"We kind of laughed about it, 'Man, it's hard winning games in the playoffs. It takes a lot of work,'" said Brandon Roy, who had 42 points in Portland's 107-103 victory Tuesday night.
The playoff series, now even at a game apiece, moves to Houston for Game 3 on Friday.
Aaron Brooks led a late charge and finished with 23 points for Houston, which has not made it out of the first round since 1997. Von Wafer came off the bench to add 21.
LaMarcus Aldridge had 27 points and 12 rebounds for Trail Blazers, who had never dropped the first two games of a playoff series at home and played one of their most physical games of the season.
"Now we know what we have to do," Aldridge said. "We have to be physical with these guys and play with confidence."
Greg Oden's dunk pulled the Blazers into an 89-all tie with 4:45 left, before Steve Blake's finger roll put them ahead.
Portland extended the lead to 96-90 after Travis Outlaw hit a jumper and Roy made a falling-down 3-pointer.
The Rockets closed to 104-100 on Brooks' 3-pointer with 6.3 seconds left. After Roy hit a free throw, Brooks made another 3 to make it 105-103 with 1.5 seconds to go.
Rudy Fernandez sealed the win hitting two free throws for Portland.
"Now we've got ourselves a playoff series," said Houston guard Ron Artest.
The Rockets took the first game 108-81 by building a big lead and stunning the nervous Trail Blazers from the start. Yao Ming was perfect, making all nine of his shots from the field and all six of his free throws for 24 points, all in the first half.
Blazers center Joel Przybilla changed it up against Yao for Game 2, fronting him rather than playing behind him. And coach Nate McMillan used both Przybilla and Oden — both 7-footers — at the same time, something he's done just once before.
Yao had 11 points and eight rebounds but got into foul trouble.
"We guessed what they would try to do, which was obviously fronts and double teams," Yao said. "They used both tonight and tried to get the ball out of my hands. I think they did well."
But Przybilla provided more than just defense, according to Outlaw.
"Joel pulled us together telling us we can do this," he said. "We talked with each other. When we got down, no one would go into their individual mood. No one got out of their game. We played together.
Portland had not been to the playoffs since the 2003 season. The team clinched the West's fourth seed and home-court advantage with a win over Denver in the finale.
Fans at the Rose Garden were undeterred by the Game 1 loss. One held a sign reading: "I Still Believe."
Ron Artest gave the Rockets a 24-18 lead with a fadeaway late in the first quarter. But the Blazers rallied to take a 28-26 lead on Roy's 3-pointer.
It was back and forth until Wafer's 3-pointer made it 49-45 and gave Houston an opening late in the half.
But Roy hit a layup late to make it 53-51 at the break. He and Aldridge scored the Blazers' final 19 points of the half.
Portland was cold to start the second half and the Rockets went on an 8-1 run to go up 59-54.
The Blazers were helped when Yao collected his fourth foul midway through the third quarter and went to the bench. Roy's 21-foor jumper put Portland ahead 66-63 en route to a seven-point lead.
Houston recovered, and Artest's dunk at the end of the third quarter tied it at 72.
The Rockets went up 86-83 midway through the final quarter, but could not put together any sustained runs.
"They're a great team, but we came in here and stole one and now it's time to go home," Brooks said.
Rockets center Dikembe Mutombo injured his left leg in the first quarter and left the court on a stretcher.
Mutombo appeared to get tangled with Portland center Greg Oden and came down hard. He was prone on the court under the Blazers' basket for several moments before he was taken from the court. A preliminary examination showed a left knee strain, the Rockets said.
After the game, Mutombo fought back tears and suggested he was not only done for the playoff, but for his career. The 7-foot-2 left the arena on crutches.
"For me, basketball is over," he said.
Mutombo, who has played for 18 seasons in the NBA, played 18 minutes in Game 1 of the series and had nine rebounds.
"I cried so much about it when I was laying on the floor but when I got in the locker room I decided to be positive and thank God for the wonderful 18 years that I had."
Mutombo, an eight-time All-Star won the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year award four times and stands at second on the NBA's career blocks list with 3,289.
Notes: The Trail Blazers and the Rockets are meeting in the playoffs for the third time. Houston won the first two series 3-1 in 1987 and 1994. ... The Rockets have won every Game 1 against the Blazers. Portland is 19-1 when Game 2 is played in Portland. ... McMillan also used Przybilla and Oden together in a game against the Celtics in December. ... Actor Timothy Hutton was among the fans at the game. ... Roys 42 points are tied for second most by a Blazers in the playoffs. Bonzi Wells had 45 in a game against Dallas in 2003, the last time Portland went to the postseason. ... Yao is 11-for-11 from the free throw line over the first two games of the series.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.
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