The simple fact? If there was no Jeremy Lin in game 5 for the Houston Rockets against the Portland Trail Blazers, they’d be out of the playoffs. They are still behind, but a huge game from the demoted point guard, along with Dwight Howard being massive on both ends of the floor countered another awful performance from James Harden to come away with the 108-98 win.
The secret to success? Not holding on to the ball, not forcing shots, and reading the situation. Lin drove to the basket instead of taking contested jumpers again and again, which too many people involved with the program think is the way to win. Instead, we saw some creative thinking with the ball in the right hands, as Lin finished with 21 points, while Dwight Howard got the ball in the post against Robin Lopez, who he dominated all game long.
It was Lin’s best ever playoff performance, and finally one in which he didn’t just wait for things to come to him, but took the game on his shoulders, especially in the first three quarters. He was 9-of-15 from the field, scoring 9 points on 7 drives to the basket. The Rockets scored 20 points on drives to the basket, as James Harden remembered that is what actually makes him exceptional instead of resorting to bad shots again and again.
Credit to Howard, Asik and even Kevin McHale. The Rockets finally found a way to slow down Aldridge. They gave him changing looks during the first three quarters, and Howard finished the job with some great one on ones in the fourth. Aldridge had only 8 points, finishing with 3-of-12 from the field. Aside from him, the Blazers shot pretty well from the field (46.4%), but despite the 53 points from their backcourt of Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews, they didn’t have anything from their bench to make up for their star’s awful night.
Harden did score 17 points, but was an awful 5-of-15 from the field, worsening his poor shooting numbers in the playoffs already. He made only one-of-seven from beyond the arc. His strong shooting from the line and his seven assists were his redeeming qualities for the night. The Rockets dominated the board with 14 offensive rebounds, as Asik and Howard, a pairing that didn’t work out in the beginning of the season, seems to be their best answer to Aldridge and the Blazers’ offense, combining to grab 29 rebounds.
Howard scored 22 points to go with 3 blocks, scoring most of his post up points (18) with Robin Lopez as his primary defender. He converted only 44% on such plays in the first four games of the series, but made 63% of those attempts on a 1.20 points per play average in game 5, showing once again that the ball needs to go inside, instead of making it easy for the Blazers’ offense by allowing Harden to do whatever he wants.
Every game is different, but there’s always some sort of common string to put things together. The Rockets stayed away for the most part from what was bad for them. Harden doesn’t learn and never will, but McHale finally gave Lin the credit he deserves, or maybe Lin forced him to in one way or another by outshining a mediocre, as always, Patrick Beverley. For game 6 to be a setup for more playoffs instead of a season ender, they need more of the same and not returning to their old, bad habits.