HOUSTON (AP) — Getting to the second round of the NBA playoffs is no big deal to Ron Artest. It is to the Houston Rockets.
Artest scored 27 points, Yao Ming had 17 points and 10 rebounds and Houston advanced for the first time since 1997, beating the Portland Trail Blazers 92-76 in Game 6 on Thursday night.
The Rockets acquired Artest in the offseason, hoping he was the missing piece to end their playoff frustrations. He was shooting only 37.7 percent from the field in the series before producing his best offensive game in the one that mattered most.
The Rockets move on to face the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers beginning Monday night at Staples Center.
"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,'" Artest 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."
Yao, meanwhile, was savoring every moment after finally helping Houston escape the first round in his seventh season.
"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."
LaMarcus Aldridge scored 26 points and Brandon Roy had 22 for the Blazers, who were making their first playoff appearance since 2003. Portland improved 13 games from last season and reached its highest win total since 1999-00.
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 Rockets outscored Portland 31-18 in the second quarter and led 52-37 at halftime.
"Basically, we just couldn't recover from that," Portland coach Nate McMillan said.
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," said Shane Battier, who tied a career playoff-high with nine rebounds. "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."
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.
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