Who would've thought that with superstars Damian Lillard, James Harden, Dwight Howard and LaMarcus Aldridge on the floor, the fate of Game 3 between the Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers would come down to Troy Daniels?
With the game tied, the rookie shooting guard—who was just signed in February—hit a three-pointer with 11 seconds remaining in overtime, giving the Rockets a 121-116 win in Portland on Friday night.
Houston summed up the scene best on its Twitter account:
Cray— Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) April 26, 2014
Daniels is the true definition of an unsung hero, to say the least:
Troy Daniels is not even on the NBA 2K14 roster.— Bryan Wiedey (@pastapadre) April 26, 2014
Now, everybody knows his name.
The Trail Blazers looked dead to rights in the fourth quarter. Down by double digits, Portland slowly started to inch its way back, however, largely on the back of Damian Lillard. His circus shot and subsequent foul shot got the Blazers back to within two points, 103-101, with just over four minutes left in regulation.
Lillard then handed Portland a 107-106 lead with two minutes to go, before James Harden's four foul shots put Houston back up by three points 110-107.
The Rockets had a chance to take a five point lead on a fast break, but Jeremy Lin's layup bounced off the rim. Lin probably should've let the clock run down but instead opted to go for the quick points.
His decision was made even worse after Nicolas Batum drilled a three-pointer to tie the game with 41 seconds left.
CBSSports.com's Zach Harper was reveling in the beautiful pun opportunity:
BATUM GOES THE DYNAMITE— Zach Harper (@talkhoops) April 26, 2014
Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch brought up a point that shouldn't be forgotten. LaMarcus Aldridge did a great job in transition to contest Lin's lay-in. That play allowed Batum the opportunity to tie it up:
You watch the replay and see that LaMarcus Aldridge contested the layup attempt by Lin. Monster play if POR goes on to win.— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) April 26, 2014
The overtime period contained more of the same back-and-forth play, setting up Daniels' game winner.
Harden led all scorers with 37 points. He didn't have the most efficient game, as those 37 points came on 35 shots, which set a franchise record, per ESPN Stats & Info:
Howard contributed 24 points and 14 rebounds. He eliminated the hack-a-Howard strategy late in the fourth quarter by hitting four of his six free throw attempts.
Although it came in a losing effort, Lillard's performance can't be forgotten. He led the Blazers with 30 points, adding six rebounds and six assists. Of course, it helps when you have a guy like Harden defending you.
Pro Basketball Talk's Kurt Helin thought Lillard probably found Harden a much more favorable matchup than Patrick Beverley:
Lillard sees Harden on him and his eyes get huge.— Kurt Helin (@basketballtalk) April 26, 2014
Although this was only Game 3, Houston desperately needed the victory. Going down 3-0 to Portland with two more games left in the Moda Center would've almost certainly closed the door on the Rockets' hopes of advancing to the next round.
Head coach Kevin McHale alluded to switching up the lineup ahead of the game, per Joe Freeman of The Oregonian.
"We’ll have some change-ups," McHale said. "You can make little tweaks. We’re looking at doing a couple things differently, but we still have to be who we are."
The shakeup was starting Omer Asik ahead of Terence Jones.
Although Asik only scored seven points, McHale was vindicated by the fact that LaMarcus Aldridge only scored 23 points on 8-of-22 shooting. While that seems like a gaudy point total, it's a steep drop-off from the 46 and 43 points, respectively, Aldridge had scored in Games 1 and 2.
As Rockets Insider noted, Aldridge was having a hard time with Asik and Dwight Howard taking turns defensively:
#Rockets take a lead off of a James Harden layup. Excellent defense on Aldridge continues. Asik/Howard comfortable switching.— Rockets Insider (@Rockets_Insider) April 26, 2014
Houston jumped out to a 35-24 lead after the first quarter. James Harden's three-pointer at the buzzer put an exclamation point on what was a great opening 12 minutes for the Rockets.
The Trail Blazers wasted little time in wiping away the 11-point deficit in the second quarter. Portland went on a 19-2 run, grabbing a 45-40 lead. During that swing in momentum, the Rockets shot 2-of-14 as a team:
Down 2-0 in the series and having endured such a terrible second quarter, some might've expected the Rockets to fold in the second half. But a minute and 12 seconds into the third quarter, Harden gave Houston a 58-56 lead. Then the lead grew to six points, 71-65, and from there, the Rockets were in control.
What was an electric Portland crowd was largely silenced for most of the third quarter and the early stages of the fourth.
The Blazers were down as many as 11 points in the fourth quarter before surging back to life in the final five minutes of the game.
The Rockets aren't out of the woods just yet. Game 3 isn't a must-win, but they'll be fighting an uphill battle if the series does swing back to Portland. If Houston can pull it back to 2-2, then it will have also taken home-court advantage back from the Blazers.
Portland shouldn't be too discouraged. It still has the 2-1 series lead and another home game to try and take a 3-1 series lead.