Originally posted on Pro Sports Daily  |  Last updated 11/4/12
HOUSTON -- Portland Trail Blazers guard Wesley Matthews seemingly did enough by burying the game-tying 3-pointer with just under a minute left in regulation time on Saturday night at Toyota Center. But when he stripped Houston Rockets guard James Harden in the waning seconds, preventing Harden from hoisting a potential game-winning jumper at the fourth-quarter buzzer, he gave Portland a chance to win in overtime. The Blazers' sharpshooting then paved the way to their 95-85 overtime win over the Rockets, but their defense in the third quarter and in spots in the fourth was equally essential. Blazers rookie point guard Damian Lillard drilled a 3-pointer with 4:06 remaining to swing momentum for good in overtime, and when Nicolas Batum followed with a 3-pointer 31 seconds later, the Blazers (2-1) led 87-81 and were well on their way to handing the Rockets (2-1) their first loss on the young season. "It all really came down to L.A. (Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who scored a game-high 27 points) on the block," Lillard said. "He really got going and he carried us offensively, and that caused their defense to suck in. And he made good plays and we knocked down shots." Matthews finished with 16 points, but more importantly, he played fabulous defense against Harden, helping hold the NBA's hottest shooter to 24 points on 8-for-24 shooting. Matthews capped his defensive masterpiece by forcing Harden, who totaled 82 points in road wins over Detroit and Atlanta, into a turnover with 1:42 left and the Rockets desperately attempting to slice into the Blazers 90-85 advantage. While the Blazers' bigs were central to their defensive game plan against Harden, the onus fell on Matthews to handle the heavy lifting. "All the bigs that were responsible for showing and giving me a window so that I could get back in front of (Harden), they were all there," Matthews said. "He might have gotten four positive things off of pick-and-roll because we got around to show. They were great all night." Said Harden: "We couldn't make shots. We had a lot of good opportunities but the shots just didn't fall. There are going to be nights like that when we can't make shots." The Rockets surrendered an eight-point halftime lead with a lethargic third quarter, managing only 33.3 percent shooting against the Blazers' ferocious and energized defense. Batum served as the linchpin on both ends of the court, swatting shots as the Rockets attacked in transition while catching fire from the perimeter as the Blazers build a 63-58 lead. The Rockets pushed back behind the surprising contributions of second-year forward Marcus Morris, who followed a career-best 17-point showing Friday with 13 points off the bench. But the Blazers shot their way back into contention, nailing 10 of 24 from behind the arc. "We looked like a team that hasn't played together a long time out there tonight," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said, referring to his reconstructed roster. "We were able to get away with it in a couple of games." Not surprisingly, Harden opened the game on fire, continuing the momentum established during the Rockets' road wins. He scored eight of their opening 10 points. And his full repertoire was on display, with Harden scoring in transition, via a pull-up jumper, and from the foul line to carry his sluggish teammates to an early scoreboard stalemate. Yet it was the Rockets' maligned bench that carved a working margin, keying a 10-0 run that expanded the lead to 29-17 with 8:22 remaining in the first half. But before McHale could reinsert his starters, the Blazers responded with a seven-point burst led by their starters who were already on the floor: Matthews, J.J. Hickson and Aldridge. Just as quickly, the Rockets' backcourt reestablished order, as Jeremy Lin converted a three-point play before Harden stroked his lone 3-pointer in helping the Rockets to a 45-37 halftime lead. NOTES: Aldridge has scored at least 20 points in nine consecutive regular-season visits to Toyota Center, averaging 22.6 points in eight previous meetings before scoring a game-high 27 on Saturday night. ... The Rockets posted a plus-22 rebounds advantage against the Hawks on Friday night, marking the first time since Feb 2, 2010, against Golden State (57-35) that they managed such a decisive margin. Center Omer Asik sparked the dominant performance by corralling a career-best 19 boards. ... Blazers guard Damian Lillard joined Oscar Robertson and Isiah Thomas as only the third rookie ever with at least 20 points and 10 assists in his NBA debut when he paired 23 points with 11 assists against the Lakers on Oct. 31. He posted 20 points and nine assists against the Rockets.
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