After the Rockets won the tip they went inside to Yao Ming for a short lay-up attempt. Somehow, someway, Joel "The Thrilla" Przybilla blocked it. A quick outlet pass, a streaking LaMarcus Aldrdige, and the Blazers were ahead 2-0 on that most rare of plays; a Blazer fast break. It was excellent and entertaining.
Even more entertaining was the next Houston possession; they went to Tracy McGrady against Rookie Nicolas "Boom Boom" Batum who forced McGrady into a tough shot. At the other end, the Blazers went inside to Aldridge who hit a beautiful post-up move to give Portland a 4-0 lead and set the tone for the night.
The first half was about Aldrdge and Batum. Aldridge could not be stopped on those occasions Portland remembered they had him on the floor. Meanwhile, Batum completely stifled McGrady. That was key because at the other end, Ron Artest was putting to rest recent rumors he was "washed up" as a lock-down wing defender.
He put the clamps on Brandon Roy almost completely. It was a terrible, terrible half for the Natural as he turned the ball over, threw up awkward, low-percentage shots, and just generally looked completely out of sorts.
Fortunately for the Blazers, they got huge contributions from Travis Outlaw, Rudy Fernandez, and even a few points from Batum. Defensively, they were doing a great job. Artest and McGrady were non-factors for the first half offensively and if not for Luis Scola, the game might have been out of hand.
Portland looked dominant almost everywhere; they had a 10+ rebound advantage, more blocked shots, more steals, better shooting percentage...they just struggled with turnovers and free throws as the line kept Houston not only in the game but in great shape, trailing just 52-51 at the break.
The second half was a different story. Early, Batum was doing a nice job on McGrady and when Outlaw was put on him, McGrady hit a couple easy buckets to get going. When Batum returned, McGrady was in a rhythm and the early-game shut-down was over. For the rest of the night McGrady would terrorize the Blazers.
Still, Portland led most of the second half, usually in the 5-7 point range. Early in the 4th quarter they took their biggest lead of the game, 10, with just less than 10 minutes left. A quick 5-0 Houston surge had Portland reeling and it would be a dogfight.
That highlights one of the early-season struggles for Portland. They are not closing out games. They had excellent chances to win in both Phoenix and Utah but gave back second half leads both times. This team needs to find the killer instinct.
They need to go to what works; feed Aldridge until he is stopped instead of perimeter passing and against the clock off-balance heaves. They do not yet have the great 4th quarter intellect or killer instinct.
So when Houston tied it at 90, things looked bleak.
Artest finished a miserable regular session for Roy by stripping him as he went up for a shot and the ensuing Roy kick-ball gave the Rockets one last shot in regulation.
The first overtime had Portland fans nervous. Suddenly, they were struggling not just to score but to even get reasonable looks at the basket while giving up dunks to Carl Landry.
When Aldridge missed two free throws in a tie-game, many of the faithful started leaving the building. "Best fans in the League" indeed. Stay true, you weasels. Stick it out to the end.
McGrady capped what was ultimately a 30-point effort to give the Rockets a 2 point lead. But Aldridge came back to hit two pressure free throws to tie it. When McGrady was forced into a low-percentage shot, it seemed Portland would have a chance to win it.
Roy dribbled into a double team, took a turn-around fall-away jumper from a weird angle in an area of the floor he seldom works from. At that point, he was 4-16 from the field. It was not the shot we wanted to see...until it tickled the twine with 1.9 seconds left. Game over!
Well, not really...Houston inbounded from mid-court. Inexcusably, Portland let them make as perfect an entry pass to the post as you will ever see. Ming went to shoot a turn-around and Roy gave him a love-tap across the arms. Clearly a foul, but a soft one...and Ming hit the shot and free throw. Groan! Eight-tenths of a second left and now Portland is down 1.
The inbound went to Roy way outside the three-line, he turned, gathered, shot...nothing but net. Unbelievable! The place went nuts. We were slapping fives, hugging, maybe a kiss or two. What a finish!
And this was big not just for the finish, but because it was a game Portland HAD to have. They were 1-3. Sure, all five teams they faced at first won 54+ games last year and were in the playoffs. Sure, three of those games were on the road.
But this Portland team, even without Oden, is that good. .500 with that schedule will be acceptable (after they beat Minnesota Saturday, which they will by double digits). It shows this team is ready to compete. They held serve, winning the home games. They played tough on the road.
It would have been nice to get Utah without Deron Williams, but as the League is discovering, Utah is a pretty good team even without him. Would they win 50 without him? Probably not. But they still have plenty of talent, and thinking "no Williams = no chance to win" is just foolish.
Portland was one of six teams that took their shot and missed it. No shame there.
I was nervous prior to the season. If Portland could finish .500 after 6 games, I believed and still do that they will win about 53 games this season based on the schedule, their talent, and their expectations.
That last trey by Roy might mean a 5 or 6 game difference by the end of the season because had he missed, Portland probably wins no more than 46 or 47 games. Confidence means that much.
In closing, I have a new mission in life. In light of Przybilla's nickname "the Thrilla", I have begun doing the little Thrilla dance every time he blocks a shot or scores on a dunk. I encourage all Blazer fans to do likewise. That means you...