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One For The Books: Petrie Puts Blazers On The Map

Wayne Thompson, the original beat-writer for the Portland Trail Blazers takes the fans back to an important point in team history and brings that game back to life with his "One For The Books" articles, which go beyond the box score. This installment of "One For The Books" was taken from the September 2001 issue of Rip City Magazine where Wayne relives Geoff Petrie's offensive explosion against the Houston Rockets. Petrie's 51 stood tall as the franchise-record for points in a single game before being topped 32 years later by Damon Stoudamire. Without further ado, enjoy "Petrie Puts The Blazers On The Map"

By Wayne Thompson

All said and done, 1973 was not a very good year for the Blazers or the country. Richard Nixon was losing his grip on the nation’s top job in the wake of the Watergate scandal, while the Trail Blazers, in the wake of superior opposition, were losing 61 games.

Yet among Portland’s 21 wins that season were two remarkable performances by the very first Trail Blazer – Geoff Petrie. All he did was scorch the Houston Rockets for a club-record 51 points – not once, but twice.

No other Blazer in the 18 seasons since has equaled Petrie’s single-game scoring mark.

Arguably the finest long-distance jump shooter in the history of the franchise, Petrie, in those two games, connected on 38 of 63 field goals (60.3 percent) and 26 of 30 free throws.

To give you some perspective, when Furman’s Frank Selvy scored 100 points against Newberry College, Feb. 13, 1954, he connected on just 36 of 63 shots, but hit 28 of 32 free throws.

As the Blazer beat reporter for The Oregonian in 1973, I was one of the few people, other than Blazer players and coaches, to see both of Petrie’s record-breaking feats unfold.

Let me say this, aside from Selvy’s 100-point explosion against Newberry (I lived in South Carolina in 1954 and saw Selvy’s 100-point game), Petrie’s double-51s constituted the most sensational exhibition of pure jump shooting I’ve ever seen.

Geoff’s first 51 at Houston sparked a 130-115 Portland victory on Jan. 20 – the same day Nixon was inaugurated for a second term as president.

Less than two months later, March 16 in Portland, he did it again against those same Rockets, leading the Blazers to a 141-128 victory.

The first game, in retrospect, was a bit of a surprise in that an undermanned Blazer team was wrapping up a nine-game road trip and had lost seven straight games.

Petrie’s teammates Ollie Johnson and Larue Martin were fighting off the flu and Petrie himself said he was dead tired after traveling most of the day. (The Blazers had lost to the Milwaukee Bucks the night before, 108-105.)

“I’ve only slept for a couple of hours since last night’s upsetting loss,” Petrie confided as the Blazers touched down in Houston that Saturday noon.

In the warm ups before the game, though, Petrie said he felt “hot” – that his jumper seemed on target, “that the rims are looking pretty big to me.” Then he mused, “But that doesn’t always mean anything. One night I was hot in warm ups and missed my first eight shots.”

Well, it meant something on this Saturday night in Texas where tall strangers packing hardware have a colorful history.

Portland jumped all over Houston in the first quarter, with Petrie and Sidney Wicks scoring 12 points each to give the Blazers a 33-24 lead. By halftime, the Blazers were in total control, as Petrie had an all-time Portland record with 29 first-half points on 11 of 15 floor shooting and 7 of 7 free throws.

What made Geoff’s first-half performance so remarkable is that six of his field goals came on long-range bombs from at least 25 feet out. They would have been three-pointers today, but in 1973, only the American Basketball Association handed out extra points for distance shooting.

Indeed, had the three-point field goal rule been applied, Petrie’s point total that night most likely would have been 59. At least eight of his 19 field goals, I recall, were scored from very long range, though no one was measuring distances then.

Yet it wasn’t just Petrie’s jump-shooting that riddled Houston. The former Princeton star, then in his third pro season, scored on backdoor lay ups, on feeds from Larry Steele, Rick Adelman and Wicks, and on powerful drives to the hoop.

