NBA: Portland needs answer for Yao

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 20, 2009

Associated Press
PORTLAND, Ore. ó Considering Yao Ming’s flawless shooting in Houston’s playoff-opening victory over Portland, the Trail Blazers are rethinking their strategy for the Rockets’ towering center.
“We tried to play behind him. So we’ll make adjustments for the next game,” Blazers center Joel Przybilla said. “He hit every shot he took so we gotta do something.”
Yao hit all nine of his shots and all six of his free throw attempts, and the Rockets went on to defeat the Blazers 108-81 Saturday night in the first game of the best-of-seven playoff series between the two teams. They meet again Tuesday night at Portland’s Rose Garden.
All of Yao’s 24 points came in the first half, as he got Houston off to a fast start after scoring nine of the team’s first 11 points. He also had nine rebounds in the game.
He said afterward he had taken inspiration from teammate Brent Barry, a 14-season veteran in the NBA.
“I heard this from Brent Barry who had experience playing with a championship team. 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.”
The 7-foot-6 All-Star and Olympian from China did not attempt a shot in the second half, and sat for the fourth quarter. By that time, the Rockets didn’t need him, having built a lead of 31 points.
Dikembe Mutombo watched Yao’s performance unfold from the Rockets’ bench. He sensed what was coming from the start, when Yao blocked a 9-foot jumper by Portland forward LaMarcus Aldridge in the first minute.
“When was the last time you saw Yao come in from the side to block a shot? I was like, whoa!” Mutombo said.
After that, Yao was all business.
“He was so focused,” Mutombo said. “He showed he was very serious this time, and we were so pleased.”
Przybilla, Portland’s 7-foot-1 center, was assigned Yao at the start. Rookie Greg Oden also got a chance with him, although on a more limited basis.
Oden shrugged when asked about Yao.
“You seen it. He was just making shots,” he said. “We needed to stop him and we didn’t have an answer for him.”
The Rockets got 27 points and seven assists from Aaron Brooks, who played for the University of Oregon and was warmly welcomed by the Rose Garden crowd. Luis Scola had 19 points and Ron Artest had 17.
The victory tempered Houston’s disappointment at falling to the fifth seed in the Western Conference after losing the regular-season finale to Dallas. The Rockets have not made it out of the first round of the playoffs in six tries since 1997, and many expected the Blazers would give them trouble again.
But the Blazers could not muster anything close to a challenge.
Portland had not been to the playoffs since the 2003 season. The euphoria felt after clinching the West’s fourth seed and home-court advantage in the first round was quickly snuffed by the loss.