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September 2, 2014

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Portland takes 2-1 advantage into Game 4

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Don Ryan / AP

Houston Rockets guard James Harden flashes three fingers after scoring a 3-point shot during the second half of Game 3 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers in Portland, Ore., Friday, April 25, 2014. Harden scored 37 points as the Rockets won 121-116.

Houston's James Harden says the pressure has shifted to the Trail Blazers in their first-round playoff series. Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge respectfully disagrees.

Portland won the first two games in Houston before the Rockets won the third, 121-116 in overtime on Friday night at the Moda Center. Game 4 is Sunday night.

"We're still in control, the pressure is still on them," said Aldridge, who had more than 40 points in each of the first two games before the Rockets held him to 23. "They lost two at home so they're trying to come here and they have to take two. They came out and played as they should, they played like they were desperate and needed a win, like they didn't want their season to end."

Harden had a career playoff-high 37 points on 13-of-35 shooting in Friday's game, overcoming some of the offensive struggles that had him shooting 14 of 47 in the first two. He effectively combined on the pick-and-roll with Dwight Howard, who had 24 points and 14 rebounds.

"The pressure is on them," Harden maintained. "Sunday is going to be a great game and we have to do a great job of being ready, being focused. We have to quiet runs to a minimum and just be out there for four quarters. The hustle plays, the loose balls, we have to get all of those."

Game 3 had an unlikely hero in Troy Daniels, who spent time in the D-League this season and only made his NBA debut on March. 5. Daniels drained a 3-pointer with 11.9 seconds to go in OT that proved to be the winner. He finished with nine points, all 3s.

It was just his sixth NBA game.

"I was ready. My teammates and coaches said just to be ready to shoot that shot and that's what I did," Daniels said. "That's my job."

Only three teams have come back to win after losing the first two games of a seven-game series at home: The last was the 2004-05 Mavericks, who came back against the Rockets.

No team has ever come back from 0-3, which made the Rockets' victory crucial.

The Blazers seemed unfazed by the loss, still brimming with confidence over their 2-1 advantage.

"It would be a problem if we lost the game because of effort or because we weren't focused on taking care of business, but we were," said point guard Damian Lillard, who led the Blazers with 30 points. "It's the playoffs and nobody said we were going to come out and sweep them. We're lucky we were able to win two games in Houston and be in the position we're in right now. "

The Blazers hadn't opened a playoff series 2-0 since 1977, when they jumped on the Lakers en route to the Western Conference title. Portland went on to beat Philadelphia for its lone NBA championship.

The Blazers returned to the playoffs this season after a two-year drought. They haven't advanced out of the first round since the postseason in 2000.

Aldridge opened Portland's return with a franchise postseason-best 46 points in the Blazers' 122-120 overtime victory in Game 1, then followed it up with 43 points in the 112-105 win on Wednesday night.

Houston coach Kevin McHale addressed Portland's All-Star forward by tinkering with his lineup, starting Omer Asik in place of Terrence Jones. Asik and Dwight Howard were able to keep Aldridge off balance for much of Game 3.

McHale also found success with a small lineup of Harden, Daniels Jeremy Lin and Pat Beverley with Howard.

"For us to win this series we have to stay composed," Howard said. "You can't relax against this team You have to attack their bigs, attack their smalls and put them on their heels. That's the only way we're going to win this series."

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