Lion Face/Lemon Face 12.17.09: JERRYD BAYLESS JUST HAPPENED EDITION

Ben, Matt, if you please.

Lion Face: WHO DO YOU THINK MORTAL? ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED? ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!!!

I tend to run more on the negative these days than the positive. With the franchise I despise more than any other with a lockdown on the title for the next two years, it’s hard to get moved, especially in a world where those feelings are so often expressed quickly and eloquently by better writers than I on these here blogospheres. Not having a team, I usually take a backseat to the team’s writers. And while I’m very happy for Blazers fans after everything they’ve gone through this season, I’m going to take this one. I loved Bayless pre-draft, and then I saw him in Summer League and it was one of those moments that stick with you. His performance was revolutionary. And so to hear Nate say after the game that he was going to have to learn to play point, was infuriating. But that was nothing compared to watching him rot on the bench, never allowed to work past his challenges, to develop past his limits. I couldn’t believe he could be that obtuse.

Trying to make Bayless into a pure point is like trying to use a switchblade to scoop ice cream. But tonight, finally, Jerryd Bayless arrived. And there was fire.

When Bayless had two turnovers in the 2nd quarter after a strong start, I expected Nate McMillan to send him back to the dungeon. But Nate stuck with him. Whether it was Andre Miller’s inability to do any of the things they paid him to do that he has yet to do this season, a gut feeling, or the Ghost of squandered talent past, Nate stuck with him. And it paid off.

Bayless used his inside-outside game on offense to feed the other. So he was taking corner three-pointers directly off the pass from Roy (who the Suns were packing the lane against), and not thinking about it. Just release. And it fell. Praise be, it finally fell. That gave him the confidence to attack the rim, which he did, relentlessly. You have to foul him. He’s too fast not to foul. Throw in a few easy buckets, and one absolutely sick reverse off a Roy feed to the baseline, and you’ve got yourself a career high. He was dialed in. He was swarming to the ball on defense, snaking in and swiping as he followed through on assignments, and communicating with his team.

After a big three late, the kid let out a roar. The kind of raw emotion that people say you don’t find in the NBA. It was about a year and a half of being held under water. It was about finally proving he belonged here like he said he did. It was raw, it was honest, and I had already jumped out of my chair and was yelling with him.

I’m a writer, so I’m of course bent to the dramatic. But on a night where the focus was on the absence of their star lottery pick and when the center they buried like they had been doing to Bayless torched them from outside, it was deeply poetic to see Bayless be the star on this game, to deliver the victory by playing his game. He managed to find a way to work alongside his teammates, even feeding them after a few choice under-basket loop-probes (a la Steve Nash). He was a complement to Brandon, not a competitor, nor a counter. And when he missed the game-clinching first free throw at the end of the game, his teammates were there to rub his head and tell him not to worry about it, even though Bayless was killing himself for it anyway. That’s important. He’d just had the best game of his life, and was still livid he missed that free throw.

Maybe it was just one night, maybe this is all he gets. But his ability to attack, to fight, to kill isn’t something that drifts. It’s a quality that you have to encourage and harness. If given the opportunity, he can do those things. Jerryd Bayless needs to start. But until then, I’m willing to just be thrilled that for a night, he had arrived.

Matt Moore

Matt Moore is a Senior NBA Blogger for CBSSports.com's Eye on Basketball blog, weekend editor of Pro Basketball Talk on NBCSports.com, and co-editor of Voice on the Floor. He lives in Kansas City due to an unbelievably complex set of circumstances and enjoys mid-90's pop rock, long walks on the beach and the novels of Tim Sandlin.