HOUSTON – The Rockets were bound to win at home eventually. And on Wednesday night, that eventuality came to fruition.
After losing the first two games of the series at home, Houston staved off elimination for at least one more game by holding off the Trail Blazers 108-98 in Game 5 of the Western Conference four/five first-round series. The Trail Blazers still hold a 3-2 series lead with Game 6 scheduled for Friday in Portland.
“It was another hard-fought game,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “Obviously we got down early in the first half. I didn’t think, first half, we really played the way we’ve been playing most of the series at either end of the floor. We turned the ball over a little bit too much, a little out of sorts defensively. We made a good run at it in the second half. It was just another hard-fought game. Look forward to playing them on Friday.”
Both teams seemed primarily interested playing the offensive side of the ball to start the game, with both teams shooting better than 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from three in the first quarter. Damian Lillard, with his mother watching from the stands in Houston, got off to a hot start with 10 points in the first 12 minutes while also grabbing two rebounds, handing out two assists and poking away two steals. The Rockets employed a more balanced attack, with Chandler Parsons, Dwight Howard and Patrick Beverly combining for 18 points to help Houston to a 30-27 lead after the first quarter.
But trouble was already on the horizon. The Blazers would go scoreless in the last two minutes of the first quarter and the first three minutes of the second, which afforded the Rockets the opportunity to take a 14-point lead after a Troy Daniels three-point connected at the 9:41 mark of the second quarter. The Trail Blazers used a quick 7-0 run to get the deficit under control, but Houston answered right back to take a 17-point lead, their largest of the game, with 5:39 to play in the first half.
“I think we may have underestimated how desperate they were going to come out,” said Robin Lopez. “I think it was just the energy in the first half. I don’t know if Houston did anything different. They just came out very desperately.”
Luckily for Portland, they had been in the same situation before and knew how to react. They finished the half on a 14-5 run to go into the intermission down a very manageable 56-48.
‘They’re going to continue to fight,” said Parsons of the Trail Blazers. “They’re resilient no matter how far they get down. They’re going to keep attacking you and they’ve got guys who are capable of hitting some tough shots.”
And in the third, it would be Wesley Matthews who hit those tough shots, not to mention the easy shots. In just over 11 minutes in the third, Matthews hit 6 of 7 shoots from the field, 4 of 5 from three and 2 of 2 from the free throw line for 18 points.
“I felt good, but I was just playing basketball,” said Matthews. “I don’t think I went into that quarter thinking that I had to be aggressive, but it was in the flow of the game and my teammates were finding me and my shots were falling.”
Even with Howard scoring 10 in the third, the Trail Blazers went into the fourth down just five points, which set the scene for what looked like another close finish in a series that has already seen three overtime games.
“There’s no question that we thought we were going to win that game,” said Matthews. In an 82-game season, you play in every kind of game and we have been a resilient team all year. We’ve been in deficits that we’ve allowed ourselves to get into, but we’ve been able to pull them out.”
It looked like that would once again be the case after Lillard cut Houston’s lead with 100-98 with 3:39 to play in regulation. But Lillard’s layin would be Portland’s last points of the game as Houston finished the evening a 10-2 run to close out the game and ensure a Game 6 in Portland.
“We didn’t make certain shots that we needed,” said LaMarcus Aldridge. “We didn’t get the big stops down the stretch and I think they definitely played well down the stretch. We didn’t.”
Portland was led by Matthews, who finished with 27 points on 9 of 18 shooting from the field and 5 of 9 shooting from three. Matthews also added two rebounds and three blocks in 39 minutes.
“Wes picked up where he left off in Game 4,” said Stotts. “Third quarter he kept us afloat. He’s shooting the ball well, his defense has been consistent throughout the series. He makes all the effort plays that we need to make to win a game, to win a series. It’s something that we count on him doing.”
Lillard also shot 50 percent from the field to finish with 26 points. He also had his best game of the series, statistically, with seven assists, eight rebounds and four steals in 43 minutes.
Robin Lopez also has one of his best games of the postseason, finishing with 17 points, eight rebounds and four blocks. Nicolas Batum scored 15 to go with five rebounds and four assists.
Aldridge finished the night with just eight points on 3 of 12 shooting. He picked up two fouls in the first six minutes of the game and never seemed able to find his shot for the first time in the series.
“I think the early foul trouble probably got (Aldridge) a little out of rhythm,” said Stotts. “Our team is constructed where we’ve got to take advantage of the opportunities that are there. Obviously LA didn’t score but we still scored 98 and we had some opportunities in the last three minutes.”
The Rockets were saved by the play of reserve point guard Jeremy Lin, who finished with 21 points on 9 of 15 shooting while hitting timely shots when it looked as though the Trail Blazers might finally get over the hump in the fourth quarter.
“He hit two big shots as the shot clock was coming down in both halves, big momentum plays,” said Stotts. “Those two were big momentum plays for them and kind of took a little bit out of us because both of those plays we had a good defensive stand and then he throws it up at the end. But his penetration hurt us, particularly in the second half and we know he’s very capable of doing that for them. For him to have 21 off the bench gave them a lot of found points.”
Portland’s bench, however, finished with just five points on 2 of 11 shooting.
Dwight Howard added 22 points and 14 rebounds. Chandler Parsons and James Harden finished with 20 and 17 points, respectively.
Next up, the Trail Blazers will try to close out the series at home Friday night at the Moda Center.
“They came home and they took care of their home court,” said Aldridge. “Now we’ll go back home to Portland and we’ll try and do the same thing. We’ve been a good at home all year, and now we’ll go back home and take care of business.”
Tickets are still available for the scheduled 7:30 PM tipoff on KGW, ESPN and 620 AM.