AUBURN HILLS, MICH. -- In those matchup preview boxes before these NBA Finals began, the check always went to the Detroit Pistons under the category, "Back Court." We are, after all, talking about Isiah Thomas, the best guard in the league not named Magic or Michael, and Joe Dumars, who despite Isiah's presence, may be the most valuable player on the defending championship team.

What we had on the Portland side was uncertainty. Terry Porter, the point guard, would have trouble guarding Thomas. And Clyde Drexler . . . well, hadn't all of Drexler's gliding been done well before June to this point in his career? This has been Drexler's team for some time now and three of the last four years the Trail Blazers had lost in the first round of the playoffs, reflecting more on Drexler than any other player in the franchise. Some wondered if he had it in him to rise and be The Man.

After Game 2, however, it may be time to reassess the perception that Drexler and Porter would be outplayed in this series. Porter has had better shooting nights, but his 15-for-15 foul shooting and 10 assists more than compensated. The 15 straight foul shots made in a playoff game broke the record set 10 years ago by Magic Johnson in the NBA Finals against The Doc and Philly.

While Porter's contributions were efficient, if unspectacular, Drexler's splendor was breathtaking. Hardly any of his 13 field goals were routine, and his two foul shots with 2.1 seconds to play in overtime Thursday night gave him 33 points for the evening, and Portland a 106-105 series-evening victory at The Palace.

Another performance or two like that and Drexler's reputation will be changed substantially. Drexler, remember, was compared to Julius Erving long before Michael Jordan was. Drexler's presence, in fact, was the reason the Trail Blazers drafted Sam Bowie with the No. 2 pick in 1984, not Jordan. Now that he has gone further than Jordan in these NBA playoffs, the shadow -- some would say cloud -- he has had to play under should disappear.

Timing is everything in the playoffs and Drexler's was impeccable. When Bill Laimbeer nailed two of his playoff record-tying six three-pointers to push the Pistons into the lead, 89-86, it was Drexler who answered by hitting a pull-up three-pointer to bring the Trail Blazers even.

"Sometimes," he said, "you've got to answer what the other team does in a situation."

When Thomas hit a free throw to push the Detroit lead to 92-89 with less than two minutes left in regulation, Porter scored a back-door layup off a pass from Drexler.

Portland's strength in this series was supposed to be its front court of Kevin Duckworth, Buck Williams and Jerome Kersey. But the remainder of the game held the same pattern for Portland. Drexler's free throw kept the Trail Blazers within two, 94-92 with :44.3 left in regulation. Porter's free throws tied it at 94, with 10.2 seconds left in regulation and sent the game into overtime.

Drexler hit Portland's first basket in overtime, the second, the third and the game-winning free throws. "He comes through at the right time," Duckworth said. "When you need a three, he'll hit it. When you need two free throws, he'll make them."

The same can be said of Porter, the $13.5 million-dollar man (over five years). That's Terry Porter, not Kevin the former Bullets and Pistons super guard, as he is often called. He not only is the most underrated guard in the league, he may be the most underrated player. Because the NBA is in the midst of a point guard renaissance, Porter is usually listed behind Magic, Isiah, Kevin Johnson, John Stockton and even Mark Price in the play-making pecking order. Even so, he is elbowing all but Magic for room near the top.

"Everyone was up in arms over all the money he got," Buck Williams said. "All you heard was, 'Terry Porter's overpaid.' But he's a money player. He makes plenty, but he produces plenty. When I was with New Jersey I thought he was underrated."

When Williams got to Portland the Denver Nuggets were wooing Porter. In fact, they had driven up his salary by offering a one-year contract for more than $2.5 million. The Trail Blazers didn't flinch; they matched the offer and added four years.

"As soon as he signed that contract, he took it upon himself to become a scorer," Duckworth said.

Porter has averaged 21 points during the playoffs after averaging 17 during the regular season. "But it's not because I'm trying to take over games or live up to the big contract," he said. "I never looked at it that way. Really, it's strategic. You have to remember, in these last two series {against Phoenix and Detroit} the two point guards I've been up against -- K.J. and Isiah -- have been their teams' primary offensive weapons. My approach was to try to make sure they have to work as much on the defensive end as I do."

Porter's strategy, designed by him, not Coach Rick Adelman, worked well in Game 2, even though he missed eight of 11 shots. But when a player goes to the foul line 15 times on the road, against The Bad Boys no less, it's tough to question.

Strangely enough, Thomas and a leg-weary Dumars (who has guarded Reggie Miller, Gerald Wilkins, Jordan and Drexler in the postseason) now find themselves challenged to play better in this series by one guard who has been labeled a playoff underachiever and another who has to remind people of his first name.

"Kevin Porter was a great guard; he'll probably be a Hall-of-Famer sooner or later," Terry Porter said. "But you know what? I wouldn't mind my own identity. Maybe I'll have one after this series."