In the search for a postseason turnaround unmatched since the Rockets were champions, this year’s model finally did something it had not through the course of its unpredictable, anything-can-happen, excruciatingly tight first-round series with the Trail Blazers. The Rockets had a win in sight Wednesday night and neatly, coolly closed it out. They executed down the stretch. They defended. They rebounded. Pushed to the brink and separated from the charging Blazers by the thin edge of a one-point lead, the Rockets pulled away with a stunning four-minute surge to a 108-98 win, sending the series to Portland for Game 6 with the Blazers leading 3-2. “Our guys came out and battled,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “I thought they would. They really wanted to get back to Portland to get another shot at them.” The series has been so tight that through five games, the teams are separated by three points. But when Game 5 was at its tightest Wednesday, the Rockets were finally at their best for a finishing kick. They held the Blazers scoreless in the final 3½ minutes, controlling the boards and taking care of the ball as they rarely had late in games in the series. For the first time in this season’s playoffs or last, the Rockets held an opponent shy of 100 points. That 10-game stretch of giving up 100 was the longest in franchise postseason history and had been the longest active string in the league. “They’re a high-octane offensive team,” Rockets guard James Harden said. “They score the ball in bunches, from (Damian) Lillard to (LaMarcus) Aldridge. (Wesley) Matthews hit a lot of 3s tonight. Us getting stops and getting quality possessions, it was making sure we got a good shot every time and defensively not giving them and-ones and things like that. “Now we go back to Portland, put the pressure on them a little bit, and go out there and compete. It’s basically the game or our season. We can’t look back and dwell on the past and say, ‘I wish I could have done this or wish I could have done that.” Had the Rockets not taken the win, Harden above all might have been haunted by regrets. The Rockets had led but seemed to be sinking fast, with a lead that once reached 17 down to its final point. But the Rockets had built that lead with Harden offering nothing offensively in the second half.
Rockets keep season alive with 108-98 win; Blazers lead series 3-2
Houston Chronicle | May 1