With Dwight Howard on LaMarcus Aldridge, Patrick Beverley versus Damian Lillard, and James Harden against Wesley Matthews, we knew that the Rockets-Blazers series was going to be good. After tonight, those high expectations went even higher as we were treated to one of the better playoff games in recent memory, as the Rockets fell in a crushing overtime defeat. The Rockets core put up big numbers, but struggled with foul trouble and could not keep up with a heroic performance by Aldridge in this epic game one.
From the outset, the Blazers made it clear that they would not go down easily on the road. The Rockets looked reasonably lethargic in the first quarter, quickly being taken out of their games, and the Blazers looked like they came to play. In the second and third quarter, the Rockets flipped the script, appearing to take control of the game, building a modest lead into the fourth quarter.
Then, it got good. The Rockets had as big as a ten point lead with four minutes left, and then the Blazers went on a run, with Lillard and Aldridge going berserk over the final stretch. Lillard hit a top of the key three with 29 seconds to go to tie the game, and Harden drew a foul to put the Rockets up two with seven seconds to go. A Wesley Matthews three pointer went wide and one rebound was all that stood between the Rockets and a game one win. The bounce went the Blazers' way and Aldridge tipped in the miss, sending the game to overtime.
Once overtime began, the Rockets looked to go at the Blazers quickly. Dwight Howard and Jeremy Lin got back-to-back and-ones, but the Blazers quickly countered with a pair of threes to level the score. From there, it turned into a back-and-forth battle. Robin Lopez and Aldridge fouled out, shifting the momentum Houston's way, but then Beverley and Howard collected their sixth fouls of their own to be shown the door, and Joel Freeland and Francisco Garcia were pressed into duty.
After a barrage of free throws and and-ones, the stage was set for the Rockets to tie or win the game, down two with ten seconds to go. Harden, who had missed a pull-up three on the previous possession, drove into the path of four different Blazers, and, having sized up his options, turned and fired a fading away jumper that had no chance of going in. With that, the Rockets walked off their court losers of one of the great battles in recent playoff history, falling 122-120.
Looking at the aftermath on the box score is unbelievable. LaMarcus Aldridge had 46 and 18 for the Blazers, Howard had a solid 27 and 15, and Damian Lillard had 31 in his first playoff game. James Harden, on the other hand, had 27 points, but needed 28 shots to do it as he struggled with his game all night.
With game two on Wednesday, the Rockets will have plenty of time to reevaluate, but they also will have to wait to hear on Patrick Beverley's status for the rest of the series. The young scrapdog of a point guard hurt his already hurt knee late in the game, and despite playing through it before fouling out, he needed to be helped off the court after the game. Lin played very well, especially down the stretch, but losing Beverley's fire and defensive tenacity would really hurt the Rockets chances against the now-confident Blazers squad.
Game two will be very interesting, and the Rockets can't afford to go on the road down 2-0. Let's hope they find a way.