And welcome back to the NBA Playoffs, Portland.
Before I go any furthur… The sky is not falling. It might be a little grayer than a few hours ago but it isn’t falling.
Was this a rough loss? Absolutely? Was a gut-wrencher? Yes. Uglier than Mel Gibson’s divorce and that singer that rocked Simon Cowell’s face off? Yep. It was like the hot-shot 8th grader who goes to high school, tries out for the basketball team and just gets absolutely rocked during tryouts. I liken tonight to the feeling of doom and gloom that seeped into Blazer fans sounds on opening night in LA. You remember, all the hype and hooplah and the Blazers got beat down. Well guess what…they ended up pretty ok. Let’s hope this is some deja vu. Last I checked the Rockets didn’t advance to the second round or get an extra win because of style points. Things will be ok, there is just a lot of work to be done. Generally speaking, Game 1’s tend to either answer all the questions you had coming in or open a bunch of new ones. Portland got a lot of answers and a lot of questions. There are three other home teams who lost their Game 1’s today. All three must go back to the drawing board. Trust me…a lot of basketball left to be played.
There is nothing that could have prepared anyone for what happened tonight. Nothing. The Houston Rockets put together an excellent 48 minutes and absolutely overwhelmed the Portland Trail Blazers tonight. There isn’t anyone who could argue that. No one saw this coming. Houston gave the Blazers their worst loss in the Rose Garden of the season. Honestly, I played the scenario of Houston stealing one of the first two in the Rose Garden in my head. I just didn’t think it would be like this. I figured a tough loss decided in the 4th quarter, not the worse home loss of the seasn. You have to tip your cap to the Rockets for their performance tonight. They came out on a mission and just took care of business all night. They played a physical game (their bully swag was on point), they were the aggressor and they came out and won a game they needed to win. It didn’t hurt that everything that needed to go their way, went their way. Yao Ming literally did not miss anything he threw at the rim tonight. The man channelled Wilt Chamberlain tonight people. I said he would be the greatest challenge of the series and he did not prove me wrong. I also said as Yao goes the Rockets go…and well…tonight the Rockets went. Every Houston starter played out of their mind. Aaron Brooks had 27 points and 5 three’s. I mean was he having flashbacks to playing under Ernie Kent? Did he think this was the Pape Jam? Good Ron Artest showed up with 17 to the tune of 7/12 shooting with great defense and decisions. Luis Scola had 19 points. All of this begs the question…could Houston have played any better than they did tonight?
I believe not. I don’t think Houston can play any better than they did tonight. Maybe it’s the homer in me screaming out needing something to believe in for this to be a series…but I really think this was Houston’s best shot. 58.5%? Aaron Brooks on fire? Yao Ming not missing? Ron Artest making great decisions? It just seems like the perfect storm. If Houston can continue to play like this or play better than this, then they honestly deserve to advance and they deserve to advance fast. I just don’t think they can. Is it unfortunate that it came at the expense of home-court advantage? Yes. But losing home-court is not the end of the world. Portland’s dug themsevles a hole but they haven’t buried themselves alive yet. There could be a silver-lining in all of this. The playoffs are all about adjustments and Portland has to make a lot of them to stay in this series. But the great thing is that there is a lot of basketball to be played. And while there was a major league beatdown, there were some encouraging signs tonight.
Encouraging was the fact that Houston struggled with the pick and roll and Roy was able to finish through Yao. Not over Yao (his floaters didn’t work) but through him. This could lead to foul trouble for Yao down the road. Greg Oden’s play was also very encouraging. Sure he took advantage of a 77 year old man but still, you had to be impressed by his beastiness. I was encouraged at our bench over their bench. Their bench production simply is not there, even in a blowout it wasn’t there. That’s one of the reasons I feel like thigns could even out because the starters cannot produce like that consistently game in and game out. Houston’s bench put up 14 points while Portland’s put up 38. When the starters come back down to earth, the battle of the benches will once agan become more important. There were some encouraging signs on defense. Early in the first quarter Houston was settling for jumpers while Portland was getting points in the paint. Portland has the ability to get Houston to settle offensively and they won’t be able to hit from the field like they did tonight. A lot of the shots felt like good defense from Portland but better offense from Houston. Joel played good D on Yao early…he made the shots. Blake kept Brooks in front…he made pullups. Artest made some tough shots. Scola had to make great post moves and made jumpers. Still encouraged by the fact that the D wasn’t absolutely leaking. I was also encouraged by the crowd. The majority of them stayed and cheered through an absolute beatdown. You go back to 2003 and I’m sure thousands would have left that team hanging at halftime.
(Although…what was up with cheering for Aaron Brooks during introductions? Really?? I don’t care if took a bunch of guys to the Elite 8, this is the Playoffs? Why are you cheering for him? Step the hate game up people.)
