. And he’s already the likely scoring champ at the age of 21 (if LeBron plays Wednesday and Durant sits out, LeBron wins the scoring title with a 63-point effort; don’t bet against it).

James Harden’s dunk in the first half was electrifying. It was the play of the day on SportsCenter, but the highlight doesn’t do it justice. Normally when somebody has a spectacular dunk, you can kind of anticipate it, wondering, “Can he maybe, possibly dunk this?”

But Harden’s came out of nowhere. With Martell Webster right on his shoulder, I didn’t think there was any way Harden was going to dunk. Just something about their angles and their spacing, I guess. So when he did, it was surprising.

— Nate McMillan was a bit guarded in his response, but he seemed mighty darn happy to avoid the Lakers in the first round: “Those are the defending champions. Whoever we face, whether it’s Dallas, Utah or whoever is at that second or third spot, it’s going to be a tough one, a tough matchup. The defending champions, you don’t really want to face those guys in the first round because they’re the defending champions.”

Sunday I wrote that the Blazers better hope to avoid the Lakers in the first round. That said, if they face L.A. in the second or third round, all bets are off. The Lakers are getting old and beginning to creak, and the Blazers just need to get past the first round to develop some confidence and become accustomed to the grind of a playoff series.

— Late in the game, the Blazers went with a lineup of Camby, LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Martell Webster, and Andre Miller. Or, as it’s known, Andre and the Giants, with Webster sliding down to 2 guard. That group played almost all of the final eight minutes together, as Portland rallied from an 84-81 deficit and held a 22-14 advantage the rest of the way.

Ben Golliver of BlazersEdge.com has an insightful breakdown of the Blazers’ defense during this stretch.

— Monday’s game was intense from the outset, with two evenly matched teams trying to avoid the No. 8 spot in the West, and the crowd being focused throughout. But the second half was especially scintillating. The crowd was great; Portland played extremely well; it was a crucial game. It didn’t have the feel of merely a playoff game; it was more like a battle for the conference championship.