Monday, April 28, 2014

Rockets - Blazers Game Four: Oh, What A Lovely War

And How
The late game tonight from Portland was yet another battle for the ages, with both teams making adjustments and getting to that special level of hatred that only happens with close and repeat contact. This series is everything you could hope from 4 vs. 5, and part of the reason why this NBA playoff season has just been must-see TV, each and every night.

Houston came in needing the win to even up the series and get back to home court disadvantage, as the road team had won every game so far this series. They got out to the early lead behind Chandler Parsons' first good game of the series, and the continued hot three-point shooting from D-League revelation Troy Daniels. By the half, they were up by 10, but in no way comfortable. In the third quarter, Portland started force-feeding LaMarcus Aldridge to much better effectiveness, but the Rockets kept getting just enough from Dwight Howard and company to keep the lead at five into the final quarter. Dorell Wright's three-pointer got it down to a deuce, but makes by Jeremy Lin and back to back definition mid-range shakes and makes by James Harden pushed it back to eight. Damian Lillard finally ended the lead with six minutes left, only to see Harden make a miracle bailout to push it back to three. Portland led for just 90 seconds of the first 43 minutes, but with Nicolas Batum making the three to make it 99-97 with 4:31 left, you got the feeling the summit had been achieved. Houston bogged down with Howard misses at the line, Harden misses from deep, and the fact that this game was happening past midnight on a Sunday night is just all kinds of wrong.

Howard fouled out Robin Lopez with 2:37 to play, and rattled home both to make it a 3-point game. Batum misses, one and down for the Blazers. Howard off transition, back to the line, one shaky make. Howard blocks Lillard, but Patrick Beverly misses the corner three for the lead. Howard rejects Batum, bailing out Harden after great ball movement by the Blazers. Harden from the line ties it with 71 seconds left. Good Lord, What Hoop.

Aldridge misses, too strong on a diving layup. Harden gets to the line again as the Blazer crowd chants in derision. The Gods Of Ball disagree, as he makes both. And then after a game filled with plays where they weren't ever getting rebounds, Portland got multiple attempts following a Lin boner turnover, with Mo Williams probably getting away with a foot out of bounds, then canning the go-ahead three with 18.2 left. Signature moment of this game.

Smart ball would have the road team trying to score early in the clock, so that they can foul and have a second try at the win. Harden goes to the rack and got denied by Aldridge for his fourth block of the night. Immediate foul on Wright leads to a missed FT, then a make, with 8.3 seconds to go. Harden drives again, dishes to Howard, who slams for the tie, as the Blazers fail to foul; 3.6 seconds left. First field goal made in forever for Houston, and a ton of time for Portland... who settle for a 35-footer from Williams, who misses. Third OT in four games. What a series.

In the overtime, Parsons takes a flagrant on Aldridge, leading to the early lead, but Wesley Mathews turns it on the next possession, and Howard makes on Aldridge for the tie. Daniels sends Mathews to the line, who makes both, as Portland's really good at the stripe. Howard iso on Aldridge, gets to the line, makes both, tie again. Batum, too easy on the drive and make. Houston offense is all Howard, and he turns it this time. Batum with a giant triple, over Howard, and Portland is suddenly up five, halfway through the OT. Biggest Blazer lead of the night.

Harden hurries a three, misses, leading to a Blazer runout and score. Harden to Howard for the settling dunk, but Aldrige answers from mid-range, and this is starting to look like Portland's night. Harden draws a foul, airballs one, but the Rockets get the board and find Daniels, who hits; 4 point game. Blazer turn, Harden make, 2 point game with a minute left. So evenly matched. Aldridge misses, Harden boards, but a terrible Rocket possession ensues, ending with a Harden brick from the arc -- possibly a bad no-call -- and a Howard foul down low. Beverly puts Lillard on the line with 17 seconds left, and the O-town guard hits both. 4 point game.

Parsons with the fallaway three, terrible idea, and a miss; Aldridge boards and gets the insta-foul. He misses both, so a comeback is still possible, and Daniels is fouled shooting a catch and shoot three; just a second off the clock. The D-Leaguer hits his first three NBA free throws (!), and it's back to 1 with 8.9 seconds left. Good Lord.

Beverly fouls Williams on the inbound; he makes two... and Mathews steals it from Beverly to end it. Weak screen by Harden, McHale looks like he's just passed a porcupine, post-game anger from both teams, chaos on the floor and +18K people breathing in relief. I have no idea what the Rockets were doing on that possession, other than running the front court and maybe expecting that Portland was just going to let them set up for a three with no pressure. Ye gads.

Portland should win this series now, as they have three shots to get it done, and Houston looked beaten for much of the fourth and overtime, even when the scoreboard wasn't a disaster. They had four guys score over 20 tonight, they've got the best guard in this series in Lillard, and the best big in Aldridge, who has been downright historic so far. But whenever you have a series with this many overtime games, there's just so little separating these teams. They are both incredibly flawed, they aren't likely to survive the next round, and it doesn't matter at all, because the games have just been so damned good.

Game Five in Houston is on Wednesday night. I don't really care who wins this series anymore, I just want to see as many games as possible. Such Good Game...

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