PORTLAND — Wesley Matthews wrestled the ball away from Dwight Howard to start overtime and stripped the ball from Patrick Beverley to end it.
The Portland Trail Blazers guard didn’t hit his team’s biggest shots, but he may have made the two biggest plays.
And in a series this close, where overtime wins outnumber regulation wins by a 3-to-1 margin, sometimes the little things aren’t so little.
Nicolas Batum scored five of his 25 points in overtime and the Blazers beat the Houston Rockets 123-120 on Sunday in Game 4 of their first-round Western Conference playoff series.
The Blazers took a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven set heading into Game 5 on Wednesday in Houston.
Howard’s dunk with 3.6 seconds remaining in a thrill-a-minute fourth quarter tied the game for Houston, but he lost a wrestling match with Matthews for the ball on the first possession of overtime.
Matthews called a timeout, Chandler Parsons hit LaMarcus Aldridge across the face at the other end for a Flagrant 1 foul and Aldridge made his free throws for the first points of overtime.
Still, the game was tied until Batum scored five straight to spark a 7-0 run that gave the Blazers the lead for good. He made a 3-pointer after Aldridge stripped Howard under the Rockets’ basket, then found Damian Lillard in transition for a layup and 117-110 lead with 2:19 to play.
Troy Daniels, the former D-League player and unexpected hero for the Rockets in Game 3 when he hit the winning 3 in the closing seconds of overtime, made his first three NBA foul shots to get them within a point with 8.9 seconds left.
After Mo Williams made two free throws at the other end, Matthews stepped in front of Beverley just beyond midcourt and knocked the ball loose, sealing the win — Portland’s second in overtime in the series.
“It’s not exhausting if you win, it’s exhausting if you lose,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said of the series’ three overtime games. “And we’ve lost two of the three.”
Aldridge scored a game-high 29 points for the fifth-seeded Blazers, Lillard had 23 and Matthews added 21.
James Harden had 28 points to lead the Rockets, Parsons scored 26 — but just seven after halftime — and Howard ended with 25 points and 14 rebounds.
Portland took its first lead since 6-5 when Batum spun Parsons around with a crossover dribble and knocked down a 3-pointer from the high right side to make it 99-97 with 4 1/2 minutes left in regulation.
Later, Howard’s only two blocks of the game came before Harden made four foul shots in a row to give Houston a 104-102 edge with 50.9 seconds on the clock.
After Batum missed a 3, Jeremy Lin rebounded the ball for the Rockets but was stripped by Williams. Matthews missed a layup, but Lillard got the rebound and kicked it to Williams, who knocked down a 3 to give Portland a one-point lead with 18.9 seconds left in the fourth.
Howard’s game-tying dunk came after Dorell Wright missed one of two foul shots for the Blazers, and Williams missed a 3-point try at the buzzer for Portland.