HOUSTON — Guard James Harden awoke from a game-long slumber and scored eight points over the last four minutes to lead the Houston Rockets to a 108-98 win over the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 5 of a Western Conference quarterfinal on Wednesday night at Toyota Center.
Harden had just nine points before converting a reverse baseline layup with 3:58 to play that gave the Rockets a 100-96 lead. Harden followed with a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession and a pair of free throws with 1:29 remaining to send the series back to Portland for Game 6.
The Trail Blazers lead the series 3-2. Houston is 3-1 in elimination games over the last two postseasons.
Harden finished with 17 points and seven assists, but he needed help to keep the Rockets afloat during his absence. Guard Jeremy Lin scored 21 points off the bench while twin towers Dwight Howard (22 points, 14 rebounds) and Omer Asik (10 points, 15 rebounds) recorded double-doubles. Forward Chandler Parsons had 20 points.
Portland forward LaMarcus Aldridge scored just eight points on 3-for-12 shooting after totaling 89 points over Games 1 and 2. The Portland backcourt of Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews combined for 53 points on 18-for-36 shooting.
Portland trailed by as many as 17 points before Lillard cut the deficit to two points with two free throws at the 5:08 mark of the fourth. That’s when Harden responded with his sudden scoring burst.
The Rockets hit a run that provided the sort of cushion that could calm their collective elimination nerves, bridging the first and second quarters with a 15-0 run that turned a 27-26 deficit into a 41-27 lead.
D-League call-up Troy Daniels converted the final five points of that burst, sending the crowd into a tizzy along with a Portland timeout. But the Trail Blazers rallied as they have all series, whittling a 17-point deficit at the 5:34 mark of the second quarter to eight points at intermission on Lillard’s 3-pointer with 33.6 seconds left.
Portland closed with sublime execution, converting two 3s, a reverse layup and a backdoor cut by Nic Batum against the scrambling Rockets defense. Houston failed to manage such sustained momentum again.
NOTES: For all of the talk about how evenly matched the Trail Blazers and Rockets have been this series, Portland had dominated the fourth quarter, winning the final period in regulation of each game until Wednesday. Portland is plus-10 in the fourth quarter overall. “We’ve been a good fourth-quarter team for a good part of the season,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said before the Rockets outscored his team 26-21 in the fourth on Wednesday. “We have confidence at the end of the games. I think we have a lot of trust in each other in the fourth quarter. We get stops when we need them, and I think that bodes well for us because being good in the fourth quarter, being good in close games, a lot of times that’s when games are won and lost.” … Houston was reputed to be the superior defensive team, but the Rockets had allowed Portland to shoot a robust 52.6 percent (130-for-247) on two-point field goals in the first four games. “At a certain point they’re very hard to guard and they’re very hard to defend if there are blow-bys and straight line drives,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said.
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