Up 2-1 in their first playoff series since 2011, the Blazers didn't want to mess up Game 4, especially in front of their hometown fans.
"In the words of Chuck — Charles Barkley — we were playing like wussies," Portland guard Wesley Matthews said. "That was the message to each other."
Whatever was said, the Trail Blazers pulled out of their funk and went on to defeat the Rockets 123-120 in overtime Sunday night to take a 3-1 advantage in the series that moves to Houston on Wednesday.
LaMarcus Aldridge had 29 points and 10 rebounds in the first win for the home team in the series, while Nicolas Batum added 25 points. It was the third game in the series decided in overtime.
The Blazers haven't advanced out of the first round since 2000. Portland also hasn't held a 3-1 advantage in a series since the 2000 Western Conference semifinals against Utah, which the Blazers won 4-1.
James Harden had 28 points and Dwight Howard added 25 points and 14 rebounds for the Rockets.
"The playoffs are a grind," Houston coach Kevin McHale said. "It's a different game than the regular season. You've got to be built for the grind."
Portland trailed by as many as 11 points, but rallied in the fourth quarter. Mo Williams' 3-pointer put the Blazers in front 105-104 with 18.9 seconds left. Dorell Wright missed the first of two free throws, making it 106-104 with 8.3 seconds to go.
Howard dunked off a feed from Harden with 3.6 seconds left to tie it and Williams missed a 3 at the buzzer to send the game into overtime.
Chandler Parsons was hit with a flagrant foul on Aldridge, who made both free throws to give the Blazers the lead to start off OT. Batum scooped up a layup before adding a 3-pointer and Damian Lillard made a layup to put Portland ahead 117-110.
Houston rookie Troy Daniels nailed a 3 and Harden landed a jumper to narrow it to 119-117, but Lillard made free throws to extend the lead to four points with 17 seconds left.
Aldridge missed a pair of free throws and Daniels was fouled by Wright on a 3-point attempt and made all three shots to narrow it to 121-120 with 8.9 seconds left. After a Portland timeout, Mo Williams made free throws for the final margin.
"It was tough," Aldridge said. "I thought it was a gut-check by everybody. I thought our guys took on the challenge."
Aldridge opened Portland's return to the playoffs with a franchise post-season-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. The Rockets won the third