HOUSTON - Blazers guard Wesley Matthews seemingly did enough by burying the game-tying 3-pointer with just under a minute left in regulation time on Saturday night at Toyota Center. But when he stripped Rockets guard James Harden in the final seconds, preventing Harden from hoisting a potential game-winning jumper at the fourth-quarter buzzer, he gave Portland a chance to win in overtime.
The Blazers' sharpshooting then paved the way to their 95-85 overtime win over Houston, but their defense in the third quarter and in spots in the fourth was equally essential.
Blazers rookie guard Damian Lillard drilled a 3-pointer to swing momentum to the visiting bench for good in the overtime period, and when Nicolas Batum followed with a three-pointer on the ensuing possession, the Blazers (2-1) handed the Rockets (2-1) their first loss on the season.
Matthews finished with 16 points, but more importantly, he played fabulous defense against Harden, helping hold the NBA's hottest shooter to 24 points on 8-for-24 shooting. Indicative of his workman-like effort was that he forced Harden into a turnover with 1:42 left in overtime and the Rockets desperately attempting to slice into the Blazers 90-85 advantage.
The Rockets surrendered an eight-point halftime lead with a lethargic third quarter, managing only a pair of 3-pointers from Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons against a ferocious and energized Blazers defense. Batum served as the linchpin on both ends of the court, swatting shots in transition while catching fire from the perimeter as the Blazers build a 63-58 lead.
Not surprisingly, Harden opened the game on fire, continuing the momentum established in Detroit and maintained in Atlanta. He scored eight of the Rockets' opening 10 points. And his full repertoire was on display, with Harden scoring in transition, via a pull-up jumper, and from the charity stripe to carry his sluggish teammates to an early scoreboard stalemate.
Yet it was the Rockets' maligned bench that carved a working margin, with Cole Aldrich, Carlos Delfino and Toney Douglas keying a 10-0 run that expanded the lead to 29-17 with 8:22 remaining in the first half. But before Rockets coach Kevin McHale could reinsert his starters, the Blazers responded with a seven-point burst led by their starters who were already on the floor: Matthews, J.J. Hickson and LaMarcus Aldridge, whose varied offensive moves yielded 15 first-half points.
Just as quickly, the Rockets' backcourt reestablished order, as Lin converted a three-point play before Harden stroked his lone 3-pointer of the half. What followed were transition baskets borne of defensive hustle and beautiful backdoor passing, the latter leading to a Parsons dunk that helped the Rockets to a 45-37 halftime lead.
Notes: Aldridge has scored at least 20 points in each of his previous eight regular-season visits to Toyota Center, averaging 22.6 points during that stretch. ... The Rockets posted a plus-22 rebounds advantage against the Hawks on Friday night, marking the first time since Feb 2, 2010, against Golden State (57-35) that they managed such a decisive margin. Center Omer Asik sparked the dominant performance by corralling a career-best 19 boards. ... Blazers guard Damian Lillard joined Oscar Robertson and Isiah Thomas as only the third rookie ever with at least 20 points and 10 assists in his NBA debut when he paired 23 points with 11 assists against the Lakers.