When I planned my short February escape from wintery Saskatoon, I had a few criteria: (1) somewhere I hadn’t been before, (2) cheap airfare and hotel, and (3) get to attend at least one professional sporting event. Portland fit the bill on all of those including a Monday night Trail Blazers basketball game.
I probably follow basketball the least of the major North American sports, but always enjoy attending the game live as it’s much better in person than on TV. One thing I love about getting to an NBA game is arriving early, sneaking down to the lower level, and watching the players warm up. The size of the guys is amazing and seeing so many nearly 7-footers in one place is kind of cool.
I’m also always up to explore a new arena. Even though most of the new ones are fairly similar, the Moda Center in Portland had some unique touches including outposts of a couple of favourite downtown eateries. That let me fit in an extra meal here of a very respectable Bunk Sandwiches cuban sandwich. In fact, my meal came with this great view of the arena from one of the lower level corner seats.
Trying to do this trip on the cheap, I elected to pick up an upper level ticket rather than one of the pricier lower level ducats. The US exchange rate has been brutal for Canadians the last year or so, and with someone was looking to dump a single ticket in the front row of the upper deck for $9, I grabbed it. Pretty solid view from up here as the pre-game introductions got underway.
Opening tip from my seat – Trail Blazers playing the Atlanta Hawks. The road team was sporting a playoff team like record with the Blazers closer to the bottom of the western conference standings.
Their respective records didn’t matter as the game was close the whole way through. It was an entertaining fast-paced game, and to the chagrin of the home-town fans, the Blazers kept making key mistakes to allow Atlanta to hang around in the contest.
Missed free throws, a brutal shooting percentage and some late game turnovers gave Atlanta a chance to tie the game up with two seconds remaining. The Hawks did exactly that sending the game to overtime and a pile of people to the exists. I will never understand people leaving a game before overtime, but in the short break, I bolted from my upper level seat and confidently walked down to the lower level past a few ushers checking tickets to claim my new seat just behind the Blazers bench. This is the first time I’ve watched part of an NBA game from this close. The physicality of the game is something to watch from this perspective. Pretty great view, eh?
The Blazers jumped out to an early OT lead, then gave it away. Take a look at the expressions on the players faces during a timeout to design a play to try to take the lead back with twelve seconds left in the extra period. Not a confident looking bunch.
In a microcosm of the entire game, a perfect inbounds play by the Blazers led to an open lane to the basket. Their star player, Damian Lillard, tripped over his own feet, turning the ball over. The Hawks grabbed the loose ball and hit a few free throws to secure a 109-104 win. Sad for the home town fans, but a fun way for me to spend an evening in Portland.