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.