Lillard: We still feel good
HOUSTON – Wednesday night the desperate Houston Rockets (2-3) staved off elimination with a 108-98 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers (3-2) in Game 5 to push the series to six in Portland on Friday.
Fans in attendance at the Toyota Center were each provided red “Clutch City” t-shirts in hopes of rekindling that ’95 Rockets team that came back from a 3-1 deficit to win the series against the San Antonio Spurs.
Tonight was the first home win for the Rockets in this series after failing in their first two opportunities. Might these shirts be the key to another miracle comeback? One Trail Blazer who asks for anonymity doesn’t think so.
“Is Hakeem Olajuwon coming out of that tunnel?” he asked. “Is Clyde Drexler? Robert Horry? I didn’t think so. No, we’re not concerned.”
With the series still in Portland’s favor, there’s really no cause for concern. The Trail Blazer fans are going to bring it, proving that they’re arguably the best fanbase in the association. I expect the players to bring it as well, knowing they do not wish to come back to Houston for Game 7.
There’s always that possibility that Houston might have dug up something that could linger on with this “Clutch City” business. Mario Elie, a former Rocket who played on that ’95 team, spoke with the current roster of Rockets and gave them some advice on how to approach a task that’s seldom done.
Still, the Trail Blazers maintain they’re not falling for any of that foolishness.
“I don’t think there’s any pressure on us,” Damian Lillard said after providing 27 points, eight rebound and seven assists in a loss. “We’re going home. We’ll be alright.”
If they are to be successful Friday night in a packed Moda Center, they have to set the tone from an intensity standpoint from tip to finish. The Rockets took Game 5 because their backs were against the wall and you could tell by their body language throughout that they weren’t leaving this place without the win.
“I think they came out a lot more desperate than us,” Robin Lopez said. “I think we didn’t really have the same air or vibe about us that we had in the last game. We got to be the aggressor. Tonight, we weren’t.”
Nicolas Batum, who chipped in 15 points, five rebound and four assists, agreed with his center.
“They were more hungrier than us,” Batum said. “We can’t do that. We can’t go out there and say, ‘Yeah, we’re up 3-1’ and think they’re going to give up. They’re not. We have to take it.”
Portland isn’t likely to conjure up wins if their best player doesn’t crack double-digits in the scoring category. In 38 minutes, LaMarcus Aldridge registered eight points on three-of-12 shooting, eight rebounds, two assists and a game-high four blocks.
He got in early foul trouble and had to sit, taking him out of any kind of rhythm.
“It did take me out of rhythm and then when I came back in, I just never really got back in the flow of the game,” he said. “I was just kind of out there.”
Wesley Matthews put in 18 of his 27 points in the third quarter. Lopez added 17 points and he pulled down eight rebounds. Portland’s bench only accounted for five points on two-of-11 from the field. Clearly, they can’t win on a regular with that type of contribution from their reserves.
Aldridge was asked if Houston did anything different tonight in taking him and the bench out of the game. He didn’t like that question too well.
“It’s the same team that we’ve seen,” Aldridge contends. “They came home and definitely played more confidently in front of their crowd, as they should. But it’s the same team that we’ve seen, but the plays that we needed to make tonight, we did last game and we didn’t tonight. That’s the difference.”
The loss shouldn’t hurt as bad being that they have Game 6 at home to fall back on. It will be a tough game to close this Houston team out. Despite what Portland feels like this evening, it’s good to be going home one win away from advancing to the second round.
“We don’t want no cushion right now. Nothing is guaranteed this year in the playoffs,” Aldridge said. “Homecourt hasn’t been all that great so it’s (the loss) definitely frustrating and it’s a missed opportunity. But we have to learn from it and go home and try to be better.”