The Trail Blazers have no real persona. They entered the 2014 playoffs nice guys with great chemistry, guys who joke around and seem to genuinely like each other. They are polite and unselfish, with cute nicknames like âL-Train,â and âRolo.â Their coach isnât one of the coaches people might recognize on the street like Pat Riley or Phil Jackson. But Terry Stotts seems to be working hard and getting results from his young team. They donât blame their teammates for disappointing losses, and come across as neither greedy nor privileged. They are self-proclaimed underdogs from an unassuming, pleasant city.
All that was on display Sunday night, as the Blazers closed-out opening weekend of the NBA playoffs by winning a mucky dogfight against the Houston Rockets.
Entering the series, basketball commentators and writers make their predictions: this will be a high scoring, offense-oriented battle. And although the Blazers and the Rockets have essentially the same regular season record, most picked the Rockets to beat the Blazers in five or six games and advance to the second round. The story the national media is most interested in is Dwight Howard and James Harden, and whether they can carry a team to a championship.
However, on Sunday evening, the dominant player wasn't a Rockets superstar. The all-star of that messy and poorly officiated affair was Blazers power forward LaMarcus Aldridge. He had a career night, setting a franchise postseason record with 46 points, 18 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 blocks and even two 3's.
The Rockets have no answer for Aldridge. He looks like the same player we've seen for a few years, but more aggressive and more intense. He put on a clinic, joining elites like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James on the extremely small list of players delivering a 45-point/15-rebound playoff performance.
And yet the TNT post-game coverage focused primarily on Houston's marquee players. If you'd been watching with the sound off, you might think Houston the victor. The Inside the NBA crew can't seem to take Portland's humble, unassuming players very seriously. The highlights were primarily of Houston. Harden makes a three. Dwight gets the rebound and slams a commanding put-back. Patrick Beverley skips down the sideline after receiving a flagrant foul. Aldridge, Lillard and Matthews each receive a little screen time, but most of the TNT post game show talks about the Houston Rockets.
But for Portland fans who've followed this Blazers team, the lack of ego and flash is a source of pride. We might not appreciate Shaquille O'Neal referring to Robin Lopez as "barbecue chicken," but the fact that Aldridge and Lillard are the first teammates to score 45 and 30 in a playoff game since Jordan and Pippen in 1992 reaffirms our faith in this team.
Most importantly: with a win in Houston, the Blazers steal home court advantage. Keep winning, and those commentators will have no choice but to either find or project a persona on this team.