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One For The Books: A Game 7 To Remember

Wayne Thompson, the original beat-writer for the Portland Trail Blazers takes the fans back to an important point in team history and brings that game back to life with his "One For The Books" articles, which go beyond the box score. This installment of "One For The Books" was taken from the April 2000 issue of Rip City Magazine where Wayne relives the amazing Game 7 between the Trail Blazers and Spurs during the Western Conference Semifinals. Between Kevin Duckworth's heroic return to action and Terry Porter's red-hot shooting, Portland advanced to the Western Conference Finals in what is still recognized as one of the greatest playoff games, ever. Without further ado, enjoy "A Game 7 To Remember"

By Wayne Thompson

President George Bush came to Portland on Sunday, May 20, 1990, to raise money for Republican politicians. But his rare visit to Oregon was upstaged on the front pages of The Oregonian by what arguably was the most emotional and heart-wrenching victory ever achieved by the Trail Blazers in their 165-game NBA playoff history.

Notably, the president, a Texas transplant, would have been rooting for the San Antonio Spurs against the Trail Blazers had he arrived a day earlier to take in the seventh game of the NBA Western Conference semifinals.

As it turned out, the president was a day late and a holler short as the Blazers defeated the Spurs, 108-105, in overtime.

This game marked the dawn of a new era for coach Rick Adelman’s Blazers—a team that was to become over the next three seasons a dominant force in the NBA, and an annual contender for the championship.

The seeds of those great championship runs were sown on this afternoon. Trailing by seven points in the final 2:32 of regulation, the Blazers, behind the heroics of Clyde Drexler, Terry Porter and Jerome Kersey, put on a miraculous come-from-behind rally to send the game to overtime.

Drexler, Portland’s all-star guard, was nursing a severe head cold and clearly wasn’t himself. Through three quarters, he was just 3 of 13 from the floor. San Antonio, meanwhile, ate away at an early 11-point Blazers’ lead.

Having dominated the Blazers thoroughly at home by scores of 121-98, 115-105 and 112-97, the Spurs sensed victory. They used a nine-point surge to lead Portland, 81-75, early in the fourth quarter.

The teams swapped baskets, but the Blazers simply weren’t making up the ground. Finally, with 2:32 remaining and the Spurs leading, 97-90, Adelman called a timeout.

“There wasn’t a guy sitting there or standing behind me who didn’t think we could win,” Adelman said, recalling Portland’s miracle-finish in Game 5 when the Blazers kept coming from behind, finally vanquishing San Antonio in double overtime, 138-132.

Drexler did some talking during that timeout. That much we know. And though it’s become one of those legendary sayings that perhaps never happened, one version of Clyde’s pep talk had him looking up at the scoreboard, seeing the seven-point deficit, and sating to his teammates: “Okay, guys, we’ve got them just where we want them.”

Whether he said it or not, Drexler made a major statement for the rest of the game, scoring 12 of his 22 points in the final four minutes of regulation and overtime to spark the Blazer victory.

“It was a true test of character,” Drexler said afterwards. “We could have quit and ended our season there, or we could come out, pick up our defense and try to win the game. We chose the latter.”

Moments after the fateful timeout, Drexler brought the Memorial Coliseum crowd to its feet with a three-point bomb that cut the Spurs’ lead to 97-95.

Then Jerome Kersey, who had 21 points and 15 rebounds on the day, followed with a breakaway dunk to tie the game at 97-all, with 1:17 remaining.

There was to be no more scoring in regulation, but the Blazers seemed to take control in the overtime, outscoring the Spurs, 6-2, in the first couple of minutes. Drexler’s acrobatic reverse layup gave Portland a 103-99 lead with 2:39 remaining.

But the Spurs battled back to tie it. Then came the biggest play of the series, if not the season. San Antonio point guard Rod Strickland, who was to become a Blazer three seasons later, threw a no-look, over-the-shoulder pass toward Sean Elliott that Kersey picked off—his sixth steal of the game.

Kersey then passed downcourt to a streaking Drexler. San Antonio center David Robinson, who was chasing Drexler on the play, was called for a breakaway foul, his sixth.

This gave Clyde two free throws, which he made to give Portland a 105-103 lead. More important, the breakaway foul gave the Blazers possession of the ball with just 26.2 seconds left and it disqualified San Antonio’s go-to-guy, Mr. Robinson.

Game over? Not on this day. After the Spurs missed, Drexler was fouled again He made both free throws giving Portland a 107-103 lead with 16.4 ticks remaining.

Back came Terry Cummings, who led the Spurs on this day with 27 points, with two free throws to narrow Portland’s lead and then Clyde was fouled again with 7.3 seconds remaining. This time, however, an exhausted Drexler, after making the first one, missed the second. The Spurs rebounded, called time, and had 5.6 seconds left to tie the game with a three-pointer.

But on Reggie Williams’ inbounds pass, intended for hot-shooting Willie Anderson deep on the baseline, Porter stepped in the passing lane and intercepted it. Then he got the ball quickly to Drazen Petrovic who was able to dribble out the clock on one of the most amazing games in Blazers’ history.

Portland had many heroes on this day. Drexler’s 22 points, 13 rebounds, 8 assists and clutch performance in overtime got most of the headlines. Kersey’s outstanding floor game, defensive effort and board work were the talk of the post-game parties. And Buck Williams’ 12 points, 15 rebounds and 3 assists weren’t overlooked either when San Antonio Coach Larry Brown passed out accolades to the new Western Conference finalists.

But if you were looking for the San Antonio assassin in this series, it was Terry Porter.

After scoring 38 points in Portland’s double-overtime win over the Spurs in Game 5, Porter responded in the clincher with 36 points, 4 rebounds, 9 assists and 2 steals. On a day in which the Blazers, as a team, shot only 37.1 percent from the floor, Porter’s 9 of 18, including 4 of 9 on three-pointers, was crucial. His 14 of 16 free throws in regulation made the overtime period possible.

Postscript: If you were to ask Blazers’ fans who was the real hero that day, their vote most likely would have gone to a soft-hearted, yet determined 300-pound center named Kevin Duckworth.

Although limited to six points and five rebounds in an otherwise gutsy 35-minute performance, Duckworth and his backup center, Wayne Cooper, pushed Robinson off the block, forcing him to take outside jumpers. Over the first three quarters, San Antonio’s 7-foot-1 star, the toast of the NBA that season, was just 2 of 12 from the floor.

Yet it wasn’t Duck’s defensive effort against the Admiral in Game 7 that stirred the hearts of Blazer fans. It was the fact that Duckworth, against the advice of team doctors, shed the cast that protected a broken hand.

That he showed up to play in the biggest game in franchise history since 1977 was legendary stuff.

Indeed, at 12:17pm, a good 30 hours before President Bush was due to arrive at Memorial Coliseum to dedicate a police memorial, Kevin Duckworth emerged in uniform from the Blazers’ locker room.

The rest of the team was already warming up for the decisive seventh game, but few of the 12,884 fans had any inkling that Duckworth, who already had missed the last three weeks of Portland’s magical 1990 season, was going to play.

When the fans saw Duckworth, they exploded with a standing ovation that lasted a full two minutes.

It was a scene reminiscent of the seventh game of the 1970 NBA championship when New York fans became delirious at the sight of Willis Reed who, despite a severe ankle sprain, limed into Madison Square Garden to win the championship against the Los Angeles Lakers.

In hindsight, it’s probably a good thing that George Bush showed up at Memorial Coliseum a day late. Compared to Duckworth’s entrance, the president’s rare Oregon appearance was clearly anti-climactic.
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