Fans of championship NBA teams know the true meaning of a victory in the first game of the playoffs.
Business as usual is their attitude.
Not in Portland. Trail Blazer fans don’t know business as usual. The first round of the playoffs might be the second season for good teams, but in Portland there’s only been one season for a while.
Celebrating a win in the first game is traditional. Celebrating one of the great games from a player like LaMarcus Aldridge? What do you do?
Portland isn’t the media backwoods everyone complains about, not after a two point win over Houston. The spotlight grows bright when a player turns in a record setting game against the best center in the game.
How great was it seeing Aldridge return to Texas with his guns blazing? It got better when he did it in front of Hakeem Olajuwon and reportedly told Clyde Drexler he was coming for all of his Trail Blazer records.
But that’s not what alerted this sportswriter. LaMarcus seemed to tap into something primal, something deep in his competitive DNA Sunday night.
Looking for an answer forced me to dig deeper in the growing mythology of LA compared to the myths of the other LA.
Los Angeles is the NBA Title Town on the west coast. Laker fans have jumped on and off that bandwagon for decades. Their town and their team have been recorded every way possible.
They were fabulous in the Forum, and even greater after they moved to the Staples Center, if that’s possible.
Their town has had a certain reputation, too. Tinsel Town, Hollywood, where they paved paradise and put up a parking lot. But there’s a hidden LA, at least on the edges. Call it Wild Kingdom LA with bears in the backyard, peacocks on the roof, and snakes on the front step. It’s a wilder west than anyone wants to admit.
Apply the same consideration to LaMarcus Aldridge. He’s gone wild and has the pictures, the clippings, and the game ball to prove it. Just don’t call animal control officers.
What happens when LA goes wild? Stay in the house. What happens when LaMarcus runs wild? He goes on the Dan Patrick Show.
Patrick came out strong with Aldridge, opening with a question about being tired. It seemed like a low blow given LaMarcus’ past health issues, but fair after a huge playoff win.
The game face and driven play from Sunday turned into awkward chuckles Tuesday as Dan said forty six points is nice, but Houston doesn’t play defense. Forty six is like thirty against a team that plays D. And LaMarcus laughed it off. That’s similar to a Chicago guy saying a Portland beauty we’d rate a nine would be a six in the Windy City. The sliding scale doesn’t always apply.
Dan showed his age, slightly younger than yours truly, when he said he comes from the era of Bird, Magic, and Jordan and expects greatness every night. LA said he tries to be great, too. What else could he say?
Throughout the interview, LaMarcus showed the sort of class and manners missing from too many stars. Did he go to his room after his personal stomp down on Houston and say, “Damn, I’m good.”?
That’s what Dan asked. The answer he got was pure LA. He said he went home feeling blessed, or fortunate. He stayed humble on the biggest night of his professional career. For anyone who hasn’t noticed, this guy gets it.
All LA did was everything great players do. He banged and spun. He took it inside and hit from outside. Best of all, he found the ball time after time. Or the ball found him. Great players in any ball sport have that in common. They have a special relationship with the ball and they get together at just the right time. There’s no win without LA, no tip at the end of regulation, no rebound put-backs.
We see highly skilled players patrol the perimeter waiting for their chance to shine. Sunday we saw LaMarcus go inside and shine the game up with his rag and polish. He didn’t wait, didn’t hesitate, and the Rockets saw something they hadn’t planned for.
The next time you’re in Los Angeles think about this column and how you’re about half an hour away from woods full of wild things.
The next time you see the Portland Trail Blazers you’ll see forty eight minutes worth of our own wild thing, LaMarcus Aldridge.
Chris Haynes got it right with this quote from LA on Comcast SportsNet:
“I haven’t won a championship. I haven’t been the best player in the world so of course I still feel like I got something to prove,” he said. “I think eventually my body of work will show people where I am at in this league. In time.”