The 1989-90 Portland Trail Blazers had high hopes of bringing back the NBA championship title to Rip City for the first time since 1977 when Blazermania struck Oregon! After a roster rebuilding over the summer of 1989, this talented team coached by a second-year head coach Rick Adelman made an incredible turnaround from the 1988-89 season, achieving a 59-23 record.
The nucleus of Clyde Drexler, Terry Porter, Kevin Duckworth, Jerome Kersey was supplemented by the tireless power forward Buck Williams and the exciting rookies Dražen Petrović and Cliff Robinson. Petro gave this most unique basketball unit on a special mission to basketball greatness, an additional dimension of competitiveness and stubbornness.
Due to a preseason back surgery, Dražen opened the season slowly, with many questioning his true value. But as the season progressed he became the major contributor from the bench at the guard positions. With the Western Conference packed with elite teams who played at an incredible pace, the 1989-90 Trail Blazers knew very well that their postseason path will be rocky from the start.
The First Round of the 1990 NBA play-off brought them the Dallas Mavericks. The sixth-seeded Mavs had a respectable 47-35 regular-season record. Just two years earlies, in 1988, they went all the way to game 7 in the Western Conference finals with the L.A. Lakers – the Blazers knew not to be fooled by their 6th place in the West.
The 1989-90 Mavs were stacked at the frontcourt positions with Sam Perkins, Roy Tarpley, and James Donaldson. At the guard positions, they had an All-Star in shooting guard Rolando Blackman, near All-Star in point guard Derek Harper and a proven winner in 6’2’’ Steve Alford.
Coming in from the bench, the Blazers reserve guards Petrović and Danny Young sparked a furious second-quarter run by the Blazers, and got all of the 12,884 fans in the Rose Garden on their feet!
“The guys from the bench, we just came in the second quarter. We had some trouble in the first. And we just moved the ball and played real well. Cooper and Cliff [Robinson] they played really good defense, and with Buck and Jerome we made some difference in the second quarter.” –Dražen Petrović
The Mavs saw their first-quarter 38-24 lead almost completely evaporate during the second period, leading by only 2 points at the halftime (63-65)! Dražen just had one of those days when everything he threw at the basket went in – he scored all of his 14 game points during only 6 minutes and 10 seconds of the second quarter!
The NBA’s third-most efficient three-point shooter of the 1989-90 season hit his second triple of the game after Buck Williams collected the offensive board and passed him the ball beyond the arc.
“I am so excited because we needed this win. In the beginning of the season, I didn’t have a real chance to play but now Rick has more confidence in my game and I really like to play hard on defense and on offense!”Dražen Petrović
He scored 14 points on 5-10 shooting from the field, to go along with 2 assists, 1 rebound, and 1 steal, as the Blazers, who had seven players in double figures, won the game 2 of the series by 114-107.
“We missed some free-throws in the first half but most importantly we won this game, and we have a very good chance of passing the first round and going to a second round of play-offs.”Dražen Petrović
Two days later, on May 1st, 1990, the series shifted to Dallas and the Blazers completed the clean sweep. After that triumph, the Portland Trail Blazers subsequently eliminated the 1989-90 powerhouses such as the San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix Suns, reaching the NBA finals for the first time since 1977. But, they didn’t manage to go all the way – Isiah Thomas and the Bad Boy Pistons got in the way.