Heading into the 1990 postseason, the Trail Blazers were in all too familiar position. Winners of eight of their last nine and owners of the No. 3 seed out West, Portland was expected to advance out of the first round; a monkey that had been on their backs since the 1985 campaign. During the 1987 and 1988 postseasons the Trail Blazers saw themselves as the higher seed, only to falter in four games each time. In fact, since the championship season of 1977, the Trail Blazers had failed to reach the conference semis in nine out of 11 tries. Even though Portland was 12 games better than Dallas in the regular season, fans were still skeptical if this time around would be any different. Would the acquisition of Buck Williams pay dividends? Did Portland have enough firepower off the bench? And was Rick Adelman up to the task in just his second year at the helm? All were questions the Trail Blazers were ready to answer.
During Game 1’s 109-102 win over the Mavs, Buck Williams immediately answered the call by posting a game-high 16 rebounds to go along with 21 points (9-16 shooting) in a team-high 43 minutes. But could the Trail Blazers sustain their winning ways? The previous two times they had home-court advantage, they squandered the opportunity by splitting the first two contests at the Glass Palace, resulting in added pressure to win on the road.
Everyone in the league knew Portland had as vaunted a starting five as there was but with their bench littered with unproven first and second year players, who would be able to pick up the scoring slack if the starters ever got off to a slow start? Enter the backcourt tandem of journeyman point guard Danny Young, just picked up from the Sonics the year prior, and rookie shooting guard Drazen Petrovic, in just his first postseason fresh from Croatia. After falling behind 38-24 in the first quarter, thoughts of “here we go again” inevitably came across the minds of Rip City; Danny and Drazen had other thoughts. Almost instantly, the duo ignited the Memorial Coliseum, scoring 22 of the team’s first 24 second quarter points en route to the Trail Blazers outscoring the Mavericks 39-27 in the period. Not only did Petro and Young bring Portland all the way back on the scoreboard, they sparked the starters and headed back to Dallas with a 2-0 lead in the best of five, winning 114-107.
With questions of Buck and the bench already answered, only one remained. Could Portland play to the level of their higher seed, show a killer instinct, and finish off Dallas in sweeping fashion? The last thing the Trail Blazers wanted was to give the Mavs any sort of momentum or to feel the pressure of the first-round monkey getting heavier and heavier on their backs coming home to a winner take all Game 5. A killer instinct they had, just not enough luck. Aided by an 18-3 second quarter run, Portland took a 15 point lead into the break which was enough to hold onto for the final 24 minutes for a 106-92 victory. Kersey took charge in Game 3, scoring a game-high 29 points and patrolling the paint for nine rebounds assuring the Trail Blazers a spot in the Western Conference Semifinals for the first time in five years and for only the fourth time in team history. But it came at a cost.
During the first quarter of Game 3, Buck Williams suffered a corneal abrasion over his eye, knocking him out for the rest of the game and forcing him to wear his trademark goggles for the rest of his career. Unfortunately for the Trail Blazers, the worst was yet to come. In the third period, Portland’s other starting post, Kevin Duckworth, suffered a broken right hand – his shooting hand – putting his status up in the air for the following round against all-everything center David Robinson and the Spurs.
The Rose City was up in arms. Finally, their team lived up to the hype only to see an integral piece of the puzzle sustain a major injury with arguably the worst possible matchup heading their way. How on earth did the Trail Blazers expect to contend with 7-1 Rookie of the Year David Robinson without their own starting center? Two of the four major additions to the 89-90 roster (Buck, Drazen) already made their impression felt. But don’t sleep on rookie Cliff Robinson or veteran big man Wayne Cooper. Before it’s all said and done, they’d leave their own mark on the 1990 playoff run.