Questions abounded as to how Houston Rockets coach Kevin McHale would counter LaMarcus Aldridge’s strong game one performance. Aldridge scored 46 in the opening game of the best-of-seven series, and he turned in another remarkable performance Wednesday night as the Trail Blazers defeated the Rockets 112-105 to take a 2-0 series lead.
The Rockets started by countering Aldridge with heavy doses of Dwight Howard, pumping the ball inside to Howard early and often.
Howard hit his first six field goals, but the Rockets trailed 15-13 at the first timeout. Howard was replaced by Omer Asik during the timeout because he was completely gassed, but he’d come back in and pick up right where he left off.
When Howard returned to the game, he played alongside Asik in the seldom used Twin Towers lineup. Blazers coach Terry Stotts began sending double teams at Dwight, and Jeremy Lin (5 points, 5 assists) responded with a corner three as the Rockets pulled ahead. Houston closed the first quarter on a 13-5 run with Howard and Asik on the court together, and the Rockets out rebounded Portland 13-5 in the period.
Aldridge continued to work the mid-range game and getting the better of both Terrence Jones and Omer Asik. It’s hard to pin the blame on either given Aldridge’s impressive display of skill and footwork. By the intermission, Aldridge had 23 points on 9-of-12 shooting. Howard was starting to show signs of cooling but still had 25 points on 11-of-17 shooting.
At the break though, it could be seen the writing was on the wall. The Rockets had received about the best half of basketball Howard had given them, and still found themselves knotted up with the fifth seeded Blazers. Howard had four of the Rockets eight turnovers at the half, and James Harden was again struggling to knock down shots. Harden was just 3-of-9 in the first half.
And it never really did get any easier for the Bearded One. Harden continued to force tough shots and wasn’t getting bailed out by the officials on occasions when he often does. He finished the game 6-of-19 from the floor for 18 points. Harden is now 14-of-47 (29.7 percent) from the floor in the 2014 playoffs.
These problems were further compounded by Howard picking up his fourth foul at the 6:20 mark of the third quarter. Over the final six minutes, the Blazers would go on a 16-10 run to enter the fourth with a six point lead. The Rockets at that point were plus-3 with Howard on the court and negative-9 without him.
Damian Lillard didn’t have an overwhelming game from scoring standpoint, but he was there to close things out in the fourth while Houston was desperately trying to claw back in the game. Lillard hit some clutch free throws and came up with a key offensive rebound on a long Aldridge miss. The second year point guard finished two rebounds shy of a triple-double, tallying 18 points, 11 assists and eight boards.
The Blazers’ victory can mostly be attributed, though, to Aldridge. He’s a threat from everywhere inside the arc, and the Rockets can’t afford to put Howard on Aldridge because he’ll foul out. At this point, it may be the only hope left, as the best way to counter an all-world offensive talent is with an all-world defensive talent.
Aldridge hit 18-of-28 from the floor on the night to finish with 43 points and eight rebounds. He’s now averaging 44.5 points per game in the 2014 playoffs as the series shifts back to Portland.
|LaMarcus Aldridge, PF||36||18-28||0-0||7-8||3||5||8||1||0||3||1||2||+3||43|
|Nicolas Batum, SF||40||3-11||0-3||0-0||1||3||4||6||1||0||1||0||+6||6|
|Robin Lopez, C||31||3-5||0-0||0-0||4||6||10||2||0||3||1||5||+18||6|
|Damian Lillard, PG||42||3-14||2-7||10-12||2||6||8||11||0||0||3||5||+12||18|
|Wesley Matthews, SG||40||4-11||1-5||0-0||0||4||4||1||1||0||2||3||+4||9|
|Thomas Robinson, PF||7||1-2||0-0||0-0||0||2||2||0||1||2||2||4||-16||2|
|Dorell Wright, SF||18||4-5||3-4||4-4||1||3||4||2||2||3||1||1||+10||15|
|Joel Freeland, C||2||0-0||0-0||0-0||0||2||2||0||0||0||1||4||-2||0|
|Mo Williams, PG||23||4-8||2-4||3-3||0||1||1||0||0||0||2||4||0||13|
|Meyers Leonard, C||DNP COACH’S DECISION|
|Earl Watson, PG||DNP COACH’S DECISION|
|C.J. McCollum, SG||DNP COACH’S DECISION|
|Will Barton, SG||DNP COACH’S DECISION|
Fast break points: 6
Points in the paint: 30
Total Team Turnovers (Points off turnovers): 14 (12)
|Terrence Jones, PF||26||5-11||0-1||3-6||4||4||8||1||2||0||0||1||-6||13|
|Chandler Parsons, SF||40||5-15||0-3||5-5||1||6||7||2||1||0||0||2||-5||15|
|Dwight Howard, C||35||13-22||0-0||6-7||6||8||14||1||0||4||6||5||0||32|
|Patrick Beverley, PG||41||5-11||1-4||3-4||1||1||2||2||1||0||0||5||-6||14|
|James Harden, SG||44||6-19||2-5||4-4||0||3||3||4||1||0||5||6||+1||18|
|Omer Asik, C||24||3-5||0-0||0-0||2||3||5||1||1||0||1||3||-8||6|
|Jeremy Lin, PG||25||1-5||0-3||3-4||0||3||3||5||1||0||2||4||-3||5|
|Francisco Garcia, SG||4||1-2||0-0||0-0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||-8||2|
|Josh Powell, PF||DNP COACH’S DECISION|
|Donatas Motiejunas, PF||DNP COACH’S DECISION|
|Jordan Hamilton, SF||DNP COACH’S DECISION|
|Omri Casspi, SF||DNP COACH’S DECISION|
|Troy Daniels, SG||DNP COACH’S DECISION|
Fast break points: 20
Points in the paint: 68
Total Team Turnovers (Points off turnovers): 15 (19)