While Damian Lillard’s buzzer-beating game-winner versus the Rockets in Game 6 that be the enduring memory of Portland’s 2014 playoff run, it was LaMarcus Aldridge’s near perfection in Game 1 and Game 2 of that allowed the Trail Blazers to take the first two games in Houston, and eventually, the series. The quality of his consecutive 40+ point performances put Aldridge at the top of the first ESPN postseason MVP rankings.
Of course, the Trail Blazers would eventually lose to San Antonio in five games during the Western Conference semifinals, but Aldridge’s performances versus Houston was the reason the Trail Blazers were able to win their first playoff series in 14 years. Which is why, despite being eliminated from the postseason almost two weeks ago, Aldridge remains in the Top 10 of David Thorpe’s most recent postseason MVP ranking for ESPN …
10. LAMARCUS ALDRIDGE, TRAIL BLAZERS
2014 POSTSEASON STATS
GP MPG PPG RPG APG BPG SPG PER EWA*
11 40.1 26.2 10.6 1.5 1.6 0.6 21.23 2.1
It’s fair to wonder what might have happened had Damian Lillard not made that prayer of a 3 to beat Houston in Game 6 of their first-round series. What if Houston had come back to win the series? The Rockets were built to beat any team, especially with the way Dwight Howard was playing, and had swept the Spurs during the regular season.
This is just academic consideration, of course, because of what Aldridge did to the Rockets throughout that series. The Spurs seem primed to advance to the NBA Finals, and if that happens, they should thank Aldridge.
Couple things here.
First, Lillard’s shot wasn’t a “prayer.” Lillard has been as clutch as most any player in the NBA through his first two season and he exploited truly terrible defense by the Rockets to get a clean look at a three-pointer well within his range. That’s not a prayer, it’s game.
Then there’s the line “the Rockets were built to beat any team” which elicits a chuckle from yours truly every time I read it. There’s verifiable proof, as in, they lost in the first round to the Trail Blazers, that Houston was not in fact “built to beat any team.” Or maybe that’s how they were built, but it sure isn’t how reality played out.
And of course, the Nets swept the Heat in the regular season and it didn’t keep them from being dispatched in five games by Miami in the Eastern Conference semifinals, so I’d be real reluctant to assume Houston would have fared any better against San Antonio than Portland did. In fact, I’d make no such assumption whatsoever, especially with San Antonio proving they only need opponents to screw up for roughly five minutes a game to come away with a blowout victory.
But none of that changes what should be the takeaway from Thorpe’s ranking, which is that Aldridge capped off his best professional regular season with a postseason that ranks among the best in the NBA this year. Aldridge is the only player on Thorpe’s ranking whose team has been eliminated from the postseason, which is high praise.