With red light-sticks waving in a darkened Moda Center among the roar of the Rip City faithful, the in-stadium announcer introduced the starting lineup for the Portland Trail Blazers. Everything went off without a hitch until they announced—or rather, failed to announce—LaMarcus Aldridge. After the technical difficulties were fixed, it wasn’t long until the tip-off of the Blazers 2014–15 season.
The opponent for opening night was the Oklahoma City Thunder. Yes, the same Thunder that knocked Portland out of the second round of the playoffs last season. What was different this game was that Kevin Durant was sidelined because he suffered a fractured foot in the preseason. However, even without a dynamic player such as Durant in the lineup, the Thunder are still one of the best teams in the Western Conference.
As if the Aldridge introduction snafu was an omen, the Blazers fell behind from the jump and remained behind until the fourth quarter. During the first three quarters, the Blazers could not buy a basket. Heading into the fourth, the Blazers trailed a Westbrook-led Thunder 77–75.
A few minutes into the fourth quarter, that all changed and it seemed as if Portland couldn’t miss. Shots were hitting the bottom of the net from all over the court and everyone was contributing. This shooting streak coupled with a stellar defensive performance resulted in the Blazers outscoring the Thunder 31–12 in the fourth, which lead to a 106–89 Portland win.
Even though the game started slow, the Blazers finally finding their rhythm was a welcome sight to everyone in attendance. Other than a struggling Damian Lillard, the Blazers’ starting five put up some great numbers. Aldridge reminded everyone why he is the staple of the organization by dropping 27 points, including an early three-pointer.
It was great to see the starters perform and put up good numbers, but that was not the team’s problem last year—it was their lack of reliable bench play. After losing Mo Williams in the offseason, the Blazers reacquired point guard Steve Blake, who stepped in nicely with five rebounds, five assists and one point.
The best bench performance of the night, however, was from offseason acquisition Chris Kaman. The 7‘, 11-year veteran center put up 12 points and 6 boards in relief. His ability to come off the bench to support Lopez and Aldridge will be crucial to Portland’s success throughout this season and—more importantly—the playoffs.
It was clear last year that the young Miles Leonard still doesn’t quite have what it takes to be a productive center or power forward in the NBA. Portland’s other backup center, Joel Freeland, provided great hustle and good defense late last season. Building on his skill set with help from a veteran like Kaman will be great for the young player’s career.
Looking ahead, the Blazers have a tough November schedule. Facing powerhouses like Golden State, Cleveland and the Clippers, fans should have a great opportunity to see how the Blazers stack up against probable playoff opponents. If opening night was any indication, fans should be looking forward to another exciting season in Rip City.