It seemed like such an ideal situation: The Portland Trail Blazers waltzed into the post-season as one of the hottest teams in the NBA, with a first-round home-court advantage neatly tucked away. They never lose at home. Their opponents, the Houston Rockets, lost their best player (Tracy McGrady) months back, and hinged their franchise's future on an often-injured, monolithic creature named Yao Ming. While their defense was structurally sound, Houston had not advanced in the playoffs since Nicolas Batum was a nine-year-old enfant back in France. (That was back in 1997, when that Rockets team was still sporting championship rings and a lineup of future Hall of Famers: Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, and onetime Blazer Clyde Drexler.)
So what in the holy hell happened? Last Saturday night's playoff party didn't quite go as planned for the Blazers. The "Rip City Uprising" was instead a downward spiral, courtesy of an uptight home team wallowing in their own inexperience and a bruising Rockets lineup that bullied the Blazers at will, polishing grit with a graceful precision. The Blazers' resident knuckle-swinger, Joel Przybilla—who was quoted delivering the unfortunate boast, "I want Yao, I want that on my shoulders"—got his wish, and felt all 310 pounds of Yao Ming throughout the night. It was a Tiananmen Square massacre in the paint, as Przybilla's mangled remains were all that was left in the tank treads, and the Blazers crossed paths with a player of such pure dominance that he failed to miss a shot all evening long. The final score was 108-81, but it wasn't nearly that close.
Faced with the stark realization that Tuesday's contest could very well mark the final home game of the 2008-09 season, the Blazers came out inspired for the second meeting of this best-of-seven series. An intricate war of attrition where neither team established any long-term dominance was eventually won when Brandon Roy went nuclear. Dropping a remarkable 42 points (he tied Clyde Drexler for the second-highest points in franchise playoff history) against a team not known for letting anyone score with ease, Roy was simply the best player on the hardwood, and the Blazers defeated the Rockets, 107 to 103.
This week's pair of games in Houston are almost certainly going to be defeats for Portland, but as an exhausted Nate McMillan put it following game two, "I feel like the teams are evenly matched. We have a shot." That shot means the Blazers will be coming home next Tuesday, extending this fairytale season for (at least) one more week.
Tune in as Ezra liveblogs the playoffs at blogtown.portlandmercury.com