Perhaps the most entertaining series of the outstanding first round of the 2014 NBA playoffs will thankfully continue after the Houston Rockets defeated the Portland Trail Blazers 108-98 Wednesday night to force a Game 6.
Although it couldn’t compare to the heart-stopping craziness of the previous two contests, Game 5 still offered plenty of storylines for Twitter to dissect. The series has already offered historic performances, unexpected heroes and questionable refereeing, and much of that continued on Wednesday.
With all that going on, some key themes still emerged from the social chatter from Game 5.
The Return of Linsanity
Prior to Wednesday night, Jeremy Lin’s most memorable moment of the series was a sequence where he initially appeared to take six steps without being called for a travel. In Game 5, he did this.
Lin averaged just 12.5 points while shooting 44.6 percent from the field during the regular season. But he found a rhythm early Wednesday night and picked a good time for one of his best offensive performances in months.
Lin scored 20 points just seven times in the regular season. He has 21 with 9:21 left in a win-or-go-home Game 5. #Rockets— Dave Zangaro (@DZangaro) May 1, 2014
The Rockets needed it, as Lin was forced into playing extended minutes. Patrick Beverley reportedly had a high fever before the game, and it obviously impacted him from the opening tip.
Beverley checks out after five minutes. Earlier than usual. Obviously not 100 percent.— Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) May 1, 2014
The Blazers hung around despite being down double digits on multiple occasions, but Lin helped Houston to end several runs and keep a five- to seven-point advantage through much of the second half. Another game like that from Lin on Friday night in Portland would go a long way toward forcing a Game 7.
LaMarcus Aldridge Is Human
In case you are just tuning into the series, LaMarcus Aldridge is having a good one.
The Rockets slowed Aldridge down in Game 3 and Game 4 after inserting Omer Asik into the starting lineup, but he was still having a major impact. That was not the case Wednesday, as Aldridge managed just eight points on 3-of-12 shooting with eight rebounds.
The game took a twist early, as both Aldridge and Dwight Howard got into some foul trouble in the first quarter.
And Dwight Howard picks up his 2nd foul with 4:40 left in 1st Q. Each team's star will sit for a long stretch.— Joe Freeman (@BlazerFreeman) May 1, 2014
Howard was able to work his way back into the flow of the game, finishing with 22 points and 14 rebounds. Aldridge managed the foul trouble all right and blocked four shots, but he never really got involved offensively.
The Blazers pushed the Rockets in the second half but could not quite get over the hump. One offensive spurt from Aldridge could have changed that.
Aldridge’s performance certainly surprised fans and experts on Twitter.
If you had Jeremy Lin and Wes Matthews as the best players in the game, and James Harden and LaMarcus Aldridge as the worst, you're a liar.— AJ Hoffman (@AJIsTheReal) May 1, 2014
James Harden Continues to Struggle
On the other side, Houston’s star has not been having a good series at all. Shot selection and great defense from Wesley Matthews are the reasons why.
Midrange attempts per game average for James Harden via http://t.co/37ezjU95o1: Regular season 3.06, postseason 7.2.— Erik Gundersen (@blazerbanter) April 30, 2014
For three-and-a-half quarters Wednesday night, that did not change. Harden again struggled to get to the free-throw line and settled for more long-range shots. He finished with 17 points on 5-of-15 shooting.
To give Harden credit, he had eight huge points down the stretch and was one of the main reasons Houston was able to close out the Blazers. He even had a key defensive play late in the fourth quarter, which sent Twitter into a frenzy.
James Harden clutch defense?!?!? WHERE DID THIS COME FROM— SB Nation NBA (@SBNationNBA) May 1, 2014
Still, those are not the offensive numbers we are used to seeing from Harden, and he is clearly a defensive liability the majority of the time.
How many games does this series have to go for the regular-season James Harden to show up? How many can it last while he doesn't?— Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) May 1, 2014
The answer to that last question is six, for now. For Houston to extend it to seven, Harden has to step up.
Next up is Game 6 on Friday night in Portland. Houston grabbed some momentum with the Game 5 victory but faces the daunting challenge of a must-win in Portland in front of a crowd that is going to be absolutely wild.
Don’t expect another eight-point performance from Aldridge, either. For the Rockets to head back home for a Game 7, they will need a total team performance. Harden must regain his form, Howard needs to control the paint again and the Rockets will need to continue to get key contributions from Lin, Asik and Chandler Parsons.