Blazers 88, Rockets 77 Re-Thoughts

The main reasons why the Portland Trail Blazers season remains alive? LaMarcus Aldridge stepping up in a big way, Brandon Roy leaving everything he had on the floor and a 15-0 run.

Also, they finally went out and took a game in this series.

Its Aldridge who deserves a ton of credit for his performance tonight. He could have disappeared and everyone would have written their best ‘Blazers good but  just a year away’ piece. Nope. Instead he stepped up to the plate and welcomed the challenge. He was solid as a rock for the Blazers all night in a way that the team clearly needed. Without his consistency throughout the first three quarters, the Blazers more than likely don’t win this ballgame. And I doubt you’ll find anyone who will disagree with that. I point to his 10 points in the third quarter when I look at his value tonight. Odd to point to a quarter where the Rockets went to work for the most part, but he scored 10 of Portland’s 14 points that quarter at a time when Houston had the momentum. At a point when the Blazers’ offense was sputtering between turnovers and stagnancy, Aldridge found a way to make plays. Big-time players make big-time plays and that’s Aldridge did tonight. He doesn’t make some of the plays he did and the 15-0 run may not have had a chance to happen. I may be sitting here a little tipsy trying to make sure all my words are spelled correctly. To show up in an elimination game with the type of performance he delievered was good stuff. More importantly than anything is the fact that he didn’t back down from a challenge. Over this season, Aldridge has sometimes just altogether disappeared in situations. But with his star sidekick clearly ailing, he decided not to go out without a fight.

Speaking of the star, Brandon Roy had himself quite the ballgame. On the outside looking in, 25 points on 9-for-20 with 3 assists and 2 turnovers might fall into the meh category. But considering he may have had a variation of the swine flu coming into this one and needed an IV just to go out there…it was where amazing happened. Kanye would be proud. It was good to see him get a ‘sick game’ under his belt, every superstar has one eventually. Roy struggled through three quarters, never quite looking like himself. Occasionally he’d have flashes where he could get to the bucket, but it just never felt like he quite had it. It didn’t help that his jumper was off as he got good looks but just could not convert them. But in the 4th quarter he seemed to have found some sort of second wind. It was like he was Mario and he got a magic mushroom and became Super Mario or something. Either way #7  drew a line in the sand and said enough was enough. 14 of his 25 points came in the final period, including some huge shots to make sure the Rockets knew they had at least one more battle with this Blazer team. Another instance of a big-time player making big-time plays when his team needed him too. Isn’t that what the Playoffs are about?

Equally as big as Aldridge’s performance? The 15-0 game-winning run the Blazers went on from a little over the 8 minute mark of the 4th quarter to a little under the 5 minute mark. It was almost a sort of bizarro world as the Blazers did the exact opposite of what took place in Game 4. They were the ones playing defense, getting second chance opportunites and making big shots. Setting the stage, things were looking mighty dreary for the Blazers at what would be the beginning of the run. Von Wafer had just nailed a jumper to put the Rockets up 68-64. There was just an awful feeling surrounding the game after that shot. It genuinally felt like the season was slipping away. Portland had seen all of the momentum they had built up by controlling the game through the first half go out the door. The Blazers watched as their 56-45 lead from midway in the third quarter has now turned into a 4-point disadvantage. They failed to take advantage of a Rocket lineup that featured Kyle Lowry, Von Wafer, Chuck Hayes, Carl Landry and Shane Battier. Not to mention that fresh in the minds of Blazer fans was the horrible lull attached with the 4th quarter of Game 4. If Outkast were to ever make Stankonia II, it probably could have been based on the feelings surrounding this moment. With their season on the line, the Blazers responded with heart and gutsy play. Not only that but they actually went out and made plays. More importantly, Brandon Roy found a way to fight through his sickness and go to work. He scored 8 of the 15 points during the run. Greg Oden made the biggest free throws of his career. Travis Outlaw hit the biggest shot of his career to put Portland up 7. The defense however was what won the game. During that stretch the Rockets had 2 turnovers (including a shot clock violation), a blocked shot, two forced three’s from Artest and Brooks and only 2 shots from Yao. Speaking of which, Yao wouldn’t put up a shot in the last 5 minutes of the ball game. He can be taken away in crunch time people.

