Six years ago. That's the last time I was sitting in this arena—in a slightly different circumstance—getting ready to watch the Blazers play the Mavs in game 6 of the NBA playoffs. I remember showing up early with my friends from high school. I was probably wearing my Bonzi Wells shirt. But dang, it was nothing like this. It's 15 minutes before the start of the Blazers first playoff game since 2003, and the entire arena is packed, loud, and decked out in red. It's a pretty amazing sight. If you didn't realize it already, Blazermania is officially back. The bouncy castle outside the Rose Garden certainly tells you, but so does the amount of attention even casual fans are paying to this team. On the MAX ride over, cars where driving by, honking and shouting "Rise Up!" When I walked to the corner market this morning to pick up some eggs the cashier asked me if I was watching the game.
I'm also not going to lie that I'm nervous. It's been said here and all over the internet, but Houston is just a bad matchup for this team. From Yao Ming (I mean just look at the picture, he's twice as tall as your average human) in the middle to lightning-quick former Duck Aaron Brooks, the Rockets have some favorable matchups. They're also one of the most physical, grind it out teams in the league, and you know Ron Artest is going to be bumping, grabbing, and scrapping at Brandon Roy all night. My key to the game: Rudy Fernandez. The Blazers are going to need his shooting and scoring off the bench, but even more than that, it's his infectious energy and spark that'll have to come through.
Also, I walked in on a press conference with NBA commissioner David Stern before the game. I can't believe I'm actually typing this.
Holy shit it's L-O-U-D. I've never seen the crowd so riled up for a game before. And that's why homecourt advantage is so important. This is playoff basketball.
79% of teams that take the first game in the series go on to win the series. So yeah, this is an important game.
11:36 - Yao wins the jump, but come on, he should even be allowed to participate. He doesn't even have to jump. He also hits the first shot to put the Rockets ahead 2-0.
11:01 - Yao hits on a backdown drive through the lane and draws a foul on Przybilla. I think it goes without saying that the Blazers are in big trouble if Przybill/Oden get in foul trouble.
10:07 - Yao Ming 7, Blazers 0. Not a good start.
9:25 - Three minutes into the game and the refs are really letting both teams get away with a lot of shoving and physical play. Blake's three misses as he falls to the ground without a whistle.
8:38 - Yao scores again. How do you say "shit" in Chinese? The Blazers look really tight so far, which isn't that much of a surprise considering their youth and how much is riding on this game and series. Yao averaged 16.3 points in three games against the Blazers this season, and in a little less than four minutes he already has 9 points. The one time the Blazers doubled him, he found Aaron Brooks for an open jumper. Yikes.
Everybody talks about the curse of Tracy McGrady, but maybe it's actually the curse of Yao. Remember, he's also never made it out of the first round.
7:11 - Roy scores his second bucket in a row, and it looks like he's figuring out Artest and Battier's defense just a bit. Yao scores again and draws a foul. At this point he's on pace to break Wilt Chamberlin's record 100 points in a game.
5:58 - Batum drives right around Battier for a dunk. Take that, stat geeks!
5:09 - Artest backs down the Young Frenchman and gets another three point play. The Blazers have had a lot of cheap reach in fouls so far.
4:13 - Steve Blake—another key to the game—hits a shot to cut the Rockets lead to five, but then Artest hits a three. So much for a low scoring game, because this one's a shootout so far.
2:03 - The Rockets are shooting 81 PERCENT from the field so far. That's not a typo. At some point Nate's going to have to figure out whether to double Yao everytime he touches the ball or play him straight up. It's a tough quandry, especially when you've got a team of outside shooters who can't miss. The Rockets just have more energy so far. Umm, dare I say it's Rudy time?
1:50 - Blake hits a huge three out of the timeout. Dikembe Mutombo is in the game for Yao, and even though he's something like 56 years old he still looks younger than Oden.
0:47 - Brooks slices through the Blazers defense and it's just wayyyy too easy for the Rockets at this point. 34 points is a lot in a quarter for any team, especially sone with such a half-court centered game.
Story of the first quarter: The Blazers can't buy a bucket and Houston is hotter than Rudy Fernandez's girlfriend, shooting an unbelievable 75 percent. The Blazers are at 44 percent. There's no way they can keep that up, so that's one thing to look forward to.
11:11 - Oden backs down Mt. Mutombo and hits a great little jump hook. If Oden can stay out of foul trouble (again, a big if) he could be huge in this series. Rockets still ahead 38-26.
9:20 - Outlaw his a jumper on his go-to move (toss him the ball, jab step, jab step, jump over the defender for a 17 footer) but the Blazers offense just looks terrible. Not ball movement, and everyone is just standing around waiting for something to happen. If Rudy looks pretty docile. Maybe they got a little too pumped up before the game. The Rockets are still shooting 73 percent from the floor and still have a 12 point lead.
Rebecca Haarlow is interviewing David Stern on the sidelines. We've got TVs here in the extra fancy press section (they actually had to rope off three rows just for the press with all the international writers here), and the dialogue is muted, but I can still imagine how this is going. "So, you've been the commissioner for a long
time, right?" I'm a horrible person.
7:44 - Oden gets tagged for a questionable foul on Yao, and the Blazers are already in the penalty. Ugh.
7:07 - Finally, someone takes it right into Yao. Twice already Roy has beaten his man off the dribble only to shot a floater over him, but Rudy goest chest-to-chest, hits the bank shot and draws a second foul on Yao. The crowd's back into it
6:51 - CENTER FOUL WATCH: Two on Oden, Przybilla and Yao. Watch out for this as the game goes on, because L-Train and Channing have no business guarding The Chairmen.
