Portland has grown accustomed to impressive debuts from Damian Lillard.
The reigning Rookie of the Year had no problem deferring to LaMarcus Aldridge, continually setting him up for open looks.
The result was a career-night for Aldridge.
Only during the final minute of overtime, Lillard needed to find a way to carry Portland to its first playoff victory in three years.
The All-Star point guard once again delivered, scoring five of his 31 points after Aldridge fouled out, securing a 122-120 overtime victory in Houston to take the series opener.
Aldridge had been dominant throughout the entire night, surpassing his season high with 46 points on 17-of-31 shooting from the field, to go along with 18 rebounds, two assists and two blocks.
His performance helped the Trail Blazers secure a win in unlikely fashion.
Portland trailed by 13 points with 10 minutes remaining and became just the eighth team in the last 123 tries to erase the deficit and claim victory.
Nineteen of Aldridge’s points came in the fourth quarter as the Rockets refused to double-team him.
His play allowed for one more opportunity to either win the game or send it to overtime.
The Trail Blazers trailed by two with seven seconds remaining in regulation, but Aldridge was able to give his team another chance to win the game.
Aldridge tipped the ball through the net and a corner jumper from James Harden at the buzzer hit off the back of the rim and bounced out.
Seven of his rebounds came on the offensive end Sunday night, none bigger than that one.
Once overtime began, the three-time All-Star power forward continued to carry the Trail Blazers offense, knocking down his second 3-pointer of the game and then finding Nicolas Batum for another long range shot.
The 46-point performance marked the highest post season performance in Portland’s franchise history and he joined Howard, Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James as the only players to tally 45 or more points and 15 or more rebounds in the same playoff game since 1986.
Only Portland would have to find a way to win the game with Aldridge on the bench for the final 64 seconds of the game.
While attempting to set a screen at mid-court, Aldridge was whistled for his sixth foul of the game, as his pick sent Patrick Beverley to the ground.
Beverley limped off the floor after spraining his right knee, the same one he had surgically repaired in late March and the team will have him undergo an MRI on Monday to ensure he didn’t tear his meniscus once again.
Beverley remained in the game and drew the difficult assignment of trying to slow down Lillard.
Without Aldridge or starting center Robin Lopez, as he fouled out with two minutes remaining in overtime, Lillard had limited options in the post.
Lillard ranked third in the league with 218 made 3-point field goals in the regular season and tried to erase a two point deficit with 53 seconds remaining by launching a shot from beyond the arc.
Despite the intense pain in his knee, Beverley was able to deflect the shot.
Portland received the ball after it went out of bounds and Lillard found a different way to tally 3-points on one possession.
On the inbound pass, Lillard drove to the basket, created some space from Beverley with a hesitation dribble, then elevated towards the basket and converted a bank shot while drawing contact.
The three point sequence marked the final converted field goal of the game.
Lillard’s pair of free throws with 17 seconds left gave Portland a lead it never surrendered.
In his post season debut, Lillard finished with 31 points on 9-of-19 shooting, nine rebounds, five assists and just one turnover in 46 minutes of play.
Both Lillard and Aldridge were selected as All-Stars this season, but after one post season game together, it’s clear the Trail Blazers have a pair of franchise players.