Together, Blazers go overtime to beat Rockets again
If there was a specific moment that was most critical to the Trail Blazers' 123-120 overtime victory over Houston Sunday night at the Moda Center, it probably wasn't Mo Williams' go-ahead jump shot or LaMarcus' Aldridge's block near the end of regulation, or Wesley Matthews strip of the Rockets' Patrick Beverley in the waning seconds of the extra session.
It might have been the scene in the Portland locker room at halftime, with Houston holding a 61-51 lead.
Veterans such as Aldridge, Matthews, Williams and Earl Watson let their teammates know that the Blazers were allowing a grand opportunity to slip away after going up 2-0 in the series in Houston.
"We were shouting across the room -- not at people individually, but addressing the team," point guard Damian Lillard said. "Guys stepped up and spoke up -- Mo, L.A., Wes, Earl. We won two games on the road. It would be a huge disappointment to let (the Rockets) come back and do the same thing. We rose to the challenge."
Aldridge described the situation as "dramatic."
"Mo is always talking, but he never screams," he said. "He was trying to light a fire under everybody. He was telling us we weren't competing at the highest level. He said he had seen every guy on the team compete better than he did in the first half. He said, 'We all have to seize this moment.' Every guy took on that challenge after that."
The Blazers rallied -- from an 11-point deficit in the third quarter, from eight points down with 8 1/2 minutes left in regulation -- to win and grab a 3-1 series lead heading into Wednesday's Game 5 at Houston.
The resilience didn't surprise coach Terry Stotts, who struggled to find the most appropriate cliché afterward.
"We're at our best when our backs are against the wall, have something to prove -- whatever phrase you want to use," Stotts said. "We have a determination to us. We know what we have to do, and most times, we do it."
The Blazers got it done not on the back of Aldridge or even Lillard. They did it collectively, with all five starters, along with reserves Williams and Dorell Wright, playing key roles.
"It's not about one or two people," said Lillard, who scored 23 points, dished out eight assists, was 5 for 7 from 3-point range and had only two turnovers in 47 frenzied minutes.
"It's about our group. A lot of guys were able to come in and go above and beyond, sacrifice their bodies, diving on the floor. Our strength is in our unity, and it showed tonight."
Aldridge (29), Nicolas Batum (25), Lillard and Matthews (21) all scored more than 20 points, the first time a Portland quartet has achieved that in the postseason in 22 years. Williams was only 3 for 11 from the field, but it was his 3-point shot that gave Portland a 105-104 lead with 18.1 seconds left in regulation, and his two clutch free throws with 7.9 seconds to go in overtime provided the game's final points.
"I was proud of the way we played in the second half," Stotts said. "We showed a lot of heart and determination to get back into the game. Even with losing the lead in overtime, we made a lot of big plays."
The series has been spectacularly competitive, remarkably evenly matched and particularly intense. Sunday's contest provided some spellbinding stuff to watch, which wasn't lost on the players.
"It was a great game to be a part of," Lillard said. "Both teams competed really hard. We played a really resilient, tough game. (The Rockets) controlled most of the it, but we kept competing, kept fighting. We found a way to get it done again."
The Blazers trailed almost the entire way until taking a 99-97 lead on a Batum 3-pointer with 4:32 left in regulation. They had a great chance to close out there, extending the advantage to 102-97, before Dwight Howard came up big at both ends, teaming with James Harden to get the Rockets into overtime.
Batum's five straight points snapped a 110-110 tie in the extra session, and the Blazers led 119-112 with 1:50 left, but it still wasn't over. Houston stormed back to within one point, thanks to Aldridge missing a pair of foul shots and unflappable Rockets rookie guard Troy Daniels making three straight at the line after being fouled by Wright on a trey with 8.9 seconds to go.
But Williams drained a pair at the line for a 123-120 lead, and Matthews -- who else? -- stripped Houston's Patrick Beverley of the ball as the clock ran out and Moda Center denizens roared their approval.
It was a devastating loss for the Rockets, who competed hard and held the upper hand almost the entire way, but couldn't seal the deal.
"We didn't execute very well," Houston coach Kevin McHale said. "We held the ball way too much. We didn't attack enough. We had a ton of opportunities. We were up 11 points (in the third quarter) and botched three consecutive fast breaks -- could have been up 17.
"It's not about how you're playing, it's about the plays you make. If you hang our hat on whether the shot goes in, you're in the wrong business. The playoffs are a different grind. You have to be built for the grind. Our guys are fairly young. They have to understand you have to grind out wins, grind out plays. You have to execute."
The Blazers, Houston's Chandler Parsons said, "played good." But the small forward inferred that the Rockets have been their own worst enemy in the series.
"We respect them," said Parsons, who collected 26 points and eight rebounds. "They have so many options. Their starting five is one of the better ones in the entire NBA. They can hurt you inside with L.A., they have shooters to space the floor. they played well.
"You can't take anything away from them. But it's hard to play against a team and against ourselves at the same time. It's impossible to win that way."
Four to-the-wire games, three of them overtime contests.
'We feel like just as easily it's 1-3, we could be up 3-1," Parsons said. "A couple of plays here and there, it can all change. We fully expect to come back here (for Game 6). This is win or go home. We're not trying to go home."
NOTES: Aldridge had 10 rebounds and four blocked shots, including a swat of a Harden drive with Portland clinging to a 105-104 lead and 10 seconds to go in regulation. Batum enjoyed his second straight outstanding game, making 11 of 23 shots and contributing six rebounds, six assists and no turnovers in 45 minutes. Matthews, who had averaged 10.7 points while shooting .353 from the field in the first three games, was 8 for 15 and contributed four rebounds, three assists and four steals. Houston had nine offensive rebounds and 14 second-chance points in the first half. The Rockets had five offensive boards and four second-chance points the rest of the way. Lillard's 14 3-pointers are the most by any player in the playoffs so far. Aldridge's 55 field goals are the most by any player in a team's first four playoff ganmes since Chicago's Michael Jordan (61, 1997).
It was the first time four Blazers have scored 20 or more in a playoff game since 1992 (Clyde Drexler, Kevin Duckworth, Jerome Kersey, Terry Porter). It was the first victory for a home team in the series and the 100th playoff victory in Portland franchise history. On Wednesday, the Blazers have a chance to wrap up their first playoff series win since 2000. Portland and Houston have met eight times this season, including four times in the regular season. Each team has scored more than 100 points in every game. Parsons didn't score over the final 20:40 of the game. Harden led Houston with 28 points, and Howard collected 25 points and 14 rebounds. Harden had his best shooting game of the series, making 9 of 21 shots from the field. Harden is 36 for 103 (.350) from the field, including 11 for 41 (.268) from 3-point range in the four games.