HOUSTON (AP) — LaMarcus Aldridge was playing on another level Sunday night and had the emotional intensity to match the best performance of his career.
Portland’s star was hungry after missing the playoffs the last two seasons and wanted to show his teammates that getting to the postseason was simply not enough.
Aldridge scored a career-high and franchise playoff-record 46 points and Damian Lillard added 31, including the go-ahead free throws in overtime, to lift the Trail Blazers to a 122-120 victory over the Houston Rockets in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series.
“I’ve been here and I’ve went through this process and I understand it and I just think tonight was one of those nights,” Aldridge said.
Aldridge fouled out with about a minute left in overtime and Lillard, who was making his playoff debut, took over. He scored the next five points for Portland and put the Trail Blazers on top by one point with a pair of free throws with 17 seconds left. Joel Freeland made one of two free throws seconds later to give the Blazers the win in their first trip to the postseason since 2011.
Lillard said seeing the intensity of Aldridge helped him raise his level of play.
“As far as the passion I don’t think I’ve ever seen him like that,” Lillard said. “I saw how bad he wanted to win the game. When you’ve got your best player playing like that it fires you up.”
Game 2 is Wednesday night in Houston.
Aldridge, who was playing in his home state, also had 18 rebounds and two blocks.
“He’s been a handful for us all year long,” Houston coach Kevin McHale said. “We just didn’t have any answers for him.”
James Harden and Dwight Howard each scored 27 points for Houston, and Howard grabbed 15 rebounds.
Houston could have tied it, but Harden missed a short jump shot at the buzzer. He had missed a 3-pointer on Houston’s second-to-last possession.
“I’ve got to play better,” Harden said. “I didn’t shoot the ball well … I’ve got to shake it off, but it will be better in Game 2.”
It was a physical game with the teams combining for 79 free throws.
A three-point play by Lillard gave Portland a one-point lead with 44.5 seconds remaining. Francisco Garcia and Howard both made one of two free throws after that to give Houston a 120-119 lead 20 seconds later.
Aldridge fouled out when he knocked Patrick Beverley to the floor setting a pick with 1:04 left in overtime. An emotional Aldridge continued to yell at the referees after he went to the bench.
“This is one of those games where I could show my team that I wanted to lead,” Aldridge said.
Beverley re-injured his right knee on the play where Aldridge fouled out and McHale said the Rockets would know more about the guard’s status after an MRI exam Monday. Beverley missed eight games late in the season because of a torn meniscus in the knee.
A dunk by Robin Lopez gave Portland a 116-114 lead before he fouled out seconds later. Howard made both free throws to tie it.
Houston scored the first seven points of the fourth quarter, with the first four from Howard, to make it 86-73. But Portland used a 10-0 run, with the help of the Hack-A-Howard defense of intentionally fouling the center, to tie it at 98 with 2:46 remaining. Howard missed four straight free throws as Portland cut the deficit.
The Rockets were frustrated that they let this one get away after leading by double figures late.
“We had no business losing this game,” Houston’s Chandler Parsons said.
A 3-pointer by Lillard had tied it at 104-all before Harden put Houston up with two free throws. Aldridge’s tip-in with 2.9 seconds left tied it at 106. Houston had a chance to win it in regulation, but Harden’s shot was off.
Howard and Jeremy Lin both made three-point plays to start overtime before Aldridge and Nicolas Batum hit consecutive 3s to tie it up again.
Portland trailed by 11 when it used a 9-2 spurt to get within 73-69 with about two minutes left in the third quarter. Aldridge started the run with four points and Wesley Matthews finished it off by scoring the last five and capping it with dunk on a fast break.
The Rockets had a four-point lead early in the third quarter when Harden heated up, scoring 10 points of a 12-3 run that extended Houston’s advantage to 66-53 with 7 1/2 minutes left in the period.
NOTES: Rockets Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon and Houston Texans star J.J. Watt watched the game from courtside seats. … Houston general manager Daryl Morey asked local rappers Slim Thug and Bun B if they could make a remix of the 2005 hit “3 Kings” for the Rockets, and the pair came through in just one day. The two did a concert before the game across the street from the Toyota Center and dropped the track, which mentions several players by name, to wrap up the show as Morey bobbed his head and sang along.