One thing has bugged me about the Blazers whole playoff run. For a team that shows so much class and humility, I think it's a little odd that so much of the chatter about the playoffs has been about the future. During the "pep rally" on Thursday people kept on talking about the Lakers, and one day throwing a parade to celebrate an NBA title. That's great and all, but you have to take your lumps along the way. Very few teams go from bottom-dwellers to championship contenders in two years, and while I think the Blazers have the talent and potential to beat anyone, you have to focus at the task at hand. Playing the Lakers would be one heck of a series, but it's going to take a lot just to beat the Rockets. Back to the game.
3:46 - Outlaw hits another jumper to cut the Rockets lead to seven, but Przybilla gets another cheap foul and it looks like Nate's turning to Channing Frye against Yao for the final three minutes. This can't end well. Yao has 22 of Houston's 48 points, and he's just playing out of his mind right now.
1:22 - Ouch, this is getting out of hand. The Rockets are ahead by 17 at this point, can't miss a shot, and the Blazers are shooting nothing but jump shots.
Roy's on the ground holding his head, and the crowd's pretty much silent at this point. The Blazers have made a habit of big come backs all year, but I dunno about tonight. A fan behind me keeps on shouting "dirtiest player in the NBA!" and I can't tell if he's talking about Ron Artest or Von Wafer.
0:04 - Roy gets another and-one that cuts the Rockets lead to 60-44. He's got 15 points, but no other Blazer has looked even remotely good tonight. Aaron Brooks hits a running floater at the buzzer, and he's got 13 points. The Rockets just smoked the Blazers in the first half.
Well, that was an ugly first half. Let's see if the Blazers come out with any more spark in the second half.
10:47 - Shane Battier, NY Times Magazine cover star and former lover of Mike Krzyzewski, has the first five points of the quarter. He had zero at halftime. The Rockets lead is now up to 24 at 68-44.
9:33 - L-Train finally takes it into Yao, who just can't believe that he would ever commit a foul. At this point maybe Nate should send one of the scrubs (Michael Ruffin, anyone?) to come in and accidentally step on Yao's tender foot.
8:07 - CENTER FOUL WATCH: Przybilla's got four fouls, Oden's in the game. Nobody on the Blazers can hit a shot. Oden just picked up his third foul. Aldridge can't guard Yao. This might be an ugly series.
Since this game has been so depressing, we need to lighten up the mood a bit 'round here. We like to crack a lot of jokes here on press row, but tonight everyone's quiet and thinking. Guys, look how happy the team was the other night. The Blazers don't look like they're having any fun tonight.
6:28 - Finally, a little pep to this team. Four straight points and a fourth foul on Yao. Blazers still down 21 points, but they've got time for a comeback if they start now.
Blaze just made a shot from half court, over his head. He can't make a dunk, but this is impressive. Maybe he wants to check in instead of Sergio in five minutes.
4:55 - Roy hits a long two, and he's got 19 points, but no one else is in double figures. I love Przybilla, but when he's your second leading scorer you know it's been a long night.
2:37 - Yao is on the side of the floor, in front of the bench, yapping and clapping. It's just one of those nights. Six straight points for the Rockies, err, Rockets and they have the biggest lead of the game at 25 points. Yao just chestbumped Luis Scola and almost fell over. Maybe that's how he injures his foot.
1:07 - Mt. Mutombo just blocked Roy's shot and waves his finger. I'd love to see Oden show a little bit of the same tenacity. Blazers still down by over 20 points.
0:06 - I think you could probably just right this for me. Aaron Brooks for three just as the shot clock is running down? How'd you know! Blazers are down 27 points heading into the fourth quarter, and this is the worst I've seen them play all season. The Rockets are beating them at every facet of the game—scoring inside and out, diving for loose balls, blocking shots and waving fingers.
FOURTH QUARTER OF HELL:
After a 14 point third quarter, the Blazers have no where to go but up. It's hard to blog through a lemon like this.
10:57 - Luis Scola is called for a carry, or what you call dribbling in Europe. Oden dunks it so hard the rim shakes; hopefully the reverberations stop the Rockets from scoring the rest of the night.
8:46 - Hey, at least Oden looks good. He's got 14 points now and is taking it to old man Mutombo, who's almost old enough to qualify as his grandfather. Blaze is wearing a suit and dancing, and Ezra brings up an interesting question: Why does Blaze own a suit and I don't? Oh, the joys of being a music critic.
Do you think Blaze can tie his own tie? I bet Rebecca Haarlow did it for him.
7:30 - The crowd is chanting something, but none of us at press row have any idea what they're saying. Cleveland sucks? Defense sucks?
5:27 - The Blazers only double digit home loss this year was by 15 to New Orleans on January 2. That's when Brandon Roy was hurt. Tonight they're down by 29. Wow. The crowd is starting to filter out, which is a little pathetic. Maybe they know something I don't. like that the bouncy castle is filled with rum and cokes.
4:40 CENTER FOUL WATCH: Oden, Przy and Yao are on the bench because this game is a blowout. Want a little context? This is the worst loss in the history of the Rose Garden. Okay, so I made that up, but we're digging around online trying to find the last time the Blazers were embarrassed like this on their home court. Probably during the Sebastian Telfair era, right?
2:53 - I just got an update from my friends in section 305, and apparently the chant was "these refs suck!" Keep it classy, Portland. I'm sure David Stern's impressed.
2:34 - Michael Ruffin is all over the court! Too bad he won't be on the team next year.
Well, this might be my last time liveblogging this year. My esteemed colleague and super DJ Casey Jarman will be here on Tuesday, and hopefully for a game five and beyond. Let's hope he has more luck on Tuesday! I'm still a believer in this team, but if they don't come with more fire in game two we could be looking at a very short series.