The NBA playoffs opening weekend injected a life, drama and excitement into the league that had been noticeably absent from the regular season. From the Raptors roaring fans to the Grizzlies near-comeback to Gregg Popovich’s humanity, not a single person could claim this weekend wasn’t, at the very least, intriguing. No game better captured the tension, thrill and emotion of the playoffs than last night’s finale, an instant classic between the Houston Rockets and the Portland Trail Blazers.
Harboring a 13-point lead well into the fourth quarter, it seemed as if the Rockets would win game one of the series with relative ease. That is, until LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard had something to say. Aldridge was an absolute terror in the final frame, shooting 7-of-8 from the field (including one three pointer) en route to a 19 point fourth quarter.
Going to work mainly from his sweet spot just outside of the left block, Aldridge unleashed his full offensive arsenal, scoring no matter the defender. Here, Aldridge finds himself matched up on Francisco Garcia, left helpless as Aldridge takes a quick dribble, squares up and hits the easy shot.
When Terrence Jones next drew the defensive assignment, Aldridge easily backed him down and went to work in the post, easily scoring after a nice duck-in to shake the sophomore.
Lillard, meanwhile, as is his wont, was the embodiment of clutch in the fourth quarter and overtime.
With 32 seconds left in the game and the Blazers trailing 104-101, Terry Stotts drew up a play to free Lillard for a game-tying three. Here it is broken down in detail.
Portland actually used this play to try and win the game in regulation, with the exception of having Wes Matthews, not Lillard, take the shot. Matthews missed, but Aldridge was right there to clean it up, tapping in the rebound and sending the game to overtime.
Lillard then capped off his first playoff performance in spectacular style, tying the game with just seconds remaining, then calmly sinking what would prove to be the game-winning free throw.
Questions surrounded the Blazers heading into the postseason. Would Lillard dazzle or shrink under the bright lights? Would LaMarcus Aldridge be aggressive or content to float on the perimeter? Could their bend-and-occasionally-break defense withstand the Rockets’ firepower? Last night didn’t necessarily give us definitive answers to any of the questions, but it was certainly encouraging.
This was supposed to be one of the more exciting series in the first round. Game 1 lived up to the hype, and then some. Here’s hoping for six more of the same.
Statistical and video support provided by NBA.com/stats