Jimmy Walker, the father of Indiana Pacers’ star Jalen Rose, was the victim of Petrie’s first half offensive splurge.

“I got a lot of my points off screens. I also went one-on-one more than I usually do because I felt I could beat Jimmy Walker whenever I wanted,” Petrie said afterwards.

“Walker didn’t pick me up too quickly so I got off some shots at the top of the key before he set up. And when they switched to Calvin Murphy, I simply shot over him.”

When the Rockets tried to make defensive adjustments on Petrie, the Blazers turned to Wicks.

The UCLA All-America used his 46-minute tune up for the league’s all-star game (to be played the following Tuesday in Chicago), to score a career-high 38 points. He connected on 15 of 22 flood shots, 8 of 9 free throws, hauled in 15 rebounds and doled out six assists.

Throughout the fourth quarter, Wicks was Houston’s worst nightmare.

He hit nine straight hoops in the second half, finally missing a short jumper as the game-ending buzzer sounded.

Together the duo of Petrie and Wicks accounted for 89 of Portland’s 130 points. As a combo, the Petrie-Wicks tandem was 34 of 57 from the floor and 21 of 23 on free throws – staggering numbers by basketball standards of any era or level.

In the final quarter, with the Blazers still in control, 102-88, Petrie passed his personal milestone – 46 points scored against Seattle in March of 1971. He did it on a 22-footer that put the Blazers up, 116-95. Moments later, Geoff scored his 48th and 49th points on a lay up, then came back in the last two minutes with a 16-footer to pass the 50-point mark, despite some aggressive double-teaming by the Rockets, especially from Mike Newlin, a solid NBA journeyman and native Oregonian.

Geoff left the game with 22 seconds left, having set the club record for points as well as for shot attempts (35). But contrary to some of the ribbing he took in the locker room, Petrie didn’t shoot the ball every time he touched it. Indeed, he had a team-high seven assists in the game.

This game is more than 28 years old as you read this, so just to refresh my memories I called Petrie, now the successful, award-winning GM of the Sacramento Kings, and asked him what he recalled about his performance.

“You’re kidding. What century are we talking about?” he laughed.

“The only thing I can remember about that game is that Mike Newlin said afterwards that I would never do it again against them.”

That brings us to March 16. The Rockets were in town, this time facing a disillusioned Blazer team that had lost six straight games and had won only 17 on the year.

Petrie’s overall performance in this one-sided rout of the Rockets was arguably better than the first one. He connected on 19 field goals again, but this time only needed 28 shots to get them. He added 13 of 16 free throws, four rebounds, five assists and two steals in 40 minutes.

Like the earlier game against the Rockets, Wicks also produced monster statistics – 33 points, 8 rebounds, a game-high 11 assists in 39 minutes.

Petrie and Wicks combined for 84 points this time.

The same Mike Newlin who predicted that Petrie would not repeat his career game against the Rockets was assigned the job of stopping him.

So much for boasts. In the Houston locker room, a disheartened Newlin, his homecoming spoiled, gave Petrie his dues: “He was uncanny. I don’t even pretend that I can stop a great shooter like Geoff cold.”

Perhaps Newlin did get some consolation: Petrie’s last floor shot and free throw fell short of the rim, and Geoff retired from the game with just another 51 points for the books.

When Blazer Coach Jack McCloskey took Petrie out of the game with 1:46 to go, the majority of the 7,456 Blazer fans at Memorial Coliseum, sensing another record, started booing. McCloskey ignored their pleas, but he did ask Petrie if he was interested in breaking his own record. “He said he wasn’t and I really don’t think he was,” McCloskey said at the time.

Petrie still doesn’t care about it today. As the chief architect of one of the NBA’s 21st century championship contenders, he takes the view that breaking a single-game scoring record for a team that finished in last place last century isn’t exactly a career-crowning achievement.

But he isn’t ashamed of it either.
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