The Houston Rockets have been wildly inconsistent throughout the first four games of their series against the Portland Trail Blazers. The Blazers have made the Rockets look uncomfortable. Houston can't seem to defend the various weapons, motion, and quick pace of a lethal Blazers' attack. They can't seem to get their perimeter attack on board against some staunch wing defenders in Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews.
Portland grabbed control in the first two games on the road in the series and walked into Game 5 with a 3-1 lead and the capability of giving themselves a second round berth. With the uncomfortable nature in which the Rockets played in much of the first four games, it looked like a foregone conclusion they would be eventually on their way to the summer, sooner rather than later. But their main prize in free agency stepped up and played like the superstar he's supposed to be.
Dwight Howard did everything in the Game 5 victory, from scoring efficiently inside and not imploding at the free throw line to taking the most dangerous weapon of the first round LaMarcus Aldridge out of the offensive flow for most of the night. His 22 points, 14 rebounds, and three blocks don't even begin to explain the impact he had on the game, performing as their best player in a time in which James Harden still can't seem to figure out the Blazers' defense.
Howard was instrumental in keeping Aldridge in check with the Blazers' power forward putting together only an eight-point night on 3-of-12 shooting. Aldridge scored at least eight points in six of the first seven quarters of this series, but the defensive charge led by Howard and complemented by Omer Asik and Terrence Jones stymied his entire attack throughout the Portland loss. And Howard blocked Aldridge's last two attempts of the night to cap off a wonderful defensive performance.
This is what he was brought to do with this team too. He was the leader we saw in Orlando when he had so much success under Stan Van Gundy. He was a wrecking force on offense and a closer on defense. He showed emotion on key stops and left out a lot of the preening and mannerisms that have helped him lose favor with the general basketball public during the past three years, fair or not.
Game 5 was a nice reminder for the Rockets and Howard himself that they're capable of playing with anybody and winning this series. They have the talent and they have the ability. However, there is concern they expended too much energy to stave off elimination and live to play another day. We'll find out Friday night when these two teams face off in Portland and the Rockets once again try to extend their season.
If we see the Dwight Howard we saw in Game 5, Rockets fans will get a chance to see it again in person during a Game 7.