NBA Playoffs Heating Up

The Dallas Mavericks advanced to the NBA's Western Conference semifinals for the first time in three years by downing San Antonio on Tuesday night. Orlando took the lead over Philadelphia in their first-round series. Boston knocked off Chicago 106-104 in overtime. And Portland topped Houston to force a Game 6 in that series.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

To the NBA Playoffs now, last night the Dallas Mavericks eliminated the San Antonio Spurs, a team that had won four championships in the last ten years. And Orlando beat Philadelphia to take the lead in their first-round series. Were going to take a closer look at the other two games last night, a thriller in Boston and a season-saving win by an up-and-coming team in Portland. NPRs Tom Goldman is our guide. He sent us this report from Portland.

TOM GOLDMAN: These days, NBA pregame introductions are like a paean to the Gods.

(Soundbite of music)

GOLDMAN: You know, its really not necessary, especially in a place like Portland where the Trailblazers basically had the community at hello. In their 39 years as Portlands only major pro sports team, the Blazers have won one championship in 1977.

And the feeling here is that finally this team of good guys, which is a sea change in character from the so-called Jail blazers of recent years. This team has the stuff to put Portland on the sports map again. So you dont need the ear-splitting, hyper-caffeinated introductions when youve got an arena full of devoted Blazer-maniacs.

(Soundbite of cheers)

GOLDMAN: With about four and a half minutes left in the game against the Houston Rockets, Portlands star guard Brandon Roy hit a three-point shot to put the Blazers up by 11.

That ended up being the final margin of victory as Portland avoided elimination in its first playoff appearance since 2003 and now trails three games to two. The 88 to 77 win was noteworthy for the Blazers, the second youngest team in the league, for the absence of mistakes that had plagued the team earlier in the series. Steve Blake is Portlands starting point guard.

Mr. STEVE BLAKE (Portland Trailblazers Point Guard): Last game, you know, we kind of shot ourselves in the foot with turnovers and, you know, for a second it looked like we were going to do that again in the third quarter. But we stayed poised and started taking care of the ball, finishing plays on both ends with rebounds and getting fouled. So I was proud of the way we stuck with it and you know, were trying to get better every game.

GOLDMAN: As a young team in Portland continues to evolve, back East, the defending NBA champions are trying to survive.

Unidentified Man (Announcer): Its Pierce, is this the tagger?

(Soundbite of cheers)

Unidentified Man (Announcer): Three point four to play, Paul Pierce with a huge shot, hes got 26.

GOLDMAN: Last year Boston Celtics forward Paul Pierce told an interviewer, Im the best player in the world. Last night in Boston you would not get any argument from Celtics fans, who watched Pierce sink three jump shots in the final 77 seconds of overtime against the Chicago Bulls, including the game-winner as heard on TNT.

Last year Pierce was one of the so-called big three who led the Celtics to the championship, but last night with forward Kevin Garnett injured and sharp shooting guard Ray Allen fouled out, Pierce became the big one for what he called the never-say-die Celtics.

Mr. PAUL PIERCE (Boston Celtics Forward): I mean we never look up and say, you know, this game is over regardless of the time, the score, weve been in those types of game before where weve won. All we had to do was just slow down like Doc said, be patient on offense, and things will come.

GOLDMAN: Boston now leads what has become a classic of a series, three games to two. There have been three overtime games, a first in NBA playoff history. Perhaps more thrills are in store tomorrow night when the teams play Game six in Chicago, the same night Houston will try to stamp out the glowing embers of a young group of trailblazers.

Tom Goldman, NPR News, Portland.

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