Jeff Pickett here, guest-posting for Clipperblog. There are only two teams I have been a true fan of in my lifetime - the Blazoids, as I call them, and the Clips, or, as my dad calls them, the Paper Clips. (Let's just forget about that brief fling with the Charlotte Hornets in '88 - they were part of the first group of expansion teams in quite a while, and the teal uniforms looked really cool to a 13-year-old.) So when the Blazers and the Clippers do battle, which team do I root for? The Blazoids. Old habits die hard.
The story of the game was the Blazers' cohesion as a unit. Play ended with a tally of 109-99 Portland. Granted the Clips were 1-7 on the road entering the tilt, so a loss in the Rose Garden wasn't exactly earthshattering news. But remembering last year's teams, the result was quite a shocker. The Clippers enjoyed their best year in Los Angeles in '05-'06, while the Trailblazers posted the worst record in the Association.
EB came out firing on all cylinders, not to mention firing away, as he took 8 of 18 Clippers shots in the first. This in marked contrast to the game vs. the Blazers at Staples in early November, which John So and I attended, and in which Elton posted 8 points on 8 shots for the entire game. He put up 13 points in the first and seemed to be winning the power forward battle (vs. a top-5 MVP candidate so far this campaign in Zach Randolph, henceforth referred to as Z-bo; that sidebet ended as a chop). But despite hitting two of out every three shots they took, the Clippers found themselves down 32-27 to the usually low-scoring Blazers at the end of the first quarter.
The Clippers' up-and-down fortunes throughout the contest mirrored a rough plane flight up to PDX related by Ralph Lawler and Mike Smith (Lawler just had to get it out there that no less than 10 people, possibly including himself, had vomited during 72 minutes of turbulence). Every time the Clippers closed the gap, or even took a one-point lead on two occasions, the Blazers responded. By the end of the third, at which point Travis Outlaw laid one in on the fast break after Shaun Livingston was stripped, the writing was on the wall.
The Clips simply didn't have the fluidity and the communication that the Blazers had. Hard to imagine, but this proved itself time and time again. To my mind, the key to the Portland victory was the play of Ime Udoka, Portland's journeyman feel-good story. A veteran of 12 total games in the NBA prior to the season (4 with the Lakes in '04, 8 with the mighty Knicks last spring), Udoka has worked his way from twelfth man (he was signed in October) to the starting lineup. Udoka starred at Benson HS on Portland's now-hip East Side, then continued on to Portland State, which didn't become Division I all that long ago, and then began a quest for a spot in the most competitive team sport league in the world. Udoka went 5 for 6 from the field, including 3 well-timed treys in three tries. He posted 3 boards, 1 assist, 1 steal and a telling 5 fouls. The man (and at 29, we can really call him that) does whatever is asked of him. And when you combine that with Travis Outlaw's 15 in 19 minutes, Z-bo's 26, 7 and 5 assists, as well as 4 turnovers as a team in the entire game for the Blazoids, the outcome was inevitable.
So what were the bright spots for the Clips? Well, Shaun hit his first five attempts en route to 16 points, while also notching 10 assists, no small feat after a wrist injury which made him a game-time decision. Corey asserted himself to the tune of 18 points on a combination of strong drives and confident-looking jumpers. Hell, Q-Ross was 7 for 8 from the floor. The Clippers shot 59 percent, for Dunleavy's sake! What was clear is that the magic of last season is not even close to there for Clips this go-round, and the Blazers have a lot to look forward to, especially with Brandon Roy returning from a perceived heel injury this Wednesday. Last year the once-moribund Clippers were the league's feel good story, but that torch has been passed. It rests in the hands of a cold-blooded baller by the name of Ime Udoka, and his fellow maturing rapscallions on the Portland (don't call us Jailblazers, now we only make obscene gestures to fans, at worst) Blazoids.