The Blazers and Rockets played a close, professional ballgame. This series is going to be well worth watching. Nothing would surprise me.
It is an enduring quality of Greg Oden's game, and body, that around him people fall down in pain. Just happens a lot. Tonight it happened to Dikembe Mutombo barely two minutes into his shift. The play looked innocuous, but the results are a little scary. Frank Isola said on NBA TV that the scene where Mutombo was being examined was "emotional," and while it's being reported as a strained knee, he's on his way to Houston to be examined by doctors tomorrow. It occurs to everyone how rare it is to see that man lying on the floor injured, and everyone seems to be concerned, especially knowing that at 42, there is little room for error. TV commentator Mike Barrett put voice to the worry: That for a man of Mutombo's age, a knee injury could be career-ending. Fingers crossed that's not so. UPDATE: The Oregonian quotes Mutombo: "I'm going to need surgery. For me, basketball is over. I cried so much about it when I was laying on the floor."
Ron Artest's confidence in his own offensive arsenal was one of Portland's better weapons tonight. Several times he fired up the kinds of prayers that would get lesser NBA players benched. On a play in the final minutes of the first half, little Portland point guard Steve Blake was switched onto mountainous Yao Ming. But Artest never noticed and chucked up a contested 3 that missed. His shot selection, on bad nights, seems, to me, to be unprofessional. And of course his GM told that story about wanting to talk to Artest about his shot selection, but Shane Battier advised him not to, saying "you can't cage a pit bull." It occurs to me that most pit bulls actually do live within fences.
Twice in this one game Nate McMillan did something he did only once all season: He played Joel Przybilla and Greg Oden together. That seemed to be an acknowledgment that this series is something of an arms race -- with the biggest, strongest players controlling the paint. It's also an acknowledgment that Joel Przybilla, while wily and effective, looks tiny next to Yao Ming. He might not get a put-back over Yao all series. At least this way Portland gets a similar size mismatch elsewhere under the hoop, for instance where Greg Oden is tangling with Chuck Hayes.
If you're looking for hot hands ... LaMarcus Aldridge made six straight in the second quarter, and Aaron Brooks closed the game with a 3, a 2, a 3, and then a 32-foot 3 off the dribble. They were all within the last 30 seconds, and they were all 100% money.
A key factor in this game was the period that the Rockets spent without a center on the floor. Mutombo was out injured, and Yao Ming had four fouls. While Yao got away with a few no-calls, the fourth one ... the one that sent him to the bench ... was 90% audacious flop by Joel Przybilla.
Brandon Roy scored 42 points, one of the biggest point totals in Blazer playoff history. And David Thorpe called it! From his pre-game analysis of Game 2: "Now that Roy knows exactly how Houston wants to defend him, he can put together a strategy to have a huge game. It does not look like any Rockets player can contain him. It would not be a surprise if he scored 40 points in Game 2."
As Spike Lee and Kobe Bryant discuss, NBA coaches don't hide their play calls. Opposing advance scouts (like the Rockets' Pat Zipfel) sit on press row and take down every call all season. By the time of the playoffs, all of the coaching staff and half the players know what a team is going to do before they even set up. The whole trick is just execution, or adding new little wrinkles here and there. Which is why you don't see coaches opening their jackets to hide the secret hand signals they're sending in. Only, I did see Nate McMillan doing that tonight. Clearly. I suspect it's something to do with Shane Battier, who I saw yelling at teammates about Portland calls more than once. For what it's worth, the play where I saw this most clearly started with Battier checking in with 2:47 left. It ended up being nicely broken up by the Rockets' defense, and Brandon Roy was forced into a tough 3 after some ball fakes with a hand in his face. Which he hit, to give Portland a 96-90 lead.
Four new themes tonight, which changed things from Game 1: 1. That whole fronting Yao Ming thing works. Tonight he ended up 3-6 from the floor, and the Rockets often just didn't know how to get him the ball. 2. Ron Artest is not as effective on Brandon Roy as he once was, and it seems Battier is the better Rocket at containing Roy. 3. LaMarcus Aldridge can now score against Houston. 4. Rick Adelman was out of timeouts down the stretch.