To the game…..Houston had three key stretches tonight that sealed the victory for them. The first was that unreal first quarter where they shot 75 percent from the field. It was just unbelievable how on fire they were in that first quarter. Yao Ming came out and could not miss, subtly setting the tone for his team. That 11-2 run was (to me) the difference in the quarter because Portland was right there with them after that. At one point they were shooting 80 percent from the field which is something a lot of people can’t do in a gym by themselves let alone with all the lights shining. The second stretch was the last 3 minutes of the 2nd quarter. The Blazers had cut the lead to 7 and in the blink of an eye Houston extended the lead to 18 at half time. The big turn was Channing Frye clanking a jumper and Ron Artest hitting a three on the other end which started the roll. It finally felt like the Blazers were going to at least be able to handle the Rockets best punch and keep it manageable, but no. Houston really did a number on Portland there. And the last was the beginning of the third quarter where Portland came out flat and Houston ended everything for sure. You take those away and Portland was right there with Houston. I know I’m reaching for something but it is the truth and it is what gives me hope for the rest of the series. If you read our Live!-Thoughts, you’ll see we never felt like the Rockets were just THAT much better than the Blazers until you looked at the scoreboard. Even when the lead was getting out of hand,it felt like a run was coming. That run never came. As a Blazer fan, you have to believe that when the Rockets come back down to earth that this can still be a series. And the Rockets will come back to earth.
The good news for Portland? They can’t go anywhere but up from here. Seriously, pick an area of basketball and it can’t get much worse for the red and black attack. Defensively, giving up 58% in your building is tough to swallow. Getting beasted on the boards 44-30 isn’t much better. Watching your opponent be the aggressor and march to the line 28 times while you get there 16 isn’t either. Offensively, shooting 41% from the field, 9% from behind the arc and getting two guys in double figures is…damn. The star players struggled and honestly outside of Brandon Roy and Greg Oden it seemed as if no one was ready for the post-season. There was a tentativeness and shyness that bled through my TV screen and I didn’t like it. There wasn’t enough of the ball movement that we have seen as of late. Guys seemed tentative about shooting and dribbline and generally doing anything with the ball. Does anyone remember when Rudy had the ball on the wing and held it, held it, held it, no one was open and he just shot a three? Exactly.
Let’s be brually honest here. If LaMarcus Aldridge continues to struggle like this it will be extremely tough for the Blazers to stay in this series. Look at his stats tonight: 3-for-12, 7 points and 3 rebounds in 30 minutes. That’s two less rebounds than Michael Ruffin had in 5 minutes. And what is even more discouraging is that he just was not sniffing the paint at all. Add that to not getting rebounds and not getting to the line. Everything seemed extra diffcult for him tonight and it was tough to watch him get beat up inside. He got to the line once when he attacked Yao Ming off a spin move. The same move that Luis Scola and co. simply absorbed and led to a fadeaway or a kickout. Simply put, LMA has got to make the adjustments and learn how to deal with the physical nature of his defenders, ASAP. If he doesn’t, Portland can’t win. Know this.
As well as Brandon Roy played, it came at a cost. 21 points but 23 shots and only one free throw. That’s also not going to get it done. The thing about Houston is they manage to lull Roy into taking a ton more shots than you realize. I thought he had a way more efficient game until I looked at the box score. Those are Rudy Gay type numbers right there. It’s an effective strategy, one that Portland loves to see happen to their opponents. Making Roy into a scorer instead of a scorer/facilitator is what you want to do. He’s Portland’s #1 playmaker and when he’s struggling to make plays for himself he’s generally struggling to make plays for others. That was well done by Houston. I don’t blame him for shooting…no one showed up to help him out. Travis Outlaw had 10 shots and 9 points. Rudy Fernandez and Steve Blake combined to go a super shy 3-for-9. When Channing Frye is shooting more than Rudy, you know something has gone wrong. Speaking of which, Sergio Rodriguez and Channing were cringe-inducing at all times when they were on the floor. Sergio’s decision-making was head-scratchng to put it nicely and Channing Frye never failed to look out of place. Harsh but true. As I stated before, nothing went Portland’s way.
Again it is time to stay positive though. To any of those who believe the season is over…you’re wrong. This series is far from over. On this day, 3 out of the 4 home teams lost Game 1’s. It happens in the playoffs. All tonight means is that Portland now HAS to win in Houston instead of liking to win in Houston. Think back to last year. Detroit dropped Game 1 to Philadelphia and won in 6. Houston lost both their home games and took it to 6 games (before falling). In 2007, Denver took Game 1 from San Antonio and ended up losing in 5. This season is far from over and too much has gone on to count this team out yet. You know the stat that ESPN loves to throw out, the Portland has won X games from behind in double digits. It tells a story. Portland has had a tremendous resiliency this season, there is a reason their longest losing streak was 3. They now know what to expect from the playoffs and will be ready. The adjustments will be put in place before Tuesday. That game is of course a must-win scenario.
Remember this night Blazer fans. And remember, it can only go up from here…
Tags: Aaron Brooks Blazers Blazers Rockets Game 1 Brandon Roy Channing Frye Greg Oden Houston Houston Rockets Joel Pryzbilla LaMarcus Aldridge Luis Scola Mel Gibson Michael Ruffin Nba First Round Portland Portland Trail Blazers Rockets Rockets Blazers Game 1 Ron Artest Rudy Fernandez Sergio Rodriguez Shane Battier Steve Blake Travis Outlaw Yao Ming