The rest of the Portland Trail Blazers weren't going to let LaMarcus Aldridge have all the fun.
After carrying Rip City to wins in Games 1 and 2 with 40-plus-point efforts, the mid-range maestro had 29 to go with 10 rebounds and four blocks on Sunday night, but the supporting cast was just as productive in the Blazers' 123-120 overtime Game 4 win over the Houston Rockets.
Nicolas Batum had 25 points, including five in the extra period, Damian Lillard had 23 and eight assists and Wes Matthews added 21 to go with the game-winning steal, as the Blazers accomplished something for the first time in two decades:
Four Trail Blazers have scored 20+ points in a playoff game for first time since May 26, 1992 vs. Utah (Drexler, Duckworth, Kersey, Porter).— Trail Blazers PR (@TrailBlazersPR) April 28, 2014
With the Blazers now holding a 3-1 series lead, things shift back to Houston for Game 5. Given the way things are going in this series, overtime seems pretty inevitable at this point. ESPN Stats & Info noted an amazing stat about what has been a fantastic series and first round overall:
Via @EliasSports, this is just the 3rd series in NBA postseason history that featured 3 OT games, and second one of THIS postseason!— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 28, 2014
James Harden (28 points, six assists), Chandler Parsons (26 points, eight rebounds) and Dwight Howard (25 points, 14 rebounds, two steals, two blocks) were stellar for most of the evening, but the Rockets just couldn't get enough stops and let a 10-point halftime lead slip away.
Much like the Los Angeles Clippers earlier in the day, the Blazers went through pre-game warmups displaying a sign of protest against Donald Sterling.
Blazers in black socks pic.twitter.com/wF0I5UdJXH— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) April 28, 2014
Aldridge, who helped organize the sign of unity, talked about his reasoning, via The Oregonian's Joe Freeman:
LaMarcus Aldridge organized the #Blazers black sock movement. "I wanted to do something to support our brothers," he said.— Joe Freeman (@BlazerFreeman) April 28, 2014
As Comcast SportsNet Northwest's Chris Haynes noted, former Clipper Mo Williams was also in on the decision:
Told #Blazers Mo Williams, LaMarcus Aldridge came up with concept to wear black socks. Williams played for Sterling. He says he's pissed.— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) April 28, 2014
Unfortunately for the Blazers, they got off to a slow start much like their West Coast counterparts. Parsons scored 12 points in the first nine minutes, and Game 3 hero Troy Daniels, who entered for Parsons, hit two quick threes off the bench, propelling the Rockets to a 29-23 lead after a quarter.
Before Daniels drilled his third trey of the game early in the second, Golliver threw out this peculiar stat:
Troy Daniels has more three-pointers in the first 1:46 after checking in (2) than Kevin Durant has in his last 99 minutes of play (1)— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) April 28, 2014
The Rockets continued to fill it up and ended the first half shooting a scorching 54.8 percent from the field for a 61-51 advantage. Parsons had 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting, while Houston (nine offensive rebounds to Portland's 13 defensive rebounds) gobbled up a large share of its own misses.
After halftime, Portland's defense remained ineffective, but Aldridge, who had just 10 points in the first half, poured in 13 in the the third quarter. A buzzer-beating three from Lillard cut the deficit to 84-79 heading into the final period.
Following Lillard's three while fading into Houston's bench, ESPN's Tom Haberstroh offered praise for the second-year point guard:
How many NBA players A) Hit that shot B) Don't taunt the opposing bench? Dame Lillard is a different cat, man.— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) April 28, 2014
The Blazers continued to chip away at the lead with the three ball, as Lillard knocked one down with just under six minutes remaining to tie the game. Moments later, Batum hit a step-back trey to give them their first lead since early in the first quarter.
Portland pushed the lead to five with under three minutes to go and seemed ready to put the game away, but Howard came up with a couple of critical blocks and a game-tying dunk with three seconds remaining.
Freeman put it simply:
No matter what you think about officiating tonight, this can't be argued: Dwight Howard has been incredible down stretch.— Joe Freeman (@BlazerFreeman) April 28, 2014
Mo Williams, who had hit the go-ahead three just moments earlier, missed another at the buzzer, giving us a third overtime in four games.
Lana Berry joked about the predictability of awesomeness for the series:
Batum hit a couple of clutch shots, helping the Blazers to a quick seven-point lead in the opening moments of overtime, but Daniels hit a quick three and cut the lead to one by calmly knocking down three free throws like a seasoned veteran.
As Basketball Insiders' Alex Kennedy noted, however, Daniels isn't anywhere close to a seasoned vet:
Those were the first free throws of Troy Daniels' NBA career.— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) April 28, 2014
On the other end, Williams hit a couple of free throws, and then Matthews recorded a steal in the final seconds to seal the win for Portland.
The series returns to Houston for Game 5 on Wednesday, which is no problem for the Blazers, who not only won the first two games at the Toyota Center, but now have some important breathing room.
As Daryl Morey noted, though, it's not yet time to write off the Rockets:
Four straight coin flips. 3 tails 1 head. Blazers have played amazing so far. Rockets fans will carry us to victory in game 5 Wed— Daryl Morey (@dmorey) April 28, 2014
No matter what, though, with the way this series has unfolded, we can confidently expect plenty more scintillating basketball—whether that comes in the form of one, two or three more games.