In September of 1989 I moved to Portland having never attended a professional basketball game. That changed quickly. The Trail Blazers were amazing that year, making it all the way to the NBA finals. It was impossible not to get caught up in the excitement of their incredible season. Clyde Drexler, Terry Porter, Buck, Duckworth, Jerome Kersey—I lined the walls of the basement practice space with their photos. As I flourished in my new community, I learned what it meant to love the Blazers and to feel pride in my city. And it certainly was easy to root for a team that won like Portland did those next few years.
I became attached to the players; to their coach, Rick Adelman; to their kinetic, team-oriented, underdog style. But as good as they were, they didn't win a championship.
There were many disappointments in the seasons that followed. Questionable coaching, dubious front office decisions, injuries, heart-wrenching losses, countless fourth quarter leads squandered. The team I relied upon for great basketball became unreliable. I still loved the Blazers, but my faith was shaken. I wouldn't allow myself to expect too much.
All that changed last night.
I have been waiting a long time for a sign that the Blazers could again be seriously competitive on the big stage, as they were with a 112-105 victory in Houston, their second straight on the road. LaMarcus Aldridge with his consecutive 40-plus point outings and next-level playoff swagger was that sign. Portland's play was steady and unflappable, and it came under postseason pressure on the road. Smart, poised, confident, relaxed—the guys looked like veteran players on a summer stroll.
Houston Rockets star Dwight Howard came out in monstrous fashion. He made his first six attempts and most of those were powerful jams. Have you seen Howard's shoulders? The guy is scary when he plays as aggressive as he did in the first half. But the rest of the Rockets stood around watching (including the Beard) as the Blazers calmly answered, one basket after another.
When a towering guy stuffs it big time, it is a sight to behold. And although Aldridge's dependable mid-range jumper might not be as rousing as a hard dunk, a basket is a basket, and L.A.'s kept falling. I allowed myself to be hopeful. Could the Blazers really steal Game 2? I pumped my fists in the air.
LaMarcus, with his even-tempered, fluid, smooth style, kept pace with 12 of Dwight Howard's most explosive minutes. And with determined play by Damian Lillard—and a huge night from the least productive bench in the league—Portland's second half never let up. The Blazers looked as good as any other team in the playoffs. I felt my heart swell as the starters held off a late Rockets surge.
I felt proud watching the young Blazers mature before my eyes in their second straight playoff win. For the first time in a long time, I could count on my team. For the first time in a long time, I allowed myself to hope. And with a whole city of Blazer fans believing the rest of the series will follow this script, Friday's home game in the Moda Center is going to be like the early '90s all over again.