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Sunday April 19, 2009 4:34 AM

Rockets Roll In Game One

Perfect evening for Yao and Rockets ends with dominating 108-81 victory

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com Staff Writer

Portland - Joel Pryzbilla relished the idea of defending Yao Ming “straight up.” Saturday night he got his wish. Then he – and his Portland teammates – got destroyed.

Producing a playoff performance that won’t soon be forgotten, Yao utterly obliterated the Blazers during a flawless first-half of basketball, scoring 24 points on perfect shooting from the field and free throw line to help set the tone for Houston’s dominating 108-81 Game 1 win over Portland at the Rose Garden. The Blazers began the game by allowing Pryzbilla – who asked for the opportunity to guard Yao one-on-one upon learning the Rockets would be Portland’s first round opponent – to defend Houston’s All-Star center on his own, and Yao responded by scoring 14 of the Rockets’ first 18 points as Houston took control right from the outset en route to going wire-to-wire for the win.

“We were able to find Yao and the man didn’t miss, so we’ll take that every night we can get it,” said Shane Battier, who scored 7 points and grabbed 5 boards despite dealing with a bout of food poisoning the day before the game. “That’s the beauty of Yao: He can put together nights like this. Not every player can do what he did tonight by not missing a shot. But when he’s really efficient we’re a lot tougher to beat.”

In fact, the Rockets appeared downright unbeatable, putting together what has to go down as their best effort of the season to date. The team shot a scintillating 58.5% from the field while limiting Portland to just 41.7% shooting. Also impressive: Houston owned the glass against a Blazers team known for its knack on the boards, outrebounding Portland 44-30. Yet perhaps nothing was more satisfying to Rockets players and coaches than the way the club kept its foot on the gas pedal from start to finish, pushing its lead as high as 31 points to crush any hope of a Blazers’ comeback.

“This is about energy,” said Yao. “People know how to win big games. I heard this from Brent Barry who had experience playing with a championship team (in San Antonio): he said (the difference between a) good team and a great team is a great team can take a 10 point lead and push it to 20. We are on our way to learn that experience and how to play in big games.”

That certainly can be said of Aaron Brooks, who enjoyed quite the homecoming Saturday night. The second-year point guard from Oregon produced perhaps his most impressive game as a pro, scoring 27 points while dishing 7 assists and knocking in a career-high tying five three-pointers. Many had characterized Brooks as a major X-factor before this series began and it goes without saying that if he can come anywhere close to sustaining this sort of effort, the Rockets will be in very good shape indeed.

“Aaron has had success against this team, but more importantly we needed to spread the court,” said Coach Rick Adelman. “We get stagnate sometimes offensively; the more that we can flatten the defense out, the more we can get those guys the ball in their hands, the better off we are. When Aaron shoots it like he did, they are in trouble. They’ll make adjustments, but we want to continue to keep attacking.”

While Brooks’ young legs were a major factor in the Rockets’ win, so too were the experienced hands of the ageless Dikembe Mutombo. Seemingly grabbing every rebound in sight, Mutombo turned back the clock yet again during 18 extremely effective minutes. Yet after the game, there was no playful reminder for his youthful opponents to brush up on their NBA Classic viewing. Instead, Mutombo simply wished to heap praise upon Yao and the rest of the starters for setting the tone.

“We were much more prepared than they were. We know what we’re facing. We know what we’ve got to do to get out of this. I think our first group - especially our starters - should get all the credit for the win tonight. Yao played the best I’ve seen in a long time; defensively he did so many things. He was so focused. He showed that he was very serious this time, and we were so pleased.”

“I think the tone was set after Yao’s first block. When was the last time you saw Yao come in from the side to block a shot? I was like ‘Whoa.’ It reminded me more of my college days, I was very impressed.”

The Rockets now have two practice days to prepare for what figures to be a far more difficult challenge in Game 2. The Blazers will be desperate and everyone in the Houston locker room expects to see far more fronting and double-teams thrown Yao’s direction. In other words, it will take an even greater effort Tuesday night if the Rockets are to head back to Houston with a 2-0 series lead.

