LaMarcus Aldridge’s Trail Blazers claw back for Game 1 win over Houston Rockets

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LaMarcus Aldridge shot just 33 percent with Omer Asik guarding him during the regular season, giving the Rockets a potential answer to a player who scorched them for 26.8 points and 15.5 rebounds per game. In Game 1 of the Trail Blazers’ first-round series against Houston on Sunday, Aldridge immediately went to work trying prove the backup center couldn’t stop him when they matched up in the first quarter.

Aldridge gained no ground on a post-up and settled for a turnaround jumper. Point Asik.

Aldridge made it anyway. Point Aldridge.

On Portland’s next possession, Aldridge rolled to the basket and finish at the rim despite absorbing a hard bump from Asik. Point Aldridge – and, more importantly, message sent.

The favored Rockets couldn’t knock out the Trail Blazers in a 122-120 Portland win. Three hours and 21 minutes after tipoff – and 35 hours and 24 minutes after an exciting opening weekend of the NBA playoffs began – Portland finally ended a thrilling overtime game by forcing a missed James Harden jumper.

The Rockets led by 13 points in the fourth quarter, 11 points with four minutes left in regulation and six points with four minutes left in overtime. But the Trail Blazers showed their resiliency in Houston.

To come back late in regulation, Portland repeatedly intentionally fouled Dwight Howard. After he missed four straight free throws, Houston pulled him.

Often overlooked in hack-a-whomever strategies is how it affects the fouling team’s offense. Even when the opponent misses his free throws, that usually gives them a chance to set their defense. Though I don’t know exact numbers, I’m fairly confident scoring gets much harder after sending someone to the free-throw line.

But by forcing Howard out of the game, the Trail Blazers bettered their offense. They shot 10-for-10 in the paint with him on the bench.

Damian Lillard – who scored 31 points, becoming the first Trail Blazer to score 30 in his playoff debut – especially got where he wanted during the closing stretch.

Soon enough, momentum completely shifted. Lillard made a game-tying 3-pointer with 29 second left. After Harden hit two free throws, Aldridge’s tip-in with two seconds left sent the game to overtime.

That just gave us a little longer to appreciate Aldridge’s incredible performance. Aldridge – who shot 3-for-15 from beyond the arc during the regular season – even made a 3-pointer in the extra period.

He finished with 46 points – a Portland franchise playoff record and most by anyone in a postseason game in three years – and 18 rebounds. The last two players to hit those marks in a playoff game, Howard and Hakeem Olajuwon, watched Aldridge join their ranks in person.

Howard, whose signing in Houston coincided with the Rockets hiring Olajuwon to tutor the team’s centers, was no slouch himself. He had 27 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks for his new team.

On the other hand, his All-Star teammate, struggled. Harden shot just 8-for-28 and didn’t going at all until the second half, when Houston shot its first free throw. Although Harden scored 27 points, they came inefficiently, and his defense was problematic throughout the game.

At least he was left standing to take the final shot, though.

Robin Lopez, Aldridge, Patrick Beverley and Howard all fouled out in overtime. In a physically and mentally exhausting game, it seemed players lost their wits a bit. Aldridge’s final foul was particular maddening. He set an unnecessary (especially with five fouls) screen in the backcourt to free Lillard off the ball and got a little too physical.

The Trail Blazers and Rockets have two days off before Game 2, and after this one, it seems they’ll need every minute to recuperate – and then maybe all 48 minutes (plus maybe more) to determine another winner.

Tyronn Lue doesn’t hold back with retort to heckling Pacers’ fan

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It’s a part of the NBA experience that most fans don’t get to hear — some fans courtside heckling opposing players and coaches, and those guys occasionally firing back. We only tend to hear about it when things cross a line.

Sometimes the interactions are just funny, such as this one passed along by J. Michael of the Indy Star.

Well played, Lue.

Although is Cleveland really a city at the forefront of fashion? Well, I suppose if you went to college in Nebraska…

Report: Pelicans picked up Alvin Gentry’s option for next season before sweep

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Last summer the buzz was all over the league: Pelicans GM Dell Demps and coach Alvin Gentry were given a “playoffs or bust” mandate by management. If the Pelicans were not in the postseason — and just barely getting in and then blown out in the first round might be good enough — there was going to be a housecleaning.

