The last couple games have been pretty rough for Portland Trailblazers fans.
First, there was the debacle in the Dallas game where the referees had a huge impact on the contest. They did not decide it, but they were a major, major factor with a huge number of blown calls that certainly put the Blazers in a difficult position they could not overcome.
We were aghast as we debated whether the call was a flagrant one or two and they ruled it was merely out of bounds...or the way we debated which of the fouls committed against Andre Miller was going to be called, only to see the Mavericks awarded the ball instead...or how Jason Terry twice elbowed Nicolas Batum in the face and Batum was called for the foul...or the way...well, I could go on for a long time.
Then there was the Laker game where Derek Fisher put a shoulder block on Martell Webster to free up Kobe Bryant for a three...no call, then Andre Miller got HAMMERED, no call, then Bryant charged into a clearly set LaMarcus Aldridge and Aldridge got called for the foul.
It becomes frustrating to be a fan when you feel like not only are you not getting the breaks but that Tim Donaghy was a far better, more accurate official than the jokes you are seeing play the part in important, franchise-destiny affecting games.
Tuesday against the Thunder it started much the same.
Aldridge was fouled by not one but two Thunder players, no foul was called, and at the other end a far less egregious violation put the Thunder on the free throw line.
It can cause a lack of interest in a sporting event to believe it is being dishonestly officiated. Things are or are not called fouls based not on whether they are a violation, but rather based on who would be affected.
An example would be late in the game when Kevin Durant, with four fouls, clearly committed a foul and it was called on Serge Ibaka because he was nearby and they did not want to put it on Durant.
Flatly stated, that is cheating.
It affects the game's outcome. Ibaka may have a nice career...but Durant can and does win games with his talent.
When you experience an extended series of plays or games where it looks and feels like your favorite team is getting shafted, it can make it more difficult to enjoy the game.
Until that special moment.
With Brandon Roy out with yet another injury, there was quite a debate over who needed to step up. Aldridge, Webster, Rudy Fernandez, and Batum were all mentioned. And to some extent, all of them did.
But it was import Marcus Camby who did something I have never personally experienced.
I have seen more impressive statistical games than his 30-point, 13-rebound performance. I have seen games where players have had more impact than their statistics show. But I have seldom seen one alter the course of a season.
There is little doubt that the officiating of late has been in the heads of the Blazers.
After picking up virtually no technical fouls all season, they combined for six in the last three games. They were barking at the officials, showing frustration, and facing a hole against the Thunder in a key game.
A win here put the Blazers in the driver's seat to finish in sixth place; a loss put them pretty firmly in the eight hole.
A first round date with the Lakers is a recipe for a first round exit. And regardless of reasons...last year's inexperience, this year's injuries, etc., a history of first round exits soon becomes the proverbial 500-pound gorilla.
The Nuggets, Mavericks, or Jazz will not be any cakewalk, either...regardless of who they face the Blazers will be an underdog long shot to win the first round. But they have a better chance against any other possible opponent than they do against the Lakers and they also needed to win a big game on their home floor for confidence reasons.
And Marcus Camby made it happen. He scored early. He scored late. He passed well. He directed the defense. He hit the floor.
It was such an impressive performance that in a late time out the crowd did something I had not seen in Portland before.
The entire time out had the Rose Garden rocking with a "Marcus Camby (clap) (clap) (clap) Marcus Camby" chant.
It was loud. It was long. It was heart-felt.
It was a show of appreciation for a guy who, on a night when Roy was out with an injury and Aldridge was on the bench with foul trouble, with Fernandez disappearing and Miller not getting any calls despite mass contact every time he penetrated the lane, showed the heart and dedication to winning that make this team, if an underdog, a reasonable one.
This is a team that, if it defends like it can and shows the heart Camby showed, with scrappiness and dedication, has the potential to get out of the first round.
If players like Webster and Aldridge and Fernandez play with the heart, fire, and passion that had the crowd screaming his name, Camby could be the move that moves Portland from a "team that nobody wants to play...oh, wait, they bowed out in five" to a team that has at least a chance.
And it also is the type of moment that shows us why we watch the games.
His performance and that of Durant across the aisle were a genuine pleasure to watch. They created memories that last long after the near-inevitable bitterness of another early round exit from the playoffs has faded.