#1 Bill Walton vs. #4 Kiki Vandeweghe
No. 32 Bill Walton | Center | 6-11 | 225 lbs
Career Stats As A Trail Blazer:
33.7 mpg, 17.1 ppg, 13.5 rpg, 4.4 apg, 1.0 spg, 2.6 bpg, .510 FG %, .674 FT %
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One For The Books: The Forgotten Playoff Series - By Wayne Thompson
When all was said and written of Portland's 1977 dream season, its first round playoff conquest of the Bulls, arguably, was a defining moment on its journey to the championship.
"Our playoff run was full of shining moments," recalled league MVP Bill Walton. "But in some ways you could say Chicago was our toughest obstacle."
Chicago Coach Ed Badger predicted that Portland would beat Denver and go on to win the Western Conference title over either the Los Angeles Lakers or Golden State Warriors, the other semifinalists.
"They (the Blazers) are at the top of their game," Badger said. "I think we were the only team in the conference that could beat them." Blazer players didn't disagree with that assessment. The Bulls had a distinct rebound advantage in all three games (137 to 101) and thus they were able to neutralize Portland's major offensive weapon -- the fast break.
Walton's 17 points and 11 rebounds were solid numbers against the taller Gilmore, who, for the second time in the series, had trouble getting open for his strong post-up game.
"We had a distinct size advantage with Artis against Walton, but we just couldn't get the ball to him because of their aggressive double team and Walton's skill in fronting him," Badger said.
It's not often that Bill Walton would be on the other end of a size advantage, but that was exactly the case when the Trail Blazers went up against Artis Gilmore and the Chicago Bulls. Giving up three inches and 30 pounds, Walton still found a way to assert his dominance on the series. And while Gilmore reached his seasonal averages of 18 points and 13 rebounds in the three-game set versus Portland, Walton made him work for every inch he got. Had it not been for his phenomenal ability to front the taller Gilmore, who knows what numbers he would have put up. But Bill Walton was much more than a scorer or rebounder. His post-defense suffocated Gilmore, holding him to only 40 field goal attempts, and a .475 shooting percentage for Gilmore -- five percent lower than his 77 season average.
Despite only playing an average of 52 games over his four-year stint in Portland, Walton is still -- easily -- the greatest center to ever don a Trail Blazers uniform. His performance during the 1977 title run is nothing short of legendary. So while the career stats don't measure up to other members of the Trail Blazers fraternity, look no further than his battles with Artis Gilmore, Dan Issel, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Caldwell Jones to see just how special a talent Big Red was. Although the collection of players in 1977 fit together like a perfectly constructed puzzle, there's no doubt Portland doesn't get out of the first round without the big man in the middle.
"What more can I say about that guy? The leader of that championship team. Made everybody else on that team much better. He could do it all. And that team, was a team."
Photo Gallery: Bill Walton Through The Years
No. 55 Kiki Vandeweghe | Forward | 6-8 | 220 lbs
Career Stats As A Trail Blazer:
34.1 mpg, 23.5 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.2 apg, 0.6 spg, 0.2 bpg, .526 FG%, .408 3PT%, .881 FT%
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One For The Books: Opening Night The Vande"way" - By Wayne Thompson
Against the Kings, The Trade looked like a million dollars. Vandeweghe made 19 of 23 shots from the floor on his way to 47 points in just 38 minutes of playing time as Portland demolished the Kings, 140-119.
"I've never seen anybody get 47 points easier than he did," said Portland Coach Jack Ramsay. "It was kike there was nobody playing him. Part of it was his ability to get open and part of it was the ability of our other players to get him the ball."
Ramsay, of course, was gratified that everything was working out as planned after The Trade was made. "This is what we all envisioned," he said. "Not 47 points, of course. But he (Kiki) is very hard to play against."
With 8:28 to play though, the Kings cut Portland's lead to 107-103, with Vandeweghe resting on the bench. As soon as Ramsay put him back on the floor, the Kings' hopes faded, as Kiki scored his final 13 points down the stretch, propelling the Portland route.
"He's an offensive machine," said Paxson, taking note of that fact that Vandeweghe's 47 points were still five short of his personal high of 52. "He runs better than most forwards and you have to respect his outside shot. He's going to open things up for the rest of us." Valentine was awe-struck. "He makes the game so simple, it's primitive. He's so tough to defend."
His days as a Blazer could not be called a disappointment, yet that very first game in Kansas City, Oct. 27, 1984 -- one brimming with promise of greater things to come -- turned out to be his shining hour.
When Kiki was on, it was over for the opposition. Forget about trying to guard him. Prayer was the only option for the defender when he was dialed in. Whether it was his patented jump shot or strong moves to the rim, games like his opening night performance in Kansas City were a dime a dozen. As Jim Paxson would say, "He's an offensive machine."
Fortunately for the rest of the NBA, there was only one basketball to go around and the Blazers had a lot of hungry scorers. Clyde Drexler, Jim Paxson, Mychal Thompson and Vandeweghe himself all needed to eat to get their games in rhythm. Even though Coach Jack Ramsay's offense was predicated on motion and moving without the ball, when the core group of players have the same specialty it can create an unbalanced roster, which could be why the Vandeweghe experiment didn't turn out as well as Blazers brass had hoped when they pulled the trigger on The Trade.
"There's another guy who could flat out score. And when he had the ball, he'd shoot it every time. But he made one heck of a career. And Kiki was loved by all."
Photo Gallery: Kiki Vandeweghe Through The Years
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Bracket: The Greatest Trail Blazer Of All-Time