I asked Nate yesterday whether Aaaron Brooks had what it takes to be a playoff point guard. He said, "We'll see."
From the opening tip, Brooks dominated Steve Blake, carving through the Blazers defense and setting up easy looks for his bigs: Yao and Scola combined to shoot 16 of 18 for 43 points.
In the second half, with the Blazers mounting attempts at rallies, Brooks slammed the door shut with his outside shooting. His final line, eye-popping line was 27, 7 and 4 with 5 three pointers and just 2 turnovers in 35 minutes.
Total domination. The final count was 108 to 81, Rockets.
Brooks was impressive as a teammate at shootaround, as I wrote earlier today, and he could not have been more impressive tonight on the court. Or during the postgame session for that matter, as he sat, clad in a green cable knit sweater, and deferred the praise to Yao Ming and said all the right things about matching the intensity in game two.
He was unstoppable. And he realized that pretty early on tonight. Confidence is a dangerous thing in the hands of a young point guard.
Brandon Roy stated after the game that the Blazers "didn't accept the challenge at the guard position." And that question still hovers two hours after he said it: if Brooks repeats his performance -- what one reporter tonight called "the game of his life" -- or at least continues the solid play he's demonstrated against the Blazers all season, is there anyone ready, willing or able to accept that challenge?
We'll find out Tuesday.
To be clear, this isn't just about the matchup at one: everyone failed to show up, aside from B. Roy and some flashes from Greg Oden during the second half when the game was already decided. It was the kind of night where guys go home, look in the mirror, and admit to themselves they didn't do what needed to be done to win a game. And not 1 or 2 guys. (Just about) everybody.
Indeed, it would be difficult to imagine Brandon looking more disappointed in his team's play; at home, this season, I can't remember him as somber and defeated as he was tonight. While Yao Ming said he hoped this first game would set the tone for the series, Brandon was simply repeating: "We can't let this break us.... I told the guys, we can't let this break us."
Tonight was a wake up call for Brandon, a gut punch for Nate McMillan and a reality check for his team.
The final scene was a nearly empty locker room. A reporter slouched in Nic Batum's chair, spinning slowly, abandoned stalls in every direction. Rotating one direction, then the other, looking for an explanation in an empty room.
What happened? How to regroup? Where did last week's Blazers disappear to?
Those questions will start being answered tomorrow morning at the Practice Facility.
I'll check back with you then.
-- Ben (email@example.com)