The Pelicans made the playoffs as the six seed with 48 wins despite losing DeMarcus Cousins to a torn Achilles midway through the season.

That alone was good enough to get Gentry another season in New Orleans, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

As noted, this happened before the Pelicans swept the Trail Blazers out of the first round and into a summer of re-evaluation. This option season is the last of Gentry’s original deal with the Pelicans.

Gentry has the Pelicans playing fast, using the elite defense of Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday to get stops, and right now Davis is leading an offense that is just getting it done, with guys such as Nikola Mirotic stepping up. Gentry has earned another year, and a shot to integrate Cousins into this style and level of play, to see where that could take New Orleans next season.

It will be interesting to see if Demps can add more shooting and versatility with a capped out roster.

Report: Suns talk to Jason Kidd, Vinny Del Negro about coaching job

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Mike Budenholzer is out (and may be thinking New York). Suns’ interim coach Jay Triano and former Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale are still in the mix.

The Suns also have reached out to Jason Kidd — who was let go by the Bucks mid-season — and former Bulls and Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro, reports Scott Bordow of the Arizona Republic.

This is still early in a lengthy search process, there is a long way to go before anyone gets offered this job.

Kidd now lives in Phoenix. He’s considered a smart coach but one who falls in and out of love with players fast, pushes hard for the players he wants (and against those he doesn’t), and didn’t utilize the talent on the Bucks to its best advantage. The Suns have to ask if he is the right guy for a rebuild. He can coach, he’s going to get another chance, but do the Suns want to give it to him?

Mentioning Del Negro will lead to howls from the Suns’ fanbase, but to be fair he gets a bit of a bad rap as a coach. Del Negro won 53.3 percent of his games as a coach, and only one team he coached ever finished below .500. He’s had some success developing players, starting with Derrick Rose. All that said, there are reasons Suns’ fans are right to howl: simplistic offenses, a heavy reliance on pick-and-roll sets, and remember he broke the confidence of DeAndre Jordan (Doc Rivers had to build it back up).

Phoenix fired Earl Watson just three games into the season and are looking to replace him. The new coach will have a very good young scorer in Devin Booker on the roster and after that a lot of young question marks. This is a development job where the Suns need to hire a guy who can put in a system, then bring in more talent and stay out of the new coach’s way. We’ll see if the Suns can do that.

Hours after game-winning tip, restaurant told Giannis Antetokounmpo he had to wait

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Giannis Antetokounmpo was the toast of Milwaukee Sunday night: With the game on the line after a Boston comeback, he tipped in a missed Malcolm Brogdon lay-up that proved to be the game winner. (Jayson Tatum was in good position for Boston, he tried to move Antetokounmpo out of his rebounding spot, it just didn’t matter.)

Well, you would have thought Antetokounmpo was the toast of the town, but when he went to BelAir Cantina (a chainlet of Mexican restaurants in the area) he was told he had to wait. And wait. To the point he eventually left.

As you might imagine, the 6’11” Antetokounmpo walking into a restaurant a couple hours after tying up the series with the Celtics drew fast attention on social media. So did the fact he couldn’t get service.

First, good on Antetokounmpo for not pulling the “do you know who I am?” line. He was reportedly unassuming and just left after a while. No hard feelings, his girlfriend later tweeted this out.

As for BelAir Cantina, I kinda get it — I worked my way through college as a waiter and bartender. The restaurant got slammed, everyone working there was in the weeds, and things fall through the cracks. It happens.

But when the 6’11” toast of the town walks in, he cannot slip through the cracks. Cannot. Rather than social media posts about him not getting served and walking out, there would have been pictures all over of him eating the lamb barbacoa or whatever. It’s good for business. If you give the man a little special treatment after the game, nobody is going to complain (except the people who were going to complain about everything anyway… in that sense working in a restaurant was good preparation for me to use Twitter someday).