What a game. After being down by as much as 15 and looking dead in the water for a while, the Portland Trail Blazers rally for a 119-117 win over the Houston Rockets. Nicolas Batum finished with a career-high 35 points, LaMarcus Aldridge poured in 29, and Damian Lillard racked up 27 and was simply huge down the stretch for the Blazers.
For the Rockets, James Harden led the way with 29, and five other players finished in double-figures.
Let's break down the keys to Portland's win:
1. They settled down
The Blazers were simply atrocious in the first half, allowing 17 fastbreak points by Houston and looking utterly clueless offensively. Lillard was a non-factor, Aldridge didn't shoot the ball well, and Matthews picked up two early fouls and was never able to get into any kind of rhythm early. Thankfully for Portland, Batum was on his game all night.
Head coach Terry Stotts made some great adjustments at halftime, and the Blazers looked like an entirely different team over the final 24 minutes. Lillard asserted himself more, and the entire squad was flying all over the place defensively. Portland looked rattled early, but Stotts calmed his guys down.
2. Batum, Batum, Batum
What else can there be said for Batum tonight? Not only did he have 35 points, but he grabbed six boards and blocked five shots. He was a one-man wrecking crew out there, hitting on 13 of his 19 shots, including 5-of-8 from downtown. This may very well have been the best game of his young career, and he is proving that he is certainly worth the contract the Blazers gave him during the offseason.
3. Lillard came up clutch
It's scary to think this kid is only a rookie, because he was enormous for Portland tonight. Lillard scored 18 of his 27 in the second half and overtime, putting the Blazers on his back late by nailing clutch shot after clutch shot. As of right now, he is the frontrunner for the Rookie of the Year award, and who knows. In a few years, we may be looking at him as an MVP candidate. This kid is special.
4. The Blazers turned the tables on the Rockets
In the first half, it was the Blazers looking like the Bad News Bears with a ton of silly turnovers. However, by game's end, Houston ended up with two more giveaways (18) than Portland. The Blazers' defense on Harden was particularly extraordinary, as they held the star to 8-of-18 shooting.
After being made to look like fools in the first half and the beginning of the third quarter, the Blazers finished out the game with a purpose, relentlessly attacking the Rockets on both ends of the floor and making things very uncomfortable for Houston. Portland ended up shooting 51 percent from the field after hitting on only 45.5 percent of its shot attempts in the first half.