Comeback comes close for Blazers
The team with the NBA's best record got another victory Thursday night, but not without a scare.
Chris Paul's driving layup with .8 of a second gave Houston a 96-94 win over the shorthanded Trail Blazers at Toyota Center after Portland had stormed back with a 17-0 run in the final four minutes to tie the game at 94-94.
The Rockets led 94-77 with 3:57 to go, and Portland coach Terry Stotts emptied his bench while his counterpart with Houston, Mike D'Antoni, stuck with mostly starters.
Portland's reserves charged back, and suddenly, Houston could do nothing right, missing four shots and turning the ball over five times in eight possessions.
Portland's Jake Layman knocked down a 17-footer to make the score 94-90 with 50.5 seconds to go.
After a turnover, Layman scored in transition to cut it to 94-92 with 31.9 seconds left.
After James Harden missed two free throws with 13.3 seconds to play, Pat Connaughton converted a driving layup and it was 94-94 with 6.1 ticks left.
But after a timeout, Paul saved the day for the Rockets with his game-winning basket.
After another timeout, CJ McCollum got off a turn-around, running 3-point attempt that bounced off the glass, rim and out, and the Rockets escaped with the victory.
Portland — which trailed by 24 points in the second quarter — outscored Houston 23-12 in the fourth quarter, the Rockets hitting 4 of 15 from the field with seven turnovers.
Paul scored 27 points and Harden added 24 for the Rockets (64-15).
McCollum led Portland with 16 points but had one of his worst games of the season, going 7 for 25 from the field, including 2 for 9 from 3-point range, with six turnovers in 33 minutes.
Jusuf Nurkic contributed 14 points and 11 rebounds.
Portland was without three of its top six players — starters Damian Lillard (ankle) and Moe Harkless (knee) and key reserve Ed Davis (ankle).
Rookies Wade Baldwin (14 points, three assists, two steals) and Caleb Swanigan (10 points, four boards) made strong contributions off the bench for the Blazers (48-31), whose magic number to clinch the third seed in the Western Conference playoffs remained at two — two Portland wins and/or Utah losses.
Portland's magic number to cinch the fourth seed and first-round homecourt advantage over San Antonio is one. The Blazers can wrap that up with a victory Saturday night at AT&T Center in San Antonio.
Houston led 36-17 after one quarter, and the Rockets kept coming, increasing the margin to 41-17 early in the second quarter.
Portland rallied with a 16-5 run to draw to within 46-33 midway through the quarter.
The Blazers got closer at 51-40, but the Rockets closed the quarter on a 15-4 tear for a 66-44 advantage at the break.
Houston carried an 84-71 lead into the fourth quarter. The Blazers cut it to 85-75 as the Rockets missed their first seven shots of the final period. When Houston scored the game's next seven points to go ahead 92-75, the verdict seemed decided. But it wasn't.