The Rockets scored a 108-98 home victory over the Blazers in Game 5 of a first-round playoff series. Portland now leads the series 3-2 with Game 6 set for the Moda Center on Friday.
• Rockets take convincing victory. A series that has been defined by blow-for-blow exchanges, overtime periods and nail-biting finishes saw its first double-digit scoring margin in Game 5, a product of a strong all-around performance by the Rockets that came the closest to realizing pre-series expectations.
Although James Harden (17 points on 5-for-15 shooting and seven assists) was quiet again for long stretches, Houston managed to tick a number of crucial items off of its checklist in this one: Dwight Howard (22 points on 9-for-15 shooting, 14 rebounds, three blocks) was able to get established on offense without disrupting the team's flow; Houston was able to build a 17-point first-half lead thanks to some opportunistic sequences in transition; Jeremy Lin was able to keep the pressure on Portland's sometimes-shaky defense by consistently getting into the paint; and the Rockets were able to slow the Blazers' offense by taking away one of their two All-Stars, in this case LaMarcus Aldridge, and shutting down Portland's weak bench.
Lin's impact might have loomed largest considering the circumstances. Patrick Beverley was limited to just 21 minutes on the night, as he gulped liquids during the game due to a 101 degree fever, and Lin had failed to leave a major mark on this series before Game 5. His crucial turnover near the end of regulation helped swing Game 4, and Lin admitted to reporters on reporters on Wednesday that the miscue had made it hard to sleep afterwards.
His response was close to ideal: Lin finished with 21 points (on 9-for-15 shooting), four assists three rebounds and two steals, and he outscored Portland's entire bench (who combined for five points) by himself. He did it by attacking off the dribble on the perimeter without losing control once he entered the paint, as he was able to make five shots in the painted area and set up a number of other plays around the basket for his teammates.
"We needed him," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. "He had a great stretch where he was able to break people down. They were trying to pressure him all over and he was able to break the pressure."
The real back-breakers came from the perimeter, though, as Lin made multiple jumpers late in the clock, nullifying potential Blazers stands. One of the shots, a leaning double-clutcher that he described as a "prayer," helped answer a strong 18-point third-quarter from Wesley Matthews, who led the Blazers with 27 points (on 9-for-18 shooting). Portland never looked fully in sync defensively, and Lin's long two appeared to have a deflating impact, especially after he followed up with a big and-one drive near the end of the third quarter.
"Those were big momentum plays for us and they took a little out of us," Blazers coach Terry Stotts acknowledged.
Matthews added: "It seemed like Jeremy Lin made big shot after big shot."
The continued onslaught from Lin not only carried the Rockets through Matthews' hot stretch, it also set up Harden to slam the door. After failing to score a single point from the 7:22 mark of the second quarter until the 3:58 mark of the fourth quarter -- a span of more than 27 minutes in which he regularly looked tentative-- Harden sent the Blazers home by making a reverse lay-up and a kill shot three-pointer on back-to-back Rockets possessions.
• LaMarcus Aldridge silenced. After monster games at the Toyota Center earlier in the series, Aldridge (eight points on 3-for-12 shooting) was a virtual non-factor within Portland's attack on Game 5. Trapped between early foul trouble a furious second-half rally fueled by Portland's guards, Aldridge failed to establish a rhythm or force extra attention from Houston's help defenders.
"It didn't seem like the ball found LaMarcus as much as it has in the past," McHale said. Indeed, Aldridge had attempted at least 22 shots in each of the previous four games.
Omer Asik did well to make Aldridge work and Howard made a pair of blocks on Aldridge in the game's closing minutes to help seal the victory. Only once all season did Aldridge fail to score in double digits -- a 17-point victory over the Bulls in March -- and his quiet night was at least partially responsible for Portland's guards overcompensating by pressing a bit too much down the stretch.
"What I want is for our team to get good shots," Stotts said. "Whether L.A. gets 12 or 25 [shots], we want good shots."
Portland will leave Texas knowing that even a mediocre night from Aldridge could have ended the series right here. Instead, the Blazers will surely look to get him going early in Friday's Game 6 in search of the inside/outside balance that put them in charge of this series.
• A fitting tribute. Hall of Fame coach Jack Ramsay passed away on Monday after an extended battle with cancer. "Dr. Jack" is a legend in the Pacific Northwest, as he guided the Blazers to the franchise's only title in 1977. His forward-thinking approach to training and his one-of-a-kind style made him a natural fit in the Rose City, and his team-first brand of basketball has been an ideal the Blazers franchise has held up as its standard ever since.
To honor Ramsay, the Blazers put together carefully-crafted jersey patches that they debuted during Game 5. The circular patches read "Dr. Jack" in the unique font style used on the team's jerseys during the 1970s and they featured a plaid background in honor of Ramsay's preference when it came to suits. The No. 77 was also included to commemorate the team's championship year.
The patches succeeded in matching the Blazers' overall jersey color scheme while also standing out just enough to catch the eye. Here, the extra thought really counted.
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