HOUSTON -- The Trail Blazers kept it close Wednesday night. Closer than it seemed it ought to be.
But in the end, the Houston Rockets sent them back to Portland with a 3-2 series lead and the opportunity to end the best-of-seven series in the Moda Center Friday night. Not that Portland couldn't have won Game 5 of the series -- the game was right there for the taking.
But for much of the night Portland was plagued with problems it couldn't quite solve. To wit:
- LaMarcus Aldridge struggled mightily against the size in the Houston frontcourt. Aldridge was unable to get inside against Dwight Howard and, mostly, Omer Asik and settled for tough jump shots over the bigger players. For the game, he made just 3 of 12 from the field and 2 of 4 from the foul line. Asik, at the other end, made 5 of 12 from the field (he's the master of the missed layup) but scored 10 points and had 15 rebounds (six of them at the offensive end). Howard made 9 of 15 and hit four of his six foul shots to score 22 and grab 14 rebounds.
- The Rockets won the rebound battle 48-34 and the Blazers simply must do better than that.
- Portland hit just 43.4 percent from the floor, 36 percent from three-point range and 73.9 percent from the foul line. Those numbers, obviously, should be better across the board.
- Houston finally began to score against Portland the way other teams did through much of the season -- with guard penetration. The biggest beneficiary of that was Jeremy Lin, who weaved his way through traffic for 21 points on 9 of 15 shooting. He was the best bench player for either team.
- Speaking of bench play, Portland's was almost non-existent. Dorell Wright played 10:51 and scored 1 point. Mo Williams played 19:52 and got 4. And that was it. Thomas Robinson went 9:07 of scoreless basketball and had just a single rebound.
- The Rockets had 60 points in the paint and blew enough layups to have had 70. Again, not so good.
- The Blazers blocked 14 shots, which is good -- but I also believe it to be a byproduct of the Rockets taking the ball to the basket so frequently. Yes, the Trail Blazers blocked some of them -- but Houston scored plenty in there, too.
- Four Portland starters made 50 percent of their shots or better. But Aldridge, Wright, Williams and Robinson combined to go 5 for 23.
There were positives, of course:
- Damian Lillard had 26 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and four steals with just two turnovers in nearly 43 minutes.
- Wesley Matthews hit 5 of 9 from three-point range and scored 27 points.
- Nic Batum had 15 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists.
- Robin Lopez scored 17 to go with 8 rebounds.
- The Blazers trailed by as many as 17 but whittled it down to 2 in the fourth quarter. It's been a pattern throughout the series -- fall behind early and then make a fourth-quarter run.
I just want to add one thing here, in the wake of what may be termed a disappointing loss. The Trail Blazers lead this series 3-2. They have Game 6 at home. If you can't close a series out at home, you don't deserve to win it in the first place.
I picked Portland in 6 games, ironically enough. And I see no reason to change my mind.