Four games into the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs, the matchup against the Houston Rockets became everything the Portland Trail Blazers had hoped it wouldn't be. But facing elimination, the team was once again led by another unholy Brandon Roy scoring binge—in which Portland's lone superstar battled the flu, got hooked up to an IV and pumped full of fluid, and then proceeded to knock back 14 points in the final 12 minutes of the game—and Portland toppled Houston 88-77, extending their season (at least for a few more days).
The Rockets are the only team to defeat the Blazers in over a month, yet Portland will still have to struggle to erase an April filled with enough horrific imagery to scar this impressionable young team for a long time to come: Luis Scola gently brushing his filthy locks after foiling another LaMarcus Aldridge jumpshot. A face full of sand to the scrawny weaklings in Portland uniforms, courtesy of Ron Artest (who, with a beefcake muscular flex, channeled his inner Charles Atlas for the national television audience). Greg Oden, stumbling into the knee of Dikembe Mutombo, unceremoniously extinguishing the career of the league's goodwill ambassador. And, of course, Yao Ming, resembling a nightmarish, laboratory-created super athlete—the Serpentor of the modern-day People's Republic of China, but with a jumpshot. When the Rockets topped the Blazers, it was a victory not merely on the scoreboard, but an emotionally jarring experience—a "Using this doll, please show the courtroom where they hurt you" moment—that Portland won't soon escape.
Now, the Blazers will don their finest bolo ties and head back to Texas, down in the series 3-2, to play a Rockets team that they have yet to defeat on their home court. The Blazers' two previous playoff losses in Houston weren't necessarily the fault of inept, last-second bed-shitting courtesy of Steve Blake (Game Three) and Travis Outlaw (Game Four), nor were they due to a noticeable foul disparity (after four games, Houston had seen 27 more free-throw attempts than Portland). It was just that the Rockets played the role of the tougher team.
That role was reversed on Tuesday, when LaMarcus Aldridge's jumpshot made its glorious return, previously absent due to a case of brickatosis—a pandemic that seems to have infected every Blazers player not named "Brandon Roy" or "Rudy Fernandez." It still might not be enough. When down three games to one, Portland was on the losing end of simple mathematics: teams who faced a similar playoff deficit have only rallied to win their series 4.4 percent of the time. But now, down a single game—yet still on the cusp of elimination—Portland at least has a fighting chance this Thursday in Houston. If they somehow find a way to win there, it's back to Portland this Saturday night.
As Coach Nate McMillan explained, following Game Five, "They didn't want the season to end." Neither do we.