The Blazers versus the Lakers, what a rivalry this has become. Last Sunday afternoon, the Blazers hosted the Lakers at the Rose Garden for the last meeting between the two teams of the regular season. Some said this was a playoff preview of the likely first round match-up between the two teams. It was an afternoon game, nationally televised on NBC, and probably the best game I’ve had the privilege of watching in person.
Portland started out strong in the first quarter as usual, going up 27-21 at the first break. After the first quarter the game seemed to slip away quite quickly. The officials were not making calls in favor of the Blazers; instead the calls were going directly the opposite direction. It seemed like Portland couldn’t get a foul, and if the Blazers so much as breathed on a Laker, they were immediately called. The game really got out of hand during the second period. Scottie Pippen went for a steal and swiped the ball clean from Shaq. As Pippen stole the ball, the whistle blew and the crowd, along with Pippen and the other Blazers, went nuts. Pippen proceeded to launch the ball into the crowd as far as he could. Then something happened I never thought would in an NBA ball game. The fans began throwing debris onto the court, collectable “Bill Walton Beanie Babies,” which had been handed out at the beginning of the game.
An official’s timeout was called and the garbage continued to come down like hail, along with a chorus of boos as loud as one can imagine. After the announcer asked the fans to stop several times, the court was finally cleared and play was resumed. By this time Pippen had been tossed out, the Lakers shot their free throws and retained possession of the ball. The ironic part is that the call was a three-second defensive violation and not a foul on Pippen. Granted the call was bad, but it wasn’t what 20,580 passionate Blazer fans and now-disqualified Pippen had thought. The Blazer’s floor leader had exited and the game looked way out of the hands of the Portland Trailblazers.
The Blazers were down seven at the half and stayed down seven going into the final quarter. They were down by as many as 13 points in the final quarter and still suffered a double-digit deficit with about five minutes left in the fourth quarter. There were two key possessions in which the shot clock was running down and Bonzi Wells had to force a long three. If Bonz hadn’t come up huge, hitting both those clutch shots and all four of his threes in the final period, the Blazers would have lost and badly. I can’t forget to give major props to Ruben Patterson. He scored 17 points and grabbed 10 boards. Without his energy and defense I’m not sure how successful the Blazers would have been.
It was 105-102, and the Blazers were down. Bonzi had hit a crucial three the trip before to keep it this close. But now there were 4.9 ticks left on the clock. Usually this means bad things. I kept wondering who would hit this big of a shot. Maurice Cheeks drew up a picture-perfect play. This play left Wallace wide open and it was up to Wallace to contribute this piece after missing his last four attempts from deep. He splashed this shot, and had at least five feet between him and the closest defender. Now I’ve been to my share of Blazer games, but I’m not sure I’ve ever heard the crowd as loud and together as they were right then. It was absolute mayhem in there. The crowd was constantly chanting “Beat L.A.” at every timeout and any time the players needed a lift.
The first overtime almost slipped away, but the Blazers got another break. There was 1:17 on the clock and the Blazers just missed on another possession. The Lakers had the ball and were up by six. It was not looking good. Cheeks was yelling at the officials because Wallace was fouled on the last trip and didn’t get free throws (a second foul during a game’s last two minutes results in an automatic two shots). The game was stopped, the time was changed to 1:34, and Wallace made both free throws cutting the lead to four. I’m not sure how, but the Blazers managed to take the Lakers to one more overtime.
In the second overtime it was all Portland. They simply had too much defense, energy and desire to let this one go. Not only the crowd needed it, but the players did, perhaps for a boost going into the first round of the playoffs this weekend. Portland outscored L.A. 13-5 in the second and final overtime, winning 128-120. I had just witnessed one of the most exciting sports performances I can remember live and only two words can describe the atmosphere on that Sunday afternoon: Blazer Mania.