By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com
HOUSTON — They’ve all seen him do some of those things before.
LaMarcus Aldridge can take the ball on the left side of the basket in the low block and spin like the winds inside a hurricane as he blows into the lane.
Standing 6-foot-11, 240 pounds, he can also use his size and sheer strength to back a defender down and move relentlessly toward the basket.
Then there are those ridiculous turnaround, fadeaway jumpers that practically scrape the ceiling when the big man lets them fly.
Those are all part of the splendidly versatile package of tricks that all of his Trail Blazer teammates have seen time and again.
What was new was the fire. That flame that seemed to lick at his heels from the opening tip. That hot smoke that seemed to pour out of his nostrils on every possession, every shot, every play at either end of the court.
It was more than just a franchise playoff record of 46 points and 18 rebounds that burned the Rockets 122-120 in overtime on Sunday night. It was that match-in-a-dry-meadow spark by Aldridge that said this something entirely different.
“As far as the passion, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him like that,” said point guard Damian Lillard. “With how animated he was with the calls. Guys couldn’t stop him. I saw how bad he wanted to win the game. When your best player and your leader is playing like that, it fires you up.”
If there is a time somewhere down the line where the Blazers raising a trophy over their heads, this might go down as the game that lit the fuse.
In eight NBA seasons, Aldridge has always taken shots. This was the night when he took responsibility. For himself. For his team. For showing them that he could show them how.
Brandon Roy’s veteran leadership of his early career is gone now. The hope and promise of Greg Oden as the No. 1 draft pick and cornerstone has vanished.
Now it’s his team and here was the occasion when Aldridge recognized that fact and acted on it. They have cutting edge talent in Lillard, Nic Batum and Wesley Matthews. What they’ve needed is for Aldridge to bring the hammer.
He was not just hot and good an making shots. He was wickedly tuned in to everything that was happening — stomping his feet at made baskets, barking at calls — and did all that he could to affect every outcome.
“Every guy on this team comes to me and talks to me and they believe in me and tell me that I can dominate a game,” Aldridge said. “I’m always hearing that from my teammates. I’m always hearing those positive affirmations from them. I think I finally understand it.
“I made the playoffs three years in a row and you kind of get comfortable. Then I missed it two years in a row, so just being back here I am very excited about it and I am looking forward to the challenge. I’m playing better than I have in the past. I try to tell every guy that the playoffs is like another level, another season, and tonight I wanted to lead in that way.”
He did it when he helped get the Blazers off to an early start and he did it when he wouldn’t let them get down on themselves when they fell behind by double digits in the fourth quarter.
Aldridge even did it when he eventually fouled out of the game with 1:06 left in the overtime period with the score tied.
“I went to Damian and said ‘take it over,’ “ Aldridge said. “He’s a very confident guy. He’s very skilled. So he took over and he made big plays at the end.”
Not before Aldridge made the big plays all night long. Before the game, he saw Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler, who now does TV color commentary for the Rockets, but spent 11 1/2 seasons in Portland as the best Blazer of all-time.
“When I walked by him I said, ‘I’m coming for you,’ ”Aldridge said. “I meant in every stat possible. He said I still have some work to do, but he said I can do it. I always joke about trying to break all his records.”
No jokes here.
This was LaMarcus Aldridge as even his teammates hadn’t seen him before. Passionate, driven, showing the way.