"I think the best thing is you got to understand that that's a very good team,” explained Adelman. “I've been on the other end of first games where I've been blown out and just destroyed on the road. That's happened. The next game is going to be totally different. We have to react and understand that we have to go in with the attitude that we have to respond better for that game than we did for this game. We have to be ready to go. We're gong to take their best shot - that's a good team. Whether win by two or win by 30, that's still just one win."

But what a win it was; impressive enough to make one think that the next time Pryzbilla has a wish, he’s probably better off keeping it to himself.

QUOTES

RICK ADELMAN

“Obviously, I’m just really pleased with the way we played. Our goal was to come out especially in the first quarter and get the tempo of the game in our favor, control the game and not let their crowd get into it. I knew what the crowd would be like and they’ve been on a real roll. We were able to get the first hit in that first quarter and get control. At both ends of the court, that was about as consistent as we’ve played in a while.

It was really nice to see. Yao got us off to a great start. He was very active, made every shot. I give Deke credit – he came in and controlled the basket area. He got the boards. Aaron Brooks was terrific the whole game.

On keeping Portland from making a run to get back in it:

“Usually it happens – it just is going to happen. This is one of the best home teams in the league and they had the ability to come at you. I think the key for us was that I made a lot more calls, tried to be sure that we were getting things that we wanted. We executed it well. We ran a lot pick and rolls, but different looking pick and rolls… The main thing was don’t lose your focus defensively. We had to continue to defend them. Don’t put them on the line and rebound the ball. They are the best offensive rebounding team in the league so when you continue to defend and you start picking your offense up, I think that separated it. By the end of the third quarter, we were pretty much in control.”

On Yao:

“....He just got going. He was on a roll. He was making turnaround jumpers, jump hooks, face-up jumpers. He did everything. Teams mix it up, they let him catch it, they double him, they front him. I’m sure we’ll see different things in the next game. What I really liked about the second half was that Yao didn’t score but we maintained control of the game. We found other ways to score when he got in foul trouble and was out of the game.”

“Aaron has had success against this team, but more importantly we needed to spread the court. We get stagnate sometimes offensively- the more that we can flatten the defense out, the more we can get those guys the ball in their hands, the better off we are. When Aaron shoots it like he did, they are in trouble. They’ll make adjustments, but we want to continue to keep attacking.”

On the meaning of this win:

“We won one. Really, I think the best thing is you gotta understand that that’s a very good team. I’ve been on the other end of first games where I’ve been blown out and just destroyed, on the road that’s happened… The next game is going to be totally different. We have to react and understand that we have to go in with the attitude that we have to respond better for that game than we did for this game. We have to be ready to go. We’re going to take their best shot –that’s a good team. Whether you win by 2 or win by 30, that’s still just one win.”

DIKEMBE MUTOMBO

“We were much more prepared than they were. We know what we’re facing. We know what we’ve got to do to get out of this. I think our first group - especially our starters - should get all the credit for the win tonight. Yao played the best I’ve seen in a long time; defensively he did so many things, I was surprised from the bench. He was so focused. He showed that he was very serious this time, and we were so pleased. Guys came in from in the bench and played well defensively and offensively as well.”

“I think the tone was set after Yao’s first block. When was the last time you saw Yao come in from the side to block a shot? I was like ‘whoa,’ it reminded me more of my college days, I was very impressed.”

“Aaron is feeling very comfortable, he is home. This is where he went to school; he wants to show his fans what he has learned since going to the NBA.

“I think the pressure is still on us. We want to win this series.”

AARON BROOKS

“It felt good. I think as a team, we got off to a good start. We wanted to get the crowd out of it. Yao came out and played very well in the beginning of the game. We established the tempo. We did a good job of just trying to keep the crowd out of the game and played hard.”

On feeling good early in the game:

“I felt good. I have to be honest, it felt good. The two shots I made at the beginning of the game were contested but I still hit them so I got off to a good rhythm. As a team, we came out and we were focused and we ran our offense and we got good shots.”

