Micah Rice: This time, the ball doesn't bounce Portland's way

Commentary: Micah Rice

By Micah Rice, Columbian sports editor

Published:

 

PORTLAND – It was a rock concert at the Rose Quarter. Then Houston's Troy Daniels stole the show.

The fog machines in the rafters were cranked up as high as the volume when the lights dimmed for the starting lineups.

The incendiary glow of red light sticks filled an arena that was ready to erupt.

Friday was supposed to be the night Portland put a stranglehold on its first playoff series victory in 14 years. Instead, Daniels' decisive 3-pointer with 11 seconds left in overtime put much in doubt.

After Friday's 121-116 loss, the pressure is now squarely on Portland despite its 2-1 lead in the series.

And despite a valiant fourth-quarter comeback, the Blazers have yet to prove they can come through when burdened with expectations.

In a game this close, it's tempting to focus on one shot, foul or lucky bounce. If only Mo Williams could have corralled a loose ball seconds before Daniels' shot, the story might be different.

"A bounce of the ball here or there can make the difference," Blazers coach Terry Stotts said.

That, however, would ignore some larger realities of Friday's game that didn't bode well for the Blazers.

Too often, Portland had to claw from behind.

Too often, LaMarcus Aldridge missed the mid-range jumpshots that were falling in Houston.

Too often, Portland allowed second-chance points as the Rockets grabbed 22 offensive rebounds.

The Blazers are at their best when little is expected of them or they feel the need to prove doubters wrong.

They entered the season expected to be a marginal playoff team at best, then won 17 of their first 20 games.

When a late-season implosion seemed imminent after a listless March, Portland finished the regular season by winning nine of its last 10.

And when Portland entered this playoff series as an underdog, they promptly won the first two games in Houston.

Further in character, the Blazers were best when scrapping from behind on Friday. They trailed by 11 with 8 minutes to go, only to claw back behind a 4-point play by Williams and a circus-shot 3-point play by Damian Lillard.

"Our team was focused," Lillard said. "They just made one more play than we did."

Portland has made its living on proving doubters wrong. To extend this season past the first round, the Blazers must come through when people believe they should.