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One For The Books: Drexler's Fourth Quarter Heroics

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 March 2005 issue of Rip City Magazine where Wayne relives Clyde Drexler's most memorable game played in his hometown of Houston during the 1989-90 season. Clyde's fourth quarter magic helped propel the Blazers to 59 wins and eventual champions of the Western Conference. Without further ado, enjoy "Drexler's Fourth Quarter Heroics!"

By Wayne Thompson

IT WAS JUST 15 YEARS AGO this month that the Trail Blazers began their magical stretch drive to the NBA championship finals against Detroit. Beginning March 3 against Seattle, the Blazers set a franchise record by winning 10 straight games, including six straight on the road.

None of these wins was more inspiring than the last one--a 120-110 come-from-behind victory at Houston on March 20, 1990.

It was a game in which Portland's rising super star, Clyde Drexler, just 27 years old, wouldn't let Portland lose. Trailing by 14 points late in the fourth quarter, the Blazers stormed back behind a 41-point, 16-rebound performance by Drexler to beat the Rockets going away.

That win moved Portland just a game and a half behind rival Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA's Pacific Division, giving Portland a 48-18 record with just 16 games left in the season.

The Blazers won 11 of those to finish with a franchise-record 59 wins, second best in the NBA.

The 1989-90 Blazers jelled a lot faster as a team than second-year Coach Rick Adelman, a perennial optimist, predicted.

Adelman's offense was potent. The team averaged a league-best 114.2 points per game, led by Drexler, Terry Porter, Kevin Duckworth, Jerome Kersey, Buck Williams, rookie Cliff Robinson and International sharpshooter Drazen Petrovic.

Against the Rockets on this Tuesday night in March, the Blazers, though, appeared listless for three quarters, with all the starters, except for Drexler, enduring an off night.

Drexler, though, always seemed to come up with a little extra when playing in his native Houston--the town where he first gained basketball fame as a member of the University of Houston's Phi Slamma Jamma.

In 43 minutes of action against the Rockets, Drexler connected on 18 of 26 shots, snared a career-high 16 rebounds, including six on the offensive glass. doled out a half-dozen assists and added three steals and a blocked shot.

"He simply wouldn't let us lose," said a happy Rick Adelman afterwards. "He made some amazing shots in that fourth quarter." Portland outscored Houston, 37-21 in the four quarter to win the game in a breeze.

"Phenonenal," said Buck Williams, Drexler's best friend among the Blazer players. "He saved the game for us. He was breath-taking. you talk about gravity force out of a rocket trying to take off. Tonight, this guy redefined the whole gravity thing," Williams said.

Adelman was ecstatic after the game, not only because the Blazers had won their 10th straight game, but also because of the franchise record for victories on the road.

"I think it means a lot," he told The Oregonian's Kerry Eggers afterwards. "We have the confidence now and we feel we should win every night on the road; great teams have that feeling and we're starting to get it."

"Some pretty good teams held those records before this team," Adelman pointed out, recalling the Bill Walton-led Blazer's of the late 1970s.

"It's a great tribute to this group to say no other Portland team has ever done what they've now done."

Drexler's performance rescued an otherwise dismal shooting night for the other Blazer starters, who combined to make only 15 of 45 shots from the field and scored just 44 points.

The Blazers did get some help from their bench, though, as Robinson, Wayne Cooper and Mark Bryant combined for 32 points and 14 rebounds, while holding Houston's high-scoring center Hakeem Olajuwon in check.

Olajuwon had 21 points, 20 rebounds and seven blocked shots, but he missed more than half of his floor shots.

"We've been riding a wave of confidence in our play on the road," said Drexler, who said he was a little nervous because his wife, Gaynell, back in Portland, was expecting the couple's first child later that week.

"We weren't getting much done offensively in the first half (trailing 31-25 after on quarter and 60-49 at halftime)," Drexler said, "but we knew if we could keep it close, we could win in the last three or four minutes."

That's exactly what happened. The Blazers outscored the Rockets, 21-5, down the stretch after Houston had taken a 105-99 lead with 5:50 left to play. The the Blazers scored eight stright points to take the lead at 107-105 with 3:38 remaining. Portland made all of the big plays after that, outscoring Houston 13-5, the rest of the way.

Even in the first quarter, when four of the Blazer starters scored only four field goals in 23 tries, Drexler kept Portland close by hitting six of seven shots. Yet Adelman sensed that his team was out of sync.

"We were awful in the first half," he said. "We weren't moving ourselves and we weren't moving the ball to find the open man."

The Blazers cut the margin to 64-57 early in the third quarter, but the Rockets, behind Otis Thorpe, who made 11 of 13 shots and had 27 points and 10 rebounds, Olajuwon and Sleepy Floyd (20 points, 9 assists), quickly regained control.

Baskets by Mitchell Wiggins, Vernon Maxwell and Thorpe sparked an 8-0 Houston run to push the Rockets back in front 83-69 with 4:07 left in the third quarter.

Cooper played a key role in the comeback, with 9 points and 7 rebounds. "In his pre-game talk, Rick stressed getting those consecutive win records. That's a big thing, especially to win that many in a row on the road. There's so much parody in the league, winning that many games on the road is almost unheard of nowadays," he said.

For Drexler, the 41-point, 16-rebound performance may have been the best game he ever played in his home town. But he shrugged it off, telling Eggers, "I'd have to say it ranks right up there among the best, but there's nothing I have to prove here. The people here know what I can do," he added.

Portland's winning streak came to an end two nights later as the Blazers lost a 107-106 heartbreaker at San Antonio.

The Blazers, however, won 11 of their last 15 games and went on to beat Dallas, San Antonio and Phoenix in the Western Conference playoffs for the chance to face the defending world champion Detroit Pistons in the NBA championship finals.

Blazer Mania filled the streets of Portland that spring, especially after the Blazers split the first two games against the Pistons in Detroit, this giving Portland a short-lived homecourt advantage.

But the Pistons swept all three games at Memorial Coliseum to recapture the title. Nevertheless, the seeds were sown that March for those great Clyde Drexler-led Blazer teams of the 1990s.

In the nation, 1990 also was a watershed year in the entertainment industry. It marked the birth of cartoon character Bart Simpson, who not only debuted on TV, but also appeared on lunchboxes and bedsheets and in the dreams of children across America. And it is still with us today.

Cartoon characters last longer than great basketball teams.
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