“They’re a great team. We knew that and they’re a great home team and the crowd was really into it like we knew they would be. We had to come out early and establish the way we wanted to play. Our gameplan was pretty good and we executed it. When we played Dallas and we lost that game, you were down on us a little bit but we won 5 out of the last 6 games so we had a good rhythm going into that game and we picked it back up in this one. We didn’t let one game get toward this game.”

On hitting the shot at the buzzer going into half:

“I think we were up 16 and B-Roy came down and did his thing and got the and-one so they would have had some momentum going into halftime. Coach called a timeout and drew up a great play. It gave us some momentum going into halftime. We got out to a great lead and we were feeling good. I think that the most important thing was that going into the third quarter, we did a good job of making sure they didn’t go on a run.”

“This was a big game. You always want to win the first game. You hear about stealing a game on their court, so that’s good but honestly, they still have game 7 here if it goes there, so they have the advantage. We have a big game on Tuesday. I think the pressure is on them now because we just have to go out there and play free and play smart. It’s going to be a big game again.”

YAO MING

“I think we really needed this win right here, because we still have a game to play. People talk about how they don’t have any playoff experience, but now they feel it - the playoffs. Brandon Roy and Aldridge, when they know how to play in the playoffs after the first one, it will be much harder for us. We need to get ready for that. The second game will be much harder.

(on putting the Blazers away): “This is about energy. People know how to win big games. I heard this from Brent Barry who had experience playing with a championship team (in San Antonio), he said a good team (compared) to a great team is a great team can take a 10 point lead and push it to 20. We are on our way to learn that experience and how to play in big games.

On setting tone early: “It’s the first game, the first couple minutes can set the tone for the game, also the first game can set the tone for the entire series and that’s what we tried to do.”

SHANE BATTIER

For us, traditionally, when we get off to a good start and we play with the lead, we’re a much better team. We knew the Rose Garden was going to be as electric as it was early, so tonight was doubly imperative to take the crowd out.

(on Yao): It makes our job a heck of a lot easier. He was so efficient and I thought they did a good job of trying to take away some things. But we were able to find Yao and the man didn’t miss, so we’ll take that every night we can get it.

That’s the beauty of Yao: He can put together nights like this. Not every player can do what he did tonight by not missing a shot. But when he’s really efficient we’re a lot tougher to beat.

(have you shot like that before): No, that’s been our weakness down the stretch here. We know we’re going to play good defense, and because of our defense we’re going to be in every game we play in, but when we’re making shots and Aaron Brooks is attacking like he was tonight, that’s when we’re at our best.

(were you sandbagging all year?): I wish. We played well tonight. We know Game 2 is going to be a much more difficult game to win. We’re not getting ahead of ourselves right now. This is just one game. We’re happy that we won it. We feel like we can play better in spots and we know Portland is coming to come out much better and play really aggressive in Game 2. So it’s good to learn from this game and hopefully we have the same mentality Tuesday night.

The team that responds better to this victory will win Game 2. If Portland responds to their loss and plays more inspired basketball then we won’t beat them. But if we handle this win with maturity and come out with the same energy and focus, we’ll have a shot to win. That’s normally how the playoffs go.

NATE MCMILLAN

“They came out and took control and we got back on our heals. They were the aggressive team tonight. We didn’t get any shots to fall early and I think that was a shock to our guys. When we did score those baskets weren’t coming easy.

“Part of their good start had a lot to do with Yao, although their whole first unit played well. We wanted to get LaMarcus started as we usually do but their defense was really aggressive on the post. Brandon hit some shots but they were all tough shots. That’s a good team you saw tonight. They’re good on both ends of the floor; they spread the floor and they use their bigs effectively which opens up things on the perimeter. If they have deep post position---and Yao didn’t miss a shot tonight (9 for 9)---it gives their perimeter players a lot of room to maneuver.

“This was a bad night for sure. We lost but we’ve got to make some adjustments for Game Two. No matter what the score they still have to win four games to win the series. We have to go back and look at film and work on what we’re going to do to adjust to them. I think we’re going to need our best shot. They’ll be even more aggressive in Game Two. Tonight we didn’t control the ball at all. It allowed a lot of their players to have wide-open looks.”

