The Portland Trail Blazers did what few outside of their locker room thought they Wednesday night in Houston by defeating the Rockets 112-105 to take a 2-0 lead in the four/five matchup of the Western Conference first-round. It is only the second time in franchise history that the Trail Blazers have won their first two road games in a playoff series.
“Let me just say, getting a second win here was quite an accomplishment,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “I liked out demeanor. We withstood some of their blows and kept fighting. I told the team it’s something to be proud of, but we have a tough game on Friday, so it’s just on to the next one.”
LaMarcus Aldridge was once again absolutely dominant, scoring 43 points on 18 field goals, a franchise playoff record, to go with eight rebounds, three blocks and an assist in 36 minutes.
“LaMarcus Aldridge killed us once again,” said Rockets guard James Harden. “Two games, ninety plus points. It is tough for us to get out in transition and play how we play if we can’t get stops.”
Few people, even Aldridge himself, thought he could follow up his historic 46-point performance from Game 1, but the three-time All-Star nearly did just that, and without the aid of an overtime period.
“I just went into the game just trying to feel it out and ended up finding my rhythm,” said Aldridge in the understatement of the night. “I thought Coach did a really great job of moving me around. They were trying to double me a little, so I thought Coach moving me around the floor was great.”
Aldridge is now only player with two 40-point playoff games in franchise history, a feat made even more impressive when one considers he did so in consecutive games. He’s the first player with back-to-back 40-point games in the playoffs since LeBron James did it during the 2009 Playoffs. He’s also the first player since Michael Jordan to put up at least 80 points and 15 rebounds in his team’s first two playoff games.
“There’s no question that these two games here is as well as I’ve seen him play,” said Stotts of Aldridge. “He is very determined, he’s focused, and he’s leading the team, not only with his play but also the way he’s handling himself in the timeouts and in the locker room. This is really the best I’ve ever seen him play.”
Aldridge went 9 of 12 from the field for 23 points in the first half, which was absolutely necessary in order for the Trail Blazers to withstand a first-half barrage by Houston center Dwight Howard. Howard scored Houston’s first 13 points Wednesday night and looked all but unstoppable on the way to finishing the first half with 25 points on 11 of 17 shooting.
“(Howard) got off to such a good start,” said Stotts. “We wanted to play him straight up and I thought we did a better job as the game went on mixing up our coverages.”
But even with Howard living up to his self-appointed “Superman” moniker, his regular sidekicks, Harden and small forward Chandler Parsons, went 3 for 11 from the field in the first half.
“I think the one thing that I worry about is letting (Howard) go get all those points and then letting all of their shooters start making shots, too,” said Aldridge. “As long as we were trading twos, I was fine with it. I didn’t want to overreact to it.”
Nor did they need to. While many were falling all over themselves heaping praise on Howard for his first-half performance, the scoreboard read 53-53 going into halftime, which was an unqualified success for the road team.
And in the third quarter, Howard would take only two shots, missing both. He would finish the second half with just seven points.
“I thought Robin (Lopez) and LA played good defense and the rest of the team really paid attention to him,” said Stotts. “The fact he had twenty five in the first half and finished with thirty two … we wanted to give him a lot more attention in the second half.”
In the meantime, Howard’s teammates decided they were no longer content to be spectators in their own playoff game. Harden was particularly damaging to the Rockets in the third, going 1 for 7 from the field.
But while Howard was on the bench for half of the third while his teammates bricked shot after shot, Aldridge would continue to cook, scoring 16 points on 7 of 10 shooting.
“This team, in general, just believes in me so much, they ride the wave so well,” said Aldridge. “When I’m going, one through 15, they’re all cheering for me, they’re all telling me to shoot it. If I pass up a shot, they’re all mad at me. So I think having 15 guys have your back like that, that’s great.”
Portland would also get a boost off the bench from Dorell Wright, which helped Portland take a six-point lead into the fourth.
Wright, along with fellow veteran Mo Williams, would play an important role in the final quarter as well. Houston pulled to within two points with 9:23 to play in regulation, but back-to-back three-pointers courtesy of Wright and Williams, followed by a block by Wright on Chandler Parsons, pushed Portland’s lead back to eight with 8:30 to play.
“I thought Dorell Wright coming off the bench really made a difference,” said Stotts. “They made a run and we had a lead and they tied it up. He came in and I thought he made a lot of big plays. He was making some shots and he had a block and got some rebounds. Mo Williams, during that stretch as well. We need our bench to play well and it doesn’t always mean scoring.”
Wright and Williams would combine to go 8 of 12 from the field for 25 points.
“With us both not playing well in Game 1, we just looked at each other and said ‘Tonight’s the night. We’ve got to come alive and we’ve got to be aggressive and make shots,’” said Williams. “We both did a good job of that.”
The Rockets had one more run left, cutting Portland’s lead to four with 42 seconds to play, but Damian Lillard, who finished the night with 18 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds, would grab an offensive rebound off a rare Aldridge miss and was immediately fouled by Patrick Bevereley, sending the second-year point guard to the line for two free throws. He would convert both freebies and the Trail Blazers would again hold the Rockets to twos
rather than threes, which paved the way for what would eventually be a seven-point victory.
Now the series moves to Portland with the Trail Blazers hosting the Rockets Friday night at the Moda Center. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:30 PM