King James made a startling appearance at the Rose Garden on Sunday night. But then, just as quickly as he’d arrived, he was gone. Kidnapped by the “Kobe stopper,” a masked-man known simply as Ruben. Ruben Patterson, that is.
Aided by LeBron James’ disappearance in the second half, the Portland Trail Blazers improved to 13-24 on the year and stretched their winning streak to three. Beating a good Cleveland Cavaliers 89-87, the Blazers had a nearly full Rose Garden looking like a U2 concert. And they made last week’s blowout loss to the Miami Heat seem like a distant memory.
“This feels alright,” said Jarrett Jack. “We came out and we did what we’re supposed to do tonight. We’re starting to feel out Coach (Nate McMillan), and it shows. We’re starting to understand what he expects from us as a team. This is how we’re supposed to play.”
As both teams traded baskets in the first quarter, the Cavs’ James was on fire. He racked up 18 points on 7-10 shooting in the first twelve minutes. James consistently abused Portland guard Steve Blake, backing Blake in and then lightly touching the ball off the glass with jumpers and fades.
“My shot was falling for me early and I had a good height advantage on Blake,” James said.
As a result, Cleveland was able to open up a 30-27 lead. And with James looking like the king of everything, it initially felt like it was going to be a very long night.
But then something interesting happened.
Recognizing that James had the hot hand, Coach McMillan made a change. He put Patterson on Blake. And for the next three quarters, the King looked like a jester.
James went on to shoot 3-16 for the rest of the game. Facing constant pressure from Patterson, he was unable to get his shots off cleanly and those that he did throw up clanked.
James’ stats for the night read well: 29 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists. But from the second that Patterson began to stick to him, his play changed and thus, so did the game.
The Blazers received excellent bench play from Jack and Theo Ratliff as well. Jack had 11 points, three boards and four assists in only twenty-one minutes and he made a number of impressive, plant-and-spin lane drives that had Blazers’ fans drooling. Ratliff was a force in the paint, racking up eight points and two monster blocks.
“We’re trying to build a program here. A way of life, a style of playing and a habit of winning,” said McMillan.
It’s starting to work.