The Portland Trail Blazers’ LaMarcus Aldridge was unstoppable in their game two victory over the Houston Rockets last night. Aldridge scored a game high 43 points to go along with eight rebounds and three blocked shots as the Blazers won 112-106, and took a commanding 2-0 lead in the series. Now, the Trail Blazers will take all the momentum back to Portland while Houston will try to pick up the pieces.
With one of the greatest big men in NBA history, Hakeem Olajuwon, sitting court side to cheer on his beloved Rockets, it was only fitting that the game began as a throwback to the years of NBA past with Dwight Howard and LaMarcus Aldridge going shot for shot down low in the post. Howard looked to be channeling his inner Olajuwon by scoring the Rockets first 13 points of the game, while Aldridge continued his offensive onslaught from game one by scoring 11 of the Blazers first 19 points. With both Howard and Aldridge putting their stamp on the game early, it was almost reminiscent of the classic playoff battle between Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing back in the 1993-94 NBA finals, though it would not last. As other-worldly as Howard appeared to be with 19 points in the first quarter, he quickly cooled off scoring only 13 the rest of the way. Meanwhile, the Texas native Aldridge continued to dominate the Rockets defense with an array of jump shots, fade-aways, and dunks, regardless of who was guarding him en route to a stellar 43 point night.
Portland was the fourth best road team in the regular season, but they are also one of the youngest teams in the NBA and it is very shocking that they have stolen the first two games on the road, especially against Houston. What is even more surprising is that they have beaten the Rockets with the exact same formula in both games–riding 40+ point performances from LaMarcus Aldridge, and closing the game with clutch plays from budding star Damian Lillard down the stretch.
For Houston, players have played well in spurts but they have not looked like the same well-oiled offensive machine they were during the regular season. A big factor in that is the fact that James Harden continues to struggle. He finished game two with 18 points but had five turnovers, and has now made just 14 of 47 shots in the series. If the fifth leading scorer in the league does not find his game soon, then this series will be over much quicker than experts anticipated.
For the Blazers it is nothing but more positives as they got significant production from their bench in game two, something that was very difficult to come by all season. Dorell Wright put up 15 points while hitting several clutch shots late in the game, while Mo Willliams played significant minutes pitching in 13 points of his own. If those two players can continue to give them a punch off the bench it will be very hard for the Rockets to find success in the coming games. Regardless, the Trail Blazers have to like their chances with a 2-0 lead heading home, while Houston must find a way to slow down Aldridge if they have any hopes of turning the series around.
Another interesting tidbit is that the last time the Trail Blazers won the first two games of a playoff series on the road was back in 1977 when they swept the number one seed Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, before going on to defeat the Philadelphia 76ers in six games to claim Portland’s one and only NBA championship. Nobody is suggesting that this team is as good as that ’77 team was, or that LaMarcus Aldridge is as good as Bill Walton, but only three other players in NBA history have scored more points in the first two games of a series than Aldridge has, and those players names are Michael Jordan, Jerry West and Allen Iverson.
Portland’s hard play in the first two games has certainly paved the way for them to control their own destiny in the first round series. With a chance to close it out at home, The Rose Garden will certainly be rocking as basketball fans in Oregon have been waiting a long time to get excited for playoff basketball again. It will not be easy, as Houston is not going to just roll over, but if the Rockets do not make changes at the defensive end when they head to Portland, the next headline will read “Trail Blazers’ LaMarcus Aldridge unstoppable in a game three victory”.
Commentary by Kalen Skalesky