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Houston draws inspiration from Clutch City of the past to narrow series with Portland

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PORTLAND, Ore. - The Rockets reached back into their history to stave off elimination in their first-round playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Houston earned the nickname "Clutch City" back in the mid-1990s when the team won back-to-back NBA championships. The Rockets brought the moniker back for Game 5 against the Blazers with a pep talk from a star of that team and T-shirts for their fans.

Now Houston will see if this team has that historic resilience as the series moves back to Portland for Game 6 on Friday night.

The Rockets are still down 3-2. So, lose and their summer starts Saturday.

"I don't want to go on vacation," Dwight Howard said. "I want to win. I want to give everything I've got. Every night, put my heart into it and sacrifice my body and do whatever I can to help this team win. It's not going to be easy."

After losing the opening two games in Houston, then claiming one of a pair in Portland, the Rockets rallied for a 108-98 victory on Wednesday night to narrow Portland's advantage in the series. Howard had 22 points and 14 rebounds, and Jeremy Lin redeemed himself from a poor performance in Game 4 with 21 points off the bench.

The Rockets limited All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge to eight points after he averaged 35.3 points in the first four games. Wesley Matthews led the Blazers with 27 points and Damian Lillard added 26.

Aldridge said Houston wasn't doing anything differently.

"No, that was just how the game went," he said afterward. "The ball didn't come to me as much tonight. Our guys were making shots and we were playing off them and that's how the game went. It wasn't about how Dwight (Howard) guarded me or anything like that."

The Rockets were simply determined playing in front of a crowd wearing red Clutch City shirts. Former guard Mario Elie gave the team some impassioned words of encouragement during practice a day earlier.

Elie, affectionately nicknamed Junkyard Dog for his tenacity, was known for clutch 3-pointers, including one that helped advance the Rockets out of a second-round playoff series against Phoenix in 1995. Houston, down 3-1 in the series against the Suns, went on to win its second straight NBA title.

Wednesday night's victory gave the Rockets confidence that it could happen again.

"We're not hanging our heads at all. We believe in each other and in that entire locker room nobody thinks this series is over," Rockets forward Chandler Parsons said. "We have a chance to do something special here and we've got to continue to do that and take it one game at a time."

Only eight NBA teams — including the '95 Rockets — have rebounded from a 3-1 deficit in a best-of-seven playoff series to advance. The last was the Suns, who came back to beat the Los Angeles Lakers in a first-round series in 2006.

Portland is making its first playoff appearance since 2011. Aldridge helped the Blazers steal the first two games in Houston, scoring 46 points in a 122-120 overtime Game 1 win, then 43 in a 112-105 victory.

The Rockets claimed the first of two in Portland, 121-116 in overtime, led by James Harden with 37 points. The series' third OT game ended in a 123-120 Blazers win.

The Blazers have been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs for their last six trips. The team hasn't advanced since 2000, when Portland made it to the Western Conference finals, losing in seven games to the Lakers.

Blazers centre Robin Lopez doesn't believe the Blazers have lost their edge with the Game 5 loss.

"I think we may have underestimated how desperate they were going to come out," he said. "I'm excited for Game 6 and I know that they will come out with a greater level of intensity and confidence and we will have to try and match it, overcome it."

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