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Daniels goes from D-league to playoff hero as Rockets edge Blazers

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PORTLAND, Ore. — Two weeks ago, guard Troy Daniels played a game for the NBA Development League Rio Grande Valley Vipers. On Friday night, the rookie sank a 3-pointer with 11 seconds remaining in overtime to break a tie and spur the Houston Rockets to a 121-116 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers at the Moda Center.

“A couple of weeks ago, he was in the D-league,” Rockets guard James Harden said. “Now, he saved our season.”

Harden collected 37 points, nine rebounds and six assists for the Rockets, who won for the first time after losing the first two games of the first-round playoff series.

Guard Damian Lillard scored 30 points with six rebounds and six assists for the Trail Blazers, who play host to Game 4 on Sunday night. Forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who scored 46 and 43 points in the first two games of the series, had 19 of his 23 points after intermission.

Daniels’ game-winning basket came after a broken play in which Harden had the ball knocked from him. After a scramble, Houston guard Jeremy Lin wound up with the ball. He drove toward the basket, spotted Daniels spotted up behind the 3-point line and passed him the ball. Daniels buried the shot for a 119-116 lead.

After a timeout, Portland got the ball to forward Nicolas Batum, whose 3-point shot bounced off the rim. Harden was fouled and made a pair of foul shots with 1.1 seconds left to provide the final margin.

“We had confidence going into the game,” said Harden, who was 13-for-35 from the field, including 3 for 11 from 3-point range. “We shouldn’t have been down 0-2 in the series. We knew it would be a hostile environment tonight. (The Blazers) made a couple of runs, but we held our composure and had enough to win at the end.”

Daniels had played in only five regular-season games for Houston and hadn’t seen action in either the previous two games of the series.

“It’s a dream come true,” said Daniels, who scored nine points while making 3 of 6 shots, all from beyond the arc. “Three or four weeks ago, I was looking at these guys on TV. Now they’re teammates.”

The former Virginia Commonwealth standout said he’d made “a couple of game-winners in high school. Not in college, but I have one now in the NBA.”

“This is a little different than high school,” Harden said.

“He raised up on that last one like he’d been there before,” Lillard said of Daniels’ game-winning shot. “But you live with him shooting that shot over James Harden.”

Houston coach Kevin McHale said he decided to use Daniels for a couple of reasons.

“He’s not afraid to shoot it,” McHale said. “He knows he can shoot it. He’s a tough kid. He’s going to get his nose dirty, and we needed to get some nose-dirty plays.”

Lillard scored 16 first-half points, including a free throw with .1 of a second left, to send Portland into the third quarter with a one-point lead. Houston center Dwight Howard, who finished with 24 points and 14 rebounds, scored 12 points and Harden and Houston guard Patrick Beverley 11 apiece in the first half, though the latter pair went scoreless in the second period.

With center Omer Asik fronting Aldridge and denying him the ball, the Blazers’ All-Star managed only four points on 2-for-8 shooting in the half.

The Rockets extended the lead to 73-67 midway through the third quarter and settled for an 81-78 advantage heading into the final period.

Houston upped the margin to 90-80 on a Harden 3-pointer with 10:17 remaining. It was 96-85 with eight minutes to play when Portland guard Mo Williams buried a 3 and was fouled by Houston forward Chandler Parsons. Williams converted the free throw for a four-point play to draw the Blazers to within 96-89. Williams followed with a 22-footer to cut the margin to 96-91 with 7:11 to go.

The Rockets went back on top 102-93, but Aldridge converted a three-point play to make it 102-96 with 5:17 remaining. Moments later, Lillard sank a scoop shot and was fouled, finishing another three-point play to draw the Blazers to within 103-101 with 4:05 left.

Howard — fouled intentionally — answered with a pair at the line to make it 105-101. Batum drove for a basket with 2:55 left to cut the lead to 105-103. Fouled again, Howard made one of two, and it was 106-103.

Williams answered with two free throws to trim Houston’s edge to 106-105, and a Lillard driving layup gave Portland the lead at 107-106 with 1:59 remaining. Houston regained the lead at 108-107 on two Harden free throws with 1:41 to play, and he made two more to push the Rockets in front 110-107.

Moments later, Houston blew a golden opportunity when Lin missed a breakaway layup. Batum sank a 3 at the other end to tie it at 110-110 with 34 seconds to go. After a Harden miss, the Blazers rebounded and worked it to Lillard, who missed a step-back 3. The Rockets rebounded, calling timeout with 3.3 seconds left.

Harden’s desperation attempt from midcourt was off, and it was on to overtime.

NOTES: Houston G James Harden has made 27 of 82 shots from the field in the series. …the Rockets were 12 for 31 from 3-point range after going 11 for 51 from beyond the arc in the first two games. … The road team has won all three games in the series, with two of the games going to overtime. … Portland G Damian Lillard is the first Blazer with 30 points, six rebounds and six assists in a playoff game since G Terry Porter in 1992.

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