Up 3-1 in the 1st-round best-of-4 playoff series, the Blazers kept to their reputation of making things harder on themselves than they have to, trailing much of the game before pulling close, but failing to execute down the stretch. They fell to the still-alive Rockets 108-98.
This game was less about what it was and more about what it wasn’t; and that “wasn’t” was LaMarcus Aldridge. Where was this guy? Did he realized he’d dropped two consecutive 40-point games on the same team, in the same building, just a week before? When Omer Asik fouled out with 5 minutes to go in the game, he struggled even more mightily against Dwight Howard.
It was Aldridge’s worst performance of the year (save for a 5-point performance in which he at least ripped down 13 boards), and it couldn’t have come at a worse time for his team, trying to close out a playoff series for the first time in nearly a generation.
But enough of the doom and gloom. A lot of things went very right for the Rockets. Notably, point guard Jeremy Lin, who was 9-15 for 21 points off the Houston bench. With Patrick Beverly fighting a 100+ degree fever and looking noticeably limited, it was Lin that provided the all-important guard presence the Rockets have been lacking with James Harden on extended vacation.
Speaking of Harden, despite his 5-15 performance, he delivered some clutch flops and shots that extended the Rockets’ lead late in the game when the Blazers were knocking on the door.
On the positive side, this was the worst game of the series for the Blazers, and they were within 2 points with just a few minutes left. The turning point came with 4 minutes left. Harden was contentedly jab-stepping like a spastic Fred Astaire, guarded by Batum on the right wing. Instead of staying in front of Harden and daring him to take a long jumper, Batum bit badly on a pump fake, and Harden took advantage. A stop there and a bucket could have tied the game. Instead, the Rockets went up 4 and never looked back.
Also of note, the Blazers were at one point down by 18 points, and fought all the way back. It never felt like they were out of this one until the clock had ticked down too far to afford a suitable comeback.
The things to take away from this game: the Blazers need to limit turnovers, stop biting on pump fakes (Batum was far from the only victim), and force-feed Aldridge whether he likes it or not. Without Aldridge as a viable offensive option, they’re toast.
Lost in all this is a very good game from Damian Lillard whose 26-8-7 with 4 steals is worth more than the few words I’m giving it, but in the narrative of this game and the significance to the series, it’s simply much less important than Aldridge’s disappearance.
Portland has two more tries to get to the second round. They would be wise to go ahead and take this next game, to be played at the Moda Center on Friday at 7:30 p.m. PDT.