I was looking for the right word to describe the first Blazer playoff game in six years. Destruction? Annihilation? Crushing? Ah, wait...I have it. Humiliation.
Make no mistake, Houston
came out and pummeled the Blazers beyond all recognition. They started with a punch in the mouth. When Portland
got up Houston got serious.
They started the renewed assault with a kick in the groin followed by another punch in the mouth and then, as the Blazers lay there bleeding, they dropped a few elbows and followed those up with a piledriver that put the Blazers through the floor.
They then started to walk away before returning to kick the prone body once more for just one measure.
The Blazers, for the first time since the first game of the season when they Lakers
humiliated them in similar fashion, looked young, inexperienced, and unprepared. They also looked like a team that felt they had accomplished all their goals just by making the playoffs.
The Rockets, by contrast, for the first time in recent playoff memory, looked like a team that not only wanted to make the playoffs, they wanted to get out of the first round.
It all started on the first Blazer possession. LaMarcus Aldridge posted up Luis Scola on his strong side, the low left block. This allows him to either spin baseline or come across the lane with a sweeping hook that is pretty tough to defend.
Unless, of course, you are 7'6", come off your man and swat it away as Yao Ming did. He executed a shot block so spectacular and intimidating it took Aldridge out of the game for the rest of the half and part of the third quarter. By the time Aldridge recovered, it was too late as the game was out of reach.
It was not only Aldridge who struggled, though. Early on it looked like Nicolas Batum might be a force. He ball-faked on the perimeter, drove baseline and hammered home a dunk. That opened things up. Brandon Roy started driving aggressively to the hoop and scoring regularly.
Unfortunately, that would be the last points for Batum, no other Blazer was scoring, and Houston started collapsing on Roy every trip inside and he stopped shooting.
Meanwhile, Houston went inside to Ming early and often and he delivered. Barring injury or a precipitous fall-off in talent level, Ming will be in the Hall of Fame some day and in this game it looked like that day should be now.
His 9-for-9 shooting in the game (all in the first half) was more than enough to put the Blazers in a hole too deep to ever climb out of.
The good news is there are perhaps two Blazers who did not have the worst games they will have in the entire series. Those two were Greg Oden and Brandon Roy, though Roy is unlikely to play that poorly either.
Oden did what you are supposed to do against shot blockers. He used ball fakes to get them in the air and scored virtually at will. Roy also scored well. But they were nowhere near enough in light of the team approach taken by the Rockets.
Aaron Brooks was every bit as demoralizing to the Blazers in the second half as Ming was in the first and go plenty of help from Ron Artest.
At some point in the third quarter the fans decided this was the fault of the refs. Admittedly there were a few rather questionable calls, such as Roy fouling the air three feet behind Shane Battier and Battier going to the line for three free throws. Problem was...that had no effect on the outcome.
Had the Blazers benefited from every call they would have still lost by 20. They did not get hosed in this game.
True, they outscored Houston in the paint by 24 points (56-32) yet were out shot at the free throw line by 12.
However, that had more to do with Houston's defensive prowess than it did any brutal refereeing hatchet job as the fans seemed to believe with their recurring, "These refs suck!" chants that threatened to rival the boos they lavished on Darius Miles when he returned with the Memphis Grizzlies
That was partially fan disappointment at watching their team get absolutely drilled by a team that, on this night, was simply better.
Post-game comments by the players acknowledged as much. Ming talked about how the Blazers looked the way he had felt after his first playoff game. Roy talked about how many Blazers succumbed to the pressure, did not take the shots they normally take, and how little energy they played.
The good news for the Blazers is three fold. First, this was just one game. Yes, they lost a home game, but that was likely to happen at some point in the playoffs. They are quite likely to win one in Houston, thus recapturing the home court advantage.
Second, outside of Greg Oden (who may miss the next game) and Roy, every player had what will probably end up being his worst game.
Third, the entire Rocket starting line-up had unbelievable games. Ming did not miss a shot of any kind. Luis Scola shot an improbable 7-9 and added eight rebounds. Aaron Brooks had 5-8 from beyond the arc and 10-17 total. Ron Artest was a solid 7-12.
In any given game you might see one of them repeat that, but it is unlikely they can repeat it as a group over the course of the series.
Sure, it was disappointing and discouraging, but it was also just one game. The Blazers have the right coach and players to recognize this and deal with it. Watch for the Blazers to come out more focused, relaxed, and ready for game two.
Look for Aldridge to come out strong as he generally does after a poor outing. He will come out focused and ready and not allow himself to be taken out of his game again. Roy typically makes a point of establishing himself early in must-win games, which game two unquestioningly is.
When those two are on their games, the Blazers are very, very tough to beat. Game two will be a nice bounce back, and after the Blazers take either game three or four in Houston, it will help us see that, though disappointing, the loss was just a bad start to a good run. It will start with a game two win.
It is unlikely to be a blow-out and indeed is quite likely to come down to the final few minutes, but they got their stinker out of the way early and are now ready and primed for a long playoff run. Much as the situations with the Spurs
, and so forth, the series is just getting started.
In a seven game series, the better team generally wins. This series should be no different. Houston has a very good team that can win any game but the Blazers, as this series will bear out by the end, should prove to be better.