By Fran Blinebury, for NBA.com
Posted Apr 27 2009 9:54AM
HOUSTON -- Everybody has a plan, Mike Tyson used to say, until they get hit.
When Joel Przybilla converted a put-back bucket with 9:05 left in the game, the Houston Rockets were seeing stars.
A six-point halftime lead had become a six-point hole and now the Portland Trail Blazers were circling for the knockout blow.
It was a punch that never landed.
Because of Shane Battier and Carl Landry and Kyle Lowry and Chuck Hayes. Because despite having the biggest man on the floor in Yao Ming, the Rockets mostly did all of the little things right.
They got the big rebounds. They hit the big shots. They got a defensive stop that was as big as Texas. And they eventually escaped with an 89-88 victory on Sunday at the Toyota Center that gives them a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven first-round Playoff series.
"Whether it's the NCAA Tournament or the NBA Playoffs, that's how you win in post-season basketball," said Lowry, the backup point guard who arrived in Houston from Memphis via an under-the-deadline trade on Feb. 19.
"You take care of your business the way you talk about doing it every day in practice. That means you limit the mistakes, you try to take care of the ball and you have everybody on your team trying to make big plays."
Ever since the aberration that was their series-opening blowout win, the Rockets have had to work at this series as if they were trying to assemble one of those jigsaw puzzles with a zillion pieces.
With Yao Ming being surrounded and often smothered by Portland defenders in the past three games, Houston has had to be creative in finding its offense and its big playmakers.
After taking a total of just 13 shots in the previous two games, the Rockets had to keep Yao on the move down in the low post to enable him to catch the ball and get his shots off. Yao got off 14 shots in Game 4, made seven of them and finished with a double-double of 21 points and 12 rebounds.
"I think it was a concerted effort of finding him and [Yao] did a great job tonight of getting position," said Battier. "When he's open, we've got to get him the ball."
But a return to form of their big man in the middle would not have been nearly enough if not for the contributions of so many others.
There was Lowry climbing what seemed to be an invisible ladder to the rafters to haul down a critical offensive rebound with just under seven minutes left following a missed 22-foot heave by Ron Artest.
There was Landry coming off the bench to play just under 13 minutes, but nailing a huge jumper that gave Houston an 87-85 lead and scrapping to five rebounds that reset the Rockets offense time and again coming down the stretch.
There was Battier gathering in a feed from Landry after one of those rebounds and drilling the second of his back-to-back 3-pointers in the space of 64 seconds.
Most of all, there was Chuck Hayes, who played just four minutes on the night, checking into the game as a defensive sub with 10.7 seconds left and the Rockets still clinging to that two-point lead.
Hayes watched the Blazers biggest gun Brandon Roy (31 points) start on his drive to the left side of the basket and get an edge on his defender Artest. Then Hayes slid down into the open spot in front of the basket, just outside the restricted area and he waited.
When Roy arrived, Hayes was planted in his path and drew the charge that gave the Rockets just enough room to breathe.
"I've had a couple of those moments in my short career so far," Hayes said. "It's just instincts. My instincts took over.
"It's a timing deal. It's such a gamble because if they call a block, with us not having a shot-blocker back there, he has a chance of getting a layup. It could easily be a three-point play.
"I think Ron was playing him to go left and he probably gave him a set-up dribble to the right. I was really reading Ron. If I seen Ron a step late, I was gonna go. It wasn't so much about Roy. Once I saw him get a step on Ron, I knew I had to be there. Plus I was hoping that Roy would hurry up and make a move so that I wouldn't get a defensive 3-second call."
After losing six consecutive Game 4s in the playoffs dating back to 1997, the Rockets got the call and now the commanding lead in the series.
The Rockets thrived on offensive rebounding, grabbing 16 on the night -- 10 in the fourth quarter alone -- and converted 28 second-chance points.
Now it's the Blazers who must return home find a way to get someone other than their main scorer Roy to have a break-out game. While LaMarcus Aldridge scored 19 points, he still hasn't exploded on the Rockets. While Travis Outlaw got tracked with 14 points, he still has not been the deadly weapon of the regular season.
"It's a tough one," said Blazers coach Nate McMillan. "It's a huge challenge on Tuesday to see what type of fight or how much fight we have left in us."
The Blazers had a plan, too. Before they were hit.
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