Most basketball experts could tell you that close out games are often the most difficult to win, especially on the road. The Rockets game 5 loss in Portland exemplified that. After taking a commanding 3-1 lead in Houston last Friday, the Rockets headed back to the west coast with plans to put away the youngest, most athletic team in the Western Conference. They came up short when the Blazers came up big losing 88-77 in what was a close game throughout.
A win Tuesday night would have matched up the Rockets with the defending Western Conference Champion Los Angeles Lakers for the Conference Semifinals. Now they will have the pressure of yet another close out game, this time in the Toyota Center.
The Rockets started off with good execution on the offensive end, feeding the ball into Yao Ming and working with the opportunities that his presence gives them. However, their turnovers early in the game allowed Portland to control the tempo. They played well defensively when they were allowed to play aggressively but the foul differential between the two teams (Houston 24, Portland 12) came back to haunt the Rockets in the end.
Blazers stud LaMarcus Aldridge played his best game of the series. Not only did he explode offensively with 25 points on 11-20 shooting, he got the better of the power forward matchup with Luis Scola who was hardly effective when it mattered most. Scola had 15 points in the first quarter and shot an impressive 77 percent from the field in the game recording a team high 21 points. He, along with Ron Artest, also had a team high of four turnovers in the game, each one being critical in a playoff atmosphere.
The better point guard in the game was an unlikely hero. With the Blazers best player Brandon Roy struggling early on, veteran Steve Blake outplayed Rockets point guard Aaron Brooks in a duel that was completely lopsided. Blake drained both of his three point field goal attempts while Brooks went 1-8 from deep, shooting 30 percent for the game. The Rockets as a team shot 20 percent from three point range.
If the Rockets have any intention on advancing in the playoffs, they should focus on sticking with what got them here and not stray away from their identity. Unfortunately, the reputation they have made for themselves is one of impatience and lack of discipline when the games get tough. Yes they were on the road playing against a dangerous team with their backs against the wall. But the Rockets, who didn’t play their best game, had the close out victory within their grasp.
In the third quarter, Brooks connected on his lone three point field goal to cap a 15-4 run that tied the game 60-60. The Rockets managed to regain the lead in the fourth quarter. Then the aforementioned foul discrepancy came into effect. They were in the bonus with 7:46 remaining in regulation, putting the Blazers on the free-throw line with every foul called for the remainder of the game. Brandon Roy suddenly caught fire. He made 14 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter, ruling out any chances the Rockets may have had at ending the series at least until tonight.
In Game 6, the Rockets will be faced with a pressure situation that they aren’t quite used to. They will not only be expected to advance to the 2nd round of the playoffs, but they will have to do it in front of their home fans. If they don’t, then they will be faced with a burden all too familiar. Coach Rick Adelman has emphasized the need to execute down the stretch.
“We have to have more control and more patience than we showed tonight,” said Adelman. “Give them credit. They came out like they should. They came out very aggressive with a lot of energy and took it at us. But offensively we have got to be more patient.”