The series between the Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers has been one of the most exciting of this season’s wild, unpredictable postseason with three overtime games, controversial officiating, and potent offenses on display.
Facing elimination and down 3 games to 1, Houston wanted to ensure that Game 5 would end in less-exciting fashion and extend their championship hopes for at least one more game.
The game started with a sense of drama, though, as the Houston crowed tried to energize a team that was searching for answers. Rockets guard Patrick Beverly was struggling with a 101-degree fever. Omer Asik was in the starting lineup to limit the Blazers’ LaMarcus Aldridge, who had been averaging over 35 points per game in the series. And Dwight Howard, effective in the first quarter of play, picked up his third foul with eight minutes left in the second.
Despite the early struggles, the Rockets managed to build a 17-pont lead. But the Blazers simply refused to quit. Aldridge was indeed limited, getting in early foul trouble and out of rhythm all night; he finished with just 8 points (3-of-12 FGA). But Damian Lillard was sensational early (26 points, 7 assists, 4 steals) and Wesley Matthews (27 points) led all scorers for the game. Brook Lopez took advantage of Howard’s foul trouble, adding 17 points to the Blazers’ losing cause.
The lead dwindled for Houston and, only up 5 midway through the third quarter, the momentum seemed to sway in Portland’s favor. Who would save the Rockets’ season? Jeremy Lin answered the bell, scoring 21 points on 9-of-15 shooting. Lin was inserted early in the game to give the dehydrated Beverley a rest and he delivered key baskets all night. In a game marked by runs, Lin’s 6-point burst to close the third quarter was crucial to the Houston victory.
Still, the Blazers did manage to keep the fourth quarter close, as a Lopez dunk nearly evened the score, 93-92, with 6:37 left to play. This time it was James Harden who responded for Houston. Erratic and stuck on the bench for much of the game, Harden scored 8 of Houston’s last 10 points. And Howard, despite playing with 4 fouls, finished with 22 points and two key blocks in the closing minutes to seal the Rockets win, 108-98.
The game may have been somewhat anticlimactic, with Houston avoiding overtime for the fourth time this series. But the Rockets even scoring at key moments throughout the game kept the series alive. There’s still hope for more excitement in Game 6, when the two teams meet again in Portland on Friday at 10:30 PM (EST).
X-Factor for the Game
Jeremy Lin. After only scoring 4 points in a Game 4 Houston loss, Lin was huge on Wednesday, especially with Beverly’s limited minutes. Lin was more in control, was able to avoid Lillard and Mo Williams on defense and seemed to always hit a basket right as Portland was regaining momentum. Although Chandler Parsons was big as well, Lin was difference maker.
Keys to Game 6
For Portland, it’s simple – Aldridge has to regain the scoring touch he had through the first four games of the series. Foul trouble might have been disruptive but Aldridge simply didn’t connect on easy baskets, either around the rim or from his usually-dependable mid-range game.
Houston’s “solution” is trickier – Harden has to play his best game of the series. Lin will likely not be as big a factor and the Rockets’ hopes of moving on to a Game 7 depend on Harden to score early and often. Going 5-of-15 like he did last night isn’t going to cut it. Houston hasn’t won in Portland so far and without Harden, that trend will continue.