Statistically, a few things jump out at me. Houston only collected 3 offensive rebounds, which means of their 40 misses tonight they only got 3 of them back. A complete 180 from the debacle known as Game 4 where Houston seemingly got two shots everytime they came down the court in the 4th quarter. If Portland wants a chance to win this series they will have to continue to control the boards. Also jumping out at me was the Blazers attempting 23 free throw attempts to Houston’s 10 attempts. That’s unlikely to be duplicated in Game 6 but a welcome statistic in my eyes. I won’t touch the referee debate, thats like asking white people about politics…just asking for trouble. Houston’s 16 turnovers should jump out to me…but Portland could not take advantage of them. At all. Houston had 9 turnovers in the first half and were only down by 7. Meanwhile we turn it over 6 times in the 4th in Game 4 and end up getting torched. Their transition D just doesn’t allow for Portland to take advantage and run. It hasn’t all series which is just a really underrated point because we’re generally having to earn everything in the half-court.

Another reason why Portland was able to win this game is that Houston’s role players either didn’t show up or finally remembered who they were. And by that they didn’t look like worldbeaters out there for once. Aaron Brooks not only shot an abysmal 6-for-20 but at times looks genuinally rattled. The thing about Brooks is that his aggression is both a positive and a negative. He can burn you but he can also burn his team. His decision to shoot a three or drive into the trees instead of going to Yao in the 4th quarter illustrated that. Ditto for Ron Artest. I’m at a cross roads with Ron Ron. He’s 11-for-37 over the past three games. On the surface you obviously don’t want him scoring because he is their #2 offensive option. What you do want him to do is shoot. Tonight was a prime example. He absolutely, positively ignored Yao Ming in the 4th quarter opting to put up jumpers instead. Wafer/Landry/Lowry combined for 12 points, much less than the 28 and 20 they put up respectively in the two games in Houston. Luis Scola however continued to play unreal basketball. It would have been a blowout if you take away his performance in the first half. He has yet to have a poor game, averaging 17.6 PPG and shooting 58.5% from the field. Portland continues to say ‘Hey, we’re going to take away Yao now you beat us’ and he keeps saying ‘Yes’ in between combing his hair. He may have the best mid-range jumper in the league.

For Portland, everyone played their hearts out. Joel Pryzbilla in particular left it all out there. His defense was great but also consider that Yao Ming did not get a single offensive rebound. Greg Oden gave some huge minutes in the 4th. Rudy stepped up and played a major role, something he is going to have to get used to for the duration of the year. To nitpick…they are still having some of the same problems offensively. Not trying to rain on a parade, just trying to be honest. One of the things I felt good about at halftime was the offensive balance the Blazers had. LMA had 15, Roy had 9, Blake had 10 and Rudy/Travis both had 7 of the bench. It felt like the offensive woes may have been cured. Well LMA and Roy finished with 25 but everyone else kind of limped. Travis’ big three in the 4th was the only points him or Rudy put up in the second half. I’ll get to this before Game 6, but to get to Game 7, Portland is going to need for Rudy and Travis to step up huge. It’s hard to depend on two guys on the road, we’ve seen that in Game 3 and 4. I feel like a broken record and Rudy played a well-deserved 35 minutes…but this team needs more production from those guys.

The only guarantee is that there will be a Game 6. How would I rate tonight’s win? I’d say this was as good of a win other than a blowout that the Blazers could get as far as momentum is concerned. Houston’s going to feel like they gave this one away, it’s only a natural feeling. They hit 3-for-15 from behind the arc, Artest and Brooks struggled, maybe something about the refs and so on and so forth. However, for the first time this series, their biggest Achilles’ heel was exposed. The inability to keep it together in the 4th quarter. If you didn’t know before tonight, you know now that the Rockets struggle to get Yao the ball late. Often times they look him off. I expect Game 6 to be a close one. There might be a little bit of doubt creeping into Houston’s mind. Add in the pressure of having to win and not wanting to back to Portland…and yeah. I might be dreaming, but you can see where I’m going. And you know there is some truth in it. You think Houston wants to come back here for Game 7? Exactly.

The most important thing is that Portland will live to fight another day. Rip City can stand proud of a team that continues to fight even with their backs against the wall. Soon enough another elimination game will be coming. Only time will tell if the Rose Garden will get the chance to host a Game 7.

Let’s all hope so. That would be…say it with me…..SCINTILLLATINGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGG! (fast foward to :20 and enjoy.)

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Tags: Blazers Game 5 Blazers Rockets Game 5 Brandon Roy Gary Payton Nba Tv Gary Payton Scintillating Greg Oden Houston Rockets Joel Przybilla Kyle Lowry LaMarcus Aldridge Luis Scola Nate McMillan Nba Playoffs Rick Adelman Rip City Rip City Uprise Ron Artest Rudy Fernandez Shane Battier Steve Blake Travis Outlaw Von Wafer Yao Ming

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