In the third overtime game of the Blazers and Rockets' fantastic first-round series, Portland held off the Houston 123-120 in a thriller on Sunday to take a 3-1 series lead.
• Basketball in April is upstaging basketball in March. Let me make my case. Nearly a quarter of the 30 first-round games so far have gone to overtime and exactly half have been decided by five points or fewer. The Blazers' heart-racing win in Game 4 marked the seventh overtime game in eight nights this postseason (there were nine OT games in the entire 2013 playoffs). We've seen Vince Carter's improbable buzzer-beater to sink the Spurs, Troy Daniels come out of nowhere to find overtime stardom, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook pull off ridiculous four-point plays and LeBron James stare down Michael Jordan on a dunk. Adding to the drama, home teams are just 14-16 and five of the top six seeds are either trailing in their series or tied.
Game 4 of Blazers-Rockets served as the perfect nightcap to the first full week of the NBA postseason. For the third time in four games, the two teams settled their differences in overtime, with Portland finding the internal fortitude to outlast Houston in a back-and-forth of clutch baskets and rebuttals. But the final word went to the Blazers, who sealed the victory thanks to Mo Williams' three-pointer with with 18.2 seconds left in regulation, a play that encapsulated the maniacal fervor of Game 4.
To recap the thrilling sequence: Williams' dagger was setup by a steal, a blind, behind-the-back save, a recovery, a missed bunny, an offensive rebound, a swing pass and, finally, an assist.
For most of the game it appeared the Rockets, who led by as many as 11, would become the fourth straight road team to win in this series and knot the clash at 2-2. But the Blazers' rally in the fourth quarter and critical play in overtime now has them on the brink of winning their first playoff series since 2000.
Game 5 is set for Wednesday. If the first four games are any indication, we recommend tuning in.
• LaMarcus Aldridge is the early favorite for MVP of the first round. The Blazers star was under a lot of pressure to produce coming into this postseason and he's responded by playing some of the best basketball of his career. In four games against the Rockets, Aldridge has averaged 35.3 points, 11.5 rebounds and 3 blocks while shooting 52.8 percent. Come Dwight Howard, Omer Asik or Terrence Jones -- Aldridge has navigated the Rockets' interior defenders with an array of hooks, jumpers and finishes at the rim.
The biggest area of improvement for Aldridge this postseason has been his accuracy in the paint. As the shotchart above shows, he's shooting 65.6 percent at the rim against the Rockets after shooting 57.1 in that area during the regular season. Aldridge has been so dominant that he's the first player since Hakeem Olajuwon in 1988 to total at least 140 points and 45 rebounds in his team's four playoff games. In doing so, he's also eclipsed his Olajuwon-trained counterpart, Dwight Howard, who is having a monster series (27 points and 14.3 rebounds) of his own.
But no star has shined bright than Aldridge this series. Not Howard, not Harden, not Damian Lillard or anyone else. Judging by Sunday's postgame press conference, no one is shining brighter off the floor either.
I need sunglasses for LaMarcus Aldridge's watch pic.twitter.com/7f2IKvUwTQ
— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) April 28, 2014
• Troy Daniels almost does it again. The only thing more unlikely than Troy Daniels starring in Game 3 to beat the Blazers was Troy Daniels coming back to do it again in Game 4. But the D-Leaguer wasted no time showing Friday was no fluke, going 3-of-3 from three-point range in the first half and finishing with 17 points in 21 minutes.
Kevin McHale has shrink-wrapped the Rockets' rotation this postseason, mostly playing just eight guys per night. But Daniels has found a way to become one of the chosen ones (McHale's Navy?) to play a regular role the last two games after playing 75 minutes all season. While Daniels' role is unexpected, it isn't hard to understand. A prolific three-point shooter with size and athleticism, Daniels has been a better option off the bench the last two games than Jeremy Lin, who went 1-of-6 and managed just six points in the same amount of time as Daniels on Sunday.
The former Rio Grande Valley Viper could see even more time in Game 5 with the Rockets down 3-1 and in need of an answer. He's hit 7-of-11 three-pointers in his last 41 minutes, making him as good of an option as any.
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