LaMarcus Aldridge’s son JJ, who turned 5 on Wednesday, texted him after the Portland Trail Blazers’ playoff win and told him he looked like Spider-Man on one of his dunks.
To the Houston Rockets the Portland star probably looked like a superhero on more than just that one play.
Aldridge continued his dominance against the Rockets, scoring 43 points to lift the Trail Blazers to a 112-105 victory and a 2-0 lead in the first-round playoff series.
Aldridge has made the most of the return to his home state and put the Trail Blazers in control heading home for Game 3 in Portland on Friday. The former University of Texas star who grew up in Dallas laughed heartily and said `maybe’ when asked if he’d rather stay in the Lone Star state after the way he’s played in the first two games.
"(Leading) 2-0 going home feels great, but it’s not over," he said. "We’re going to stay hungry, stay humble and go home and try to duplicate the same (success)."
Aldridge became the first player with consecutive games of 43 points games in the playoffs since Tracy McGrady did it in April 2003 after scoring a career-high and franchise playoff-record 46 in an overtime win in Game 1. He’s also the first player Trail Blazers history to have two 40-point games in the postseason, and his 89 points in a team’s first two playoff games trail only Michael Jordan (1986, 1988) and Jerry West (1965) in the past 50 years.
He has helped the Trail Blazers win two road games to start a playoff series for only the second time in franchise history. The first came when they took the first two against the Lakers in the 1977 Western Conference finals.
Damian Lillard made six free throws down the stretch to help out in the win. But the guard gave all the credit for the win to Aldridge.
"What can they do to stop him? He was great once again, just like Game 1," Lillard said. "When a lot of guys couldn’t get going and couldn’t hit shots, he just carried us. He played like an MVP again."
The Rockets spent the past two days of practice focused on how to slow Aldridge down, but nothing they did seemed to faze the 6-foot-11 player.
"We tried changing it up tonight," Houston coach Kevin McHale said. "Tonight, he was picking and popping and moving and we were having trouble running people at him. We were trying to get the ball out of his hands as much as we could."
Aldridge credited coach Terry Stotts for moving him around early in the game to help evade Houston’s double-teams.
"I made tough shots," Aldridge said. "I don’t think too much was easy tonight. I just got in that rhythm and started making shots."
James Harden knocked down a 3-pointer with about 30 seconds left to get the Rockets within 3. Lillard made two free throws before Harden fouled out about 10 seconds later. Mo Williams and Lillard both made a pair of free throws after that to secure the win. Lillard finished with 18 points.
Dwight Howard was unstoppable early and scored 25 points in the first half, but he managed only seven in the second half.
After missing 20 shots in Game 1, Harden promised a better performance in this game. But it was much of the same as he was 6 of 19 and finished with 18 points.
"We don’t have our same flow, our same mojo that we had throughout the season," Harden said. "We don’t have our same swag. . . . We’ve got to get that back."
The Rockets trailed by nine points before a 5-0 run cut the lead to 102-98 with about a minute left. Both teams made a pair of free throws after that before Lillard found Wesley Matthews wide open for a reverse layup to make it 106-100 with 33 seconds left.
A one-handed dunk by Aldridge over Omer Asik gave Portland a 96-87 lead with about five minutes left.
With Aldridge on the bench to start the fourth, Houston scored the first four points of the period to cut the lead to two points, but Williams and Dorell Wright made consecutive 3s to make it 89-81 midway through the quarter.
Aldridge made 10 of Portland’s first 14 points of the second half to help the Trail Blazers build a 67-58 lead with about eight minutes left in the quarter. Houston scored the next nine points, with the last five from Chandler Parsons, to tie it at 67 a couple of minutes later.
Portland an 83-77 led entering the fourth quarter.
The Trail Blazers scored seven straight points to take a 53-51 lead late in the second quarter, but Beverley’s basket at the buzzer tied it at halftime.
Howard scored Houston’s first 13 points and had 19 — with five dunks — by the end of the first quarter to help the Rockets to a 31-23 lead.
NOTES: Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon, who has been working with Howard this week, watched the game from a courtside seat. . . . Wright finished with 15 points. . . . Howard’s 19 points in the first quarter were a franchise-high for a quarter in the playoffs, surpassing the 18 Olajuwon scored against Utah on May 5, 1995.