HOUSTON - The Houston Rockets finally advanced in the NBA playoffs.
Ron Artest scored 27 points, Yao Ming had 17 points and 10 rebounds and Houston reached the second round for the first time since 1997, beating the Portland Trail Blazers 92-76 in Game 6 on Thursday night.
The Rockets drafted Yao with the top overall pick in 2002, and he's played on three of the teams that lost in the opening round. He broke his foot late last season and watched from the bench as the Rockets lost again.
He embraced teammates with a wide grin moments after this one ended, savouring every moment after his seven-year wait.
"It's a big step for me," he said. "Even when the clock was running down, I'm still not believing that it's coming true. Obviously now that we know that feeling, we've got to keep moving forward."
Aaron Brooks scored 13 points and Shane Battier tied a career playoff-high with nine rebounds as the Rockets won for the first time in their last seven first-round series.
Houston, which lost Tracy McGrady to season-ending knee surgery in February, put this one away with a big second quarter and moves on to play the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers on Monday night at the Staples Center. The Lakers won all four meetings in the regular season.
Artest was shooting only 37.7 per cent from the field in the series before producing his best offensive game. He was already talking about the next round.
"The fans were just so happy to get out of the first round and I'm like 'I'm just not happy to just be out of the first round,"' he said. "That's just not our goal here. That's not LA's goal, that's not Boston's goal, that is not Cleveland's goal. That is not our goal."
LaMarcus Aldridge scored 26 points and Brandon Roy had 22 for the Blazers, who were making their first playoff appearance since 2003. But the Blazers were the youngest team in the playoffs and their inexperience showed. They lost Game 1 in Portland, then dropped all three games in Houston, going out meekly in the finale.
"This is a great experience for us," said Roy, who averaged 26.6 points in the series. "All our guys are happy that we had a great season, but they have a bad taste in their mouth because you felt like we could have played better this series."
The last three games had been decided by a total of eight points, but the Rockets turned this one into a rout before halftime.
The Rockets led 21-19 when Yao went out for his regular rest for the start of the second quarter. Houston took control with a 13-2 run. Reserve guard Von Wafer hit a three-pointer and grabbed a rebound during the run, showing no effects of the back spasms that bothered him on Wednesday. He was cleared to play by team doctors Thursday, less than an hour before the game.
The Rockets outscored Portland 31-18 in the quarter and led 52-37 at halftime.
"Basically, we just couldn't recover from that," Portland coach Nate McMillan said.
The Blazers cut the lead to 13 early in the fourth quarter, but Yao muscled in a layup and Brooks hit a three-pointer to make it 81-63. Brooks drove for a layup with 2:45 left to put Houston ahead 87-67, prompting the "Beat L.A." chant from the raucous capacity crowd.
Yao embraced forward Brian Cook and Artest walked to the Portland bench to shake hands with McMillan as the final seconds ticked off.
"It's been a long time coming," Battier said. "I've only been here three years, but you feel the frustrations of the fans here. They love a winner here. We're glad that we could get a win for them."
Notes: The team leading at halftime won all nine games between Portland and Houston this season. ... Houston committed only eight turnovers, matching its series low. ... The Blazers outrebounded Houston 42-41, the first time in the series the team that won the battle of the boards lost the game. ... The Blazers have lost 13 of their last 14 games at the Toyota Center.
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