The NBA saved its best for last.
Capping off a day full of playoff basketball, the Portland Trail Blazers knocked off the Houston Rockets, 122-120, in a back-and-forth overtime thriller that bled into early Monday morning for the East Coast folks.
The Blazers take down the Rockets 122-120 in OT! LaMarcus Aldridge finishes with 46 points and 18 rebs in the win pic.twitter.com/rw8PHeYY6C— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) April 21, 2014
The Blazers' two biggest stars carried the load in Game 1.
LaMarcus Aldridge had a playoff-franchise-high 46 points, 18 rebounds and the tip-in at the end of regulation to force overtime, while Damian Lillard scored 10 points in the final six minutes of the fourth quarter and carried the team after Aldridge fouled out in overtime.
The second-year guard out of Weber State finished with 31 points, nine rebounds and five assists in his first-ever playoff game.
Head coach Terry Stotts, via the Houston Chronicle's Nick Mathews, put it simply after Lillard's gutty performance:
Sotts on Damian Lillard: "For all of those people who wondered if he was ready for the playoffs, I think he answered those questions."— Nick Mathews (@Nick_Mathews) April 21, 2014
As ESPN.com's Tom Haberstroh and ESPN Stats & Info added, Aldridge's historic night put him in prestigious company:
Only three players since 1986 have put up 46 & 18 in a playoff game: Hakeem Olajuwon, Dwight Howard ... and now LaMarcus Aldridge.— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) April 21, 2014
LaMarcus Aldridge is second player w/40+ pts, 15+ reb in a road Game 1. He joins Warriors’ Wilt (42, 29) at Boston in 1960.#PORvsHOU— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 21, 2014
Anytime you put up a performance comparable to one of the best duos of all time, it's a job well done:
LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard are first teammates to score 45 and 30 in a playoff game since Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen in 1992— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 21, 2014
For Houston, it was a team effort.
James Harden poured in 27 points and was clutch at the end of regulation. Chandler Parsons carried the team with 17 first-half points, ending with 24 on the night. Dwight Howard (27 points and 15 rebounds) and Terrence Jones (12 and 13) tallied double-doubles, while Patrick Beverley provided no shortage of energy and defense.
It wasn't enough in the end, though, as Harden went cold in overtime and missed a potential game-tying 12-foot jumper at the buzzer.
Rockets coach Kevin McHale discussed the final play:
McHale on James Harden and final play: "He's made those shots before. (But) It wasn't a smooth running play."— Nick Mathews (@Nick_Mathews) April 21, 2014
As if the battle on the court wasn't tightly contested enough, the teams' Twitter accounts brought the heat as well:
Even the Portland police department got into the action:
The game can be broken down into a series of runs.
Behind a balanced effort, the Blazers jumped out to a 27-20 lead after the first quarter, only for the Rockets to score 24 of the first 30 points in the subsequent period. Portland responded with a 15-2 spurt, but a three from Harden with two seconds remaining gave Houston a 49-48 lead at the break.
As ESPN's Kevin Pelton noted, the first half of the game closely mirrored how the regular season unfolded for Portland:
Fast start, rocky middle, good finish, slightly worse than Rockets: This was basically the Blazers' regular season in a half.— Kevin Pelton (@kpelton) April 21, 2014
The Rockets, who led the NBA in free-throw attempts per game, didn't get to the line once in the first half, but Parsons' 17 points kept the hosts in front.
ESPN Stats & Info gave a look at the shot chart for Parsons, who bettered his season average in just 19 minutes:
Chandler Parsons had 17 points in 1st half for Rockets, a hair better than his 16.6 per GAME average this season pic.twitter.com/d1eyvpfvGt— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 21, 2014
Harden, who had just seven points in the first half, caught fire out of the locker room, pouring in 10 points in the first four and a half minutes to propel the Rockets to a 66-53 lead.
The Blazers cut the deficit down to six by the end of the quarter, but Dwight Howard, who sat most of the third period with foul trouble, scored a couple of quick buckets at the beginning of the fourth, helping the Rockets jump back up by 13.
Howard's presence turned into a negative for the Rockets down the stretch, however. The Blazers resorted to the Hack-a-Dwight strategy, which paid off—Howard only went 4-of-8 from the line in the final 4:30—while Lillard started hitting shots like this:
An 11-0 run tied the game at 98, and after Harden hit a couple of free throws with just under eight seconds remaining, Aldridge's tip-in following two missed Portland shots sent the game to OT.
Pelton said it best:
This game deserves another 5 minutes.— Kevin Pelton (@kpelton) April 21, 2014
Aldridge, Robin Lopez and Beverley all fouled out in the extra period, while Lillard rose to the occasion with five points in the final minute to seal the win.
Who will win this series?
This is the kind of battle the NBA dreams of with its No. 4 vs. No. 5 matchups: two evenly matched teams with a bevy of stars capable of putting up points and hitting huge shots.
Houston will get an opportunity to even the series on Wednesday, and while living up to this instant classic will be difficult, fans can rest assured they get at least three—and quite possibly six—more of these games.