HOUSTON — Coach Kevin McHale had coyly offered zero clues as to what the Houston Rockets would devise in defending Portland forward LaMarcus Aldridge differently compared with what was done in Game 1 when Aldridge set a franchise postseason scoring record for the Trail Blazers.
Despite a defensive adjustment that attempted to slow Aldridge’s pace down, he delivered another scintillating performance and the Trail Blazers defeated Houston 112-105 on Wednesday night at Toyota Center to take a 2-0 lead in a Western Conference quarterfinal series.
Houston forced Aldridge out of the post, where he crushed the Rockets en route to a 46-point, 18-rebound effort on Sunday night, yet Aldridge still managed to pour in 43 points and corral eight rebounds to win his duel with Rockets center Dwight Howard, who paired 32 points with 14 rebounds and four blocked shots.
Aldridge, one of the most prolific midrange scorers in the NBA, dominated from that area on the floor, making 13 of 15 shots from the field through the close of the third quarter as Portland built a workable margin.
“God blessed me with some skill level because last game it was all inside and this game it was all outside,” Aldridge said. “That’s why you go home every summer and try to get better. You’re always trying to come back with something more every year and now I have that balance of playing inside and outside.”
Also critical for Portland was the performance of its bench, with guard Mo Williams and forward Dorell Wright combining for 28 points in support of Aldridge and guard Damian Lillard (18 points, 11 assists).
Game 3 is Friday night at the Moda Center in Portland.
Rockets guard James Harden delivered his second subpar performance of the series, missing 13 of 19 shots from the floor while scoring 18 points and committing five turnovers before fouling out late in the fourth quarter. Harden missed 20 of 28 shots in the series opener.
Houston forward Chandler Parsons (15 points) missed 10 of 15 shots from the floor. The Rockets’ defense was abysmal again, but their ball movement offensively was equally poor. Houston totaled just 16 assists for a second consecutive game, which is key to its inability to match Portland.
“I’m not worried about my offense,” Harden said. “I’m worried about our defense, our defense as a team. When we get stops and get out in transition, everybody feels good about themselves and that’s when the assists flow in and things start going well. If we can’t get stops, it makes it more difficult. They are a very good team.”
After playing Howard to a standstill in the first half, Aldridge scored 16 third-quarter points on 7-of-10 shooting from the field to push the Trail Blazers to an 83-77 lead heading into the fourth quarter. He scored six points in just over a minute to boost their lead to 67-58 and, after the Rockets responded with a 9-0 run, Aldridge drilled another midrange jumper.
With 6.7 seconds left in the third quarter, Aldridge nailed a step-back 18-footer and the Rockets were in scramble mode the rest of the way.
“What can they do to stop him,” Lillard said of his thoughts while watching Aldridge tear apart the Rockets. “He was hitting tough fadeaways, getting into the lane and getting guys in the air and drawing fouls. He was great once again just like Game 1. He really carried our team. He played like an MVP again.”
The first half offered a spectacular display of one-upmanship between Howard and Aldridge, with Howard scoring a franchise-postseason-record 19 first-quarter points after a sizzling 6-of-6 shooting start.
Aldridge was not quite as hot early — he scored 11 points in the first quarter — but caught fire in the second and nearly matched Howard by intermission.
After Howard completed an alley-oop with 5:41 left in the half, Aldridge scored 10 consecutive points for the Trail Blazers. His 15-foot fadeaway with 3:12 left cut the deficit to 50-46. Aldridge added two free throws before the half closed, upping his total to 23, just two shy of Howard’s 25. The energy Howard supplied with his raucous start was negated.
“We’ve got to move the ball and attack,” McHale said. “We can’t hold it. We’ve got to set better picks. We’ve got to have more flow and more side to side.
“We really haven’t moved the ball really well. We haven’t shot too well either.”
NOTES: Rockets C Dwight Howard set a franchise record for points in the first quarter of a playoff game with 19. Hall of Fame C Hakeem Olajuwon scored 18 points in the first quarter of Game 4 of a Western Conference first round series against the Utah Jazz on May 5, 1995. … Rockets G Patrick Beverley was in the starting lineup despite suffering in Game 1 a re-aggravation of a right knee strain that sidelined him for eight games down the stretch of the regular season. … Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts expressed a desire to generate more production from his bench, particularly during those stretches when F LaMarcus Aldridge takes breathers. Aldridge scored 46 points and grabbed 18 rebounds while logging 45 minutes in Game 1, a 122-120 overtime win for Portland. The Trail Blazers were a minus-15 in the eight minutes Aldridge rested on the bench.
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