As Rocket fans, we know how it feels after 12 consecutive years to have disappointing ends to seasons. Well, actually it’s been 14 years because anything short of a championship is a downer.
But in this case, there was something about this Portland team that made me want to follow how their players and fans were feeling after they lost the series Thursday. Maybe it’s because we’ve been through so many disappointing playoff exits like Rocket fans have endured through the years, we know how it feels and Portland and their fans didn’t do anything to piss us off during the series that makes us want to trash them.
From all reports I read, their crowd their the playoffs was very similar to Houston’s in that they were energetic and enthusiastic as you’d expect, but not annoying or obscene. There are always going to be outliers in every crowd that the media might overhype to make the entire crowd look bad, but NOTHING like all those savages in Salt Lake we’ve seen the past two playoff seasons.
It was so refreshing to have the Rockets play in front of a playoff crowd on the road that weren’t some of the most vile and obscene in the NBA. Salt Lake always amazes me because even when you’re watching on TV a Utah game, you can see the hatred in their actions and on their faces coming through the screen. And I thought Salt Lake had lots of goodie-goodies like Donny & Marie! Why do they turn into such monsters once they enter EnergySolutions arena?
On top of that, their players are annoying, like floppers Mehmet Okur and Andrei Kirilinko, or thugs like Matt Harpring, and set dirty picks and moving screens their coach has taught them to do for years (remember the bearhug Karl Malone put on Clyde Drexler when John Stockton hit that infamous shot against the Rockets?)
Obviously against the Rockets, Brandon Roy and Lamarcus Aldridge were amazing (it doesn’t hurt that Aldridge played at Texas and grew up in Dallas) and carried themselves with dignity and class. They also have young players who are still trying to find their way, showing they are human and can make mistakes (Outlaw, Blake, Przybilla, Oden, etc.). Houston has had plenty of those through the years, and eventually the Rockets had to part ways with once-promising players because it didn’t work out (Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley, Luther Head, Steve Novak, just to name a few).
I actually think it’s more compelling to watch another team’s players evolve over time because eventually you end up rooting for them as they try to overcome disappointments they’ve encountered in the past (if they’re not playing against your home team, of course). That’s what made it difficult for me to like the Celtics last season — they went out in one off-season and acquired two All-Stars and future Hall-of-Famers in Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, and ended up winning a championship within a few months. Too formulaic, and it’s essentially buying a championship. There’s no intrigue with that.
Instead, I prefer to watch young teams grow up over time, like Chicago is doing this season (even though I don’t like Joakim Noah, he’s seemed to have cleaned up his act a bit from his Florida days, except the hair), or how Cleveland has improved over time trying to build a young team around LeBron.
With the series over, Portland is on my short list of teams to like. Rocket fans typically rule out Texas rivals like Dallas and San Antonio, and Oklahoma City and New Orleans are still too close to home. Almost everyone who isn’t a Laker fan hates them, it’s hard to be a Clippers fan because of ALL the disappointments they’ve had over the years, Utah is always going to be hate-able, Memphis and Sacramento aren’t going anywhere soon, and Denver is probably in Houston’s way to a championship this season if the Rockets can beat the Lakers.
The only other team I like to follow in the West beyond Portland are the Warriors, who are perennial underdogs, but young and improving. And it doesn’t hurt the Warriors took out the Mavericks in that epic playoff series a couple of seasons ago. They will always be one of my favorites because of that.
But back to the Blazers…with the poise and calm demeanor I saw from Nate McMillan, I’m impressed with him as a coach, as was the rest of the league for what he did with his team this season. I didn’t like him as a player because he was so damn good, and always gave the Rocket fits, but that was more of a personal bias and I don’t hold that against him now.
So keep your head up, Portland, your players, coach and fans have gained my respect. I’ve always liked you guys since the Blazermania days with Bill Walton, your city is one of the most beautiful in the league (even moreso since the Sonics left Seattle), and I’m sure we’ll be seeing each other in the playoffs more often in the years to come.