HOUSTON, Texas — LaMarcus Aldridge followed up a gargantuan performance in the series opener with another monster effort in Game 2, as the Portland Trail Blazers escaped Houston with a 112-105 victory over the Rockets and a commanding 2-0 series lead.
Aldridge has been otherworldly in this Western Conference quarterfinal series, first piling up a Blazers postseason record 46 points in Sunday’s overtime win, then filling it up for 43 more on an absurd 18-of-28 shooting display Wednesday in front of a stunned crowd at Toyota Center.
“These two games are as well as I’ve seen him play. He’s very determined and focused,” Blazers head coach Terry Stotts said of Aldridge.
Damian Lillard again played the role of Robin to Aldridge’s Batman, totaling 18 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds for the Blazers, whose bench outscored Houston’s reserves by a 30-13 margin.
Lillard came away with a huge offensive rebound in the final minute and hit two free throws with 42.8 seconds remaining to close out the win.
Dwight Howard led Houston with 32 points and 14 rebounds but was limited to seven points after halftime. James Harden netted 18 points, but needed 19 shots to do so as the All-Star has connected on just 29.8 percent (14-of-47) from the floor through the first two games.
The Rockets made just 3-of-16 attempts from 3-point range and must change things around quickly when the series resumes Friday night in Portland.
They had a few days to reflect on Sunday’s series opener, a loss that saw them squander a nine-point cushion late in regulation and blow a six-point lead in the extra session.
There was no letdown Wednesday, as Houston never led in the fourth quarter.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by reserves Mo Williams and Dorell Wright staked the Blazers to an 89-81 lead early in the final stanza, and Aldridge’s tomahawk slam made it a 96-87 game with just under five minutes to play.
One final push brought the Rockets within 102-98 inside the final minute, and they almost got the ball back when Aldridge missed a deep jumper. Lillard, though, outhustled Patrick Beverley to the long rebound and calmly made two clutch free throws to send Portland to another hard-fought victory.
The first half was essentially a Howard vs. Aldridge showdown, though the 6- foot-11 All-Stars were often not guarding each other.
Howard was sensational in the first quarter, scoring 19 of Houston’s 31 points on 8-of-9 shooting with an array of spin moves, putback slams and blow-bys against an overmatched Robin Lopez.
Aldridge, who has never made it out of the first round of the playoffs, netted 11 of Portland’s 23 points in the first, then unleashed 12 in the final 5:41 of the half to help Portland pull even at the break.
A Wesley Matthews 3-pointer had given Portland a short-lived lead before Beverley’s buzzer-beating baseline jumper sent the teams into the intermission tied at 53-53.
While Howard slowed down in the third quarter (one point, two rebounds), Aldridge kept up his torrid pace with a 16-point frame. Portland led by as many as nine in the period, and Aldridge’s 18-footer in the closing seconds provided the visitors with an 83-77 cushion.
Aldridge also recorded three of Portland’s 11 blocks … Wright and Williams netted 15 and 13 points, respectively, to power Portland’s bench … Beverley played 41-plus minutes despite dealing with a knee injury and scored 14 points … The Rockets owned a 68-30 advantage in the paint and a 20-6 edge in fastbreak points.