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Behind the Blazers Locker Room Door: Season finale

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Просто оставлю себе на память. Очень понравился текст.

Там все на английском, и — да. Это все о той же Trail Blazers.

Все убираю под “кат”.

Blazers

There was an awkward silence Thursday night when Nate McMillan emerged from his office and stood before his Trail Blazers team in the locker room for the final time this season.

The coach looked at his team, shuffled his feet a bit, and the team looked back, unsure of what their leader would say, or even could say after their season had ended with a bitter 92-76 loss to the Houston Rockets in Game 6 at the Toyota Center.

“It was quiet, and kind of weird,” team captain Brandon Roy said. “He doesn’t know what to say, we don’t know what to say … because nobody felt this coming. Nobody felt the season was over. Nobody felt we were going to lose this game.”

Indeed, McMillan’s hesitation to say something in front of the team was because he had nothing prepared. On top of that, he was emotionally spent.

His temper had flared during the game, sparking a confrontation with Travis Outlaw during which Joel Przybilla had to restrain Outlaw from the coach. And his heart had swelled when he looked at his player’s faces late in the game, knowing they had given their all. Later, after a meeting with his coaches, it appeared McMillan had shed a tear or two, but he would only say that he had become emotional.

So as he stood in front of the team for the final time, all McMillan felt was emptiness.

“I wasn’t ready for this,” McMillan said later, after every player and coach had left the locker room. “I didn’t think about tomorrow and not having anywhere to go. It’s weird. It’s like tomorrow I wake up, and I mean, what do you do?”

He sputtered, looking for the right words, causing him to smile uneasily.

Then it came to him. What everyone in the locker room had felt, but couldn’t quite put into words.

“It just seemed like it ended too quick, too fast,” McMillan said.

Nobody said a word

When it did end amid the chaotic Toyota Center crowd in Houston, the Blazers management team formed an impromptu welcoming line that extended from the court to the locker room.

General manager Kevin Pritchard exchanged high fives with the players as they entered the tunnel that goes from the court to the locker room. In the tunnel, Chad Buchanan, the director of college scouting, clapped and slapped backs, telling the players “great season”. Twenty feet beyond was Michael Born, the director of NBA scouting, giving the same encouragement. Assistant general manager Tom Penn brought up the rear, making sure all the players and coaches got off the court safely.

The players and coaches trickled off.

Rudy Fernandez walked to the locker room with a towel over his head. Channing Frye ran through, and as customary for him, peeled his jersey off along the way.

Greg Oden walked alone, as if he was lost and in a daze. A little later, LaMarcus Aldridge came through wearing the gray team-issued playoff shirts with “Uprise” on the front. It was soaked in sweat.

McMillan had his suit jacket off, but was expressionless as he fiddled with the microphone around his waist that he wore during the game for TNT. Right behind him was Brandon Roy, holding a towel, looking at the ground.

Nobody said a word.

Predictably, it was the most somber post-game locker room of the season.

Fernandez sat with a stunned look, his elbows on his knees, hands to his face in contemplation. Out of all the players, it seemed to me that he took this loss the hardest.

Nicolas Batum was across the room with almost the same look as Fernandez – blank. His stare was broken only when team doctor Tom Reis came to congratulate him. After straining a smile, Batum resumed his blank stare, eventually bringing his index fingers to the place where his eyes meet his nose.

Aldridge was in no mood to talk. He answered questions, but they were short, and offered with little thought. He said the loss and the end of the season were too fresh for him to reflect or put anything into perspective.

About the only smile I saw was surprisingly from Przybilla, who was stopped by Craig Sager and the TNT cameras on his way to the showers. He grinned when he told the cameraman to shoot only from the neck up. Przybilla was wearing only a towel.

For me, these are all surface memories, which I’m sure over the years will fade.

One moment, however, I’m sure I will remember. And it’s a moment I hope Blazers fans can take with them as they head into the offseason.

Like most of the powerful moments around this team, it involved Brandon Roy.

Roy finds his grind

As he dressed to get ready for his postgame press conference on the podium, Roy allowed me to have a private interview.

Our relationship during the playoffs had waned, as both the number of media and the demands on his time increased. Practices were now covered sometimes by upwards of 30 people. And after every game in the playoffs, Roy had performed so well that he was whisked out of the locker room and onto the podium.

Before games, with his concentration at an all-time high, Roy had come to sequester himself in private areas like the trainer’s room, or the video room.

Our one-on-one time – when we talk about the team, the games, or just life in general – had totally disappeared. So between Game 2 and Game 3, at a practice in Tualatin, I approached him and playfully re-introduced myself.

“I know,” he said. “Where you been?”

I told him I had been trying to give him his space.

“I appreciate that,” Roy said.

I think in his way of returning the favor after Game 6, he allowed me to sidle up to his locker even though the Blazers PR staff closely guarded him to prevent a group interview.

I told him that I thought he was a warrior. I don’t know how much the television broadcasts picked it up, but Roy hurt his left knee early in the game – on the third or fourth possession he said – and kept aggravating it throughout.

“It kept getting hit,” Roy said.

But he never let on, playing through the pain. There are three guys on this team who are especially tough when it comes to playing through injuries: Joel Przybilla, Steve Blake and Roy.

Privately, it has always been something Roy is proud of – his ability to play through pain – but he has never wanted to toot his horn about it. So I think of all the compliments he has received over the years, the ones he appreciates the most are when someone notices how tough, how rugged and how determined he is.

I worked myself around to the opening of his locker, so he could talk to me with his back to the rest of the room, which helps tell other reporters that the interview is private. If he faced the room, with his back to his locker, the other reporters would swarm around him.

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