LaMarcus Aldridge had the game of his life on Sunday, but he wouldn't have been able to take the game ball were it not for Damian Lillard. After fouling out with the score tied and a minute left in overtime, the Portland Trail Blazers power forward approached his point guard and told him to "take it over," Aldridge said to reporters afterward. When Houston Rockets guard Jeremy Lin's layup put the Blazers down by two in a hostile Houston environment, Portland didn't exactly have the momentum.
Of course, that's when Lillard scored the Blazers' next five points and stole a 122-120 road victory in Game 1. Lillard finished with 31 points, nine rebounds and five assists. This was his playoff debut, and he shot 9-for-19 from the field, 10-for-12 from the line. Somehow this didn't even feel surprising, as he has proven so many times over the past two seasons that he is the NBA's most cold-blooded young star.
Portland wouldn't have had a chance if not for Lillard's game-tying three-pointer with 29 seconds left in regulation, and Aldridge's tip-in with just three seconds left. He and Aldridge scored the team's last 25 points of the fourth quarter, and the big man finished with a Blazers franchise-record 46 points and 18 rebounds. The only other players who have put up that line in the playoffs since 1986 are Dwight Howard (who spent some time guarding Aldridge) and Hakeem Olajuwon (who watched the domination from a courtside seat). Aldridge and Lillard are the first teammates since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen in 1992 to finish with 45 and 30 points in a postseason game. The last guy who put up 31 and nine boards in his first playoff game was LeBron James eight years ago.
Lillard and Aldridge scored every which way in the most exciting contest of the postseason's opening weekend. Pulling his best Dirk Nowitzki impression, Aldridge even made two three-pointers, which matched his regular-season total.
"As far as the passion, I don't think I've ever seen him like that," Lillard told reporters. "Guys couldn't stop him. I saw how bad he wanted to win the game. When you have your leader playing like that, it fires you up."
Houston head coach Kevin McHale said that his team "just didn't have any answers for Aldridge," and it looks like he will have to figure out something new before Wednesday's Game 2. McHale has already given him multiple looks, though, trying Howard and center Omer Asik together in the frontcourt as well as a no-center strategy with Terrence Jones as the biggest Rocket on the floor. Nothing worked particularly well against Aldridge this time, and there might be an even bigger Lillard problem in the next game.
Patrick Beverley hurt his right knee on the play where Aldridge fouled out. He stayed in the game and made a huge block on Lillard before fouling out himself, but the team termed it a sprain. It's the same knee where he tore his meniscus in late March. This is extremely worrying for a Houston team that relies on his defense and energy at the point guard spot.
If Beverley has to miss any time, it's going to take a real team effort to slow Portland down. The Blazers are going to get greedy in the series' second game, and Lillard and Aldridge have already shown they're more than ready for whatever the Rockets throw at them.