Was youth and inexperience a factor?

“Youth is a part of it. It’s who we are. But now we’ve seen what we need to do and try to do it better on Tuesday.”

STEVE BLAKE

“We’ve got to learn from our mistakes and go forward. They jumped on us from the start. They did a lot of really good things out there. You’ve got to give them credit. And we’ve got to work on the things that we did well.”

GREG ODEN

“That’s the big thing: They were just making shots. We’ve got to play better defense. The shots they made were tough. We weren’t making our shots and they came out with a different intensity. We need to play a lot more aggressive, to play harder. We’ve played them three times. We knew what they were going to come with. They just came with their intensity. He ( Yao) was making shots. We needed to stop him but we didn’t have an answer for him tonight.”

JOEL PRZYBILLA

“Definitely (it was humbling). We just didn’t come to play. They came on a mission like Coach McMillan said. They pretty much dominated us from the start. I thought we were (ready) but I guess we weren’t ready. We tried to play behind him ( Yao) like we said. I’m sure we’ll make adjustments. He made every shot he took. He just dominated tonight.”

BRANDON ROY

“We came out a little jittery. Yao established himself early and they just played like they’ve been here before. The disappointing part is we didn’t play like we (had) played the last six games. We played like a young team that was a little intimidated. Sitting on the bench, it reminded me of the first game of the year against the Lakers. I felt like we weren’t ready. We’ve played really good basketball and I think we second-guessed ourselves coming out tonight. So that’s what I’m most disappointed in. The guys they didn’t get shots they normally take. We just didn’t play with the same confidence and rhythm that we’ve been playing with at home. We’re disappointed but we can’t let this break us. We’ve got to come together and find some confidence because we can play with them. We just have to believe we can.”

NOTES

Portland’s 27-point margin of defeat ranks tied for its fourth-worst loss in playoff history and marks its largest loss in 2008-09.

The Trail Blazers’ 81 points is tied for its seventh-lowest scoring output in playoff history.

Houston has now won seven of nine playoff meetings between the teams … The Rockets have taken Game 1 in all three playoff series in history (Houston won both previous series, 3-1).

The Trail Blazers have lost Game 1 in five straight playoff series, dating back to the Western Conference Finals in 2000.

Portland lost at home in Game 1 of a playoff series for the first time since Apr. 29, 1993, vs. San Antonio ... If the Trail Blazers win the series, it will be the first time Portland has won a playoff series when losing Game 1 at home (0-6).

Portland’s 15 defensive rebounds marked an all-time franchise playoff low (17, 4/26/83 at L.A. Lakers) ... The Trail Blazers had just six defensive rebounds in the first half compared to 21 for the Rockets.

The Trail Blazers made at least two three-pointers in every regular season game ... Portland’s 9.1% shooting from downtown was also lower than any regular season mark.

Houston’s 34 points in the first quarter were more than any Trail Blazers opponent’s mark at the Rose Garden this season.

Yao Ming did not miss a shot in the game (9-9 FG, 6-6 FT), with all 24 of his points coming in the first half … He finished the first quarter with a game-best 16 points (7-7 FG), two shy of a Houston record for points in a quarter in the playoffs (Hakeem Olajuwon, 5/5/95 vs. Utah) ... Yao scored the game’s first seven points (3-3 FG, 1-1 FT) and 12 of Houston’s first 14.

Houston’s starting frontcourt of Yao Ming and Luis Scola combined for 16-for-18 shooting and 43 points to go with 17 rebounds.

Houston starters outscored Portland’s starters, 94-43, in the game … Trail Blazers reserves held a 38-14 advantage over their counterparts.

Rockets starters shot 21-for-28 (75.0%) from the field and 9-for-9 (100.0%) from the foul line in the first half.

Houston made its first four shots and went 15-for-20 in the first quarter.

The Trail Blazers scored their first 14 points in the paint and held a 50-32 edge down low in the game.

Aaron Brooks’ 27 points were three shy of his best career scoring game … He tied a career best with five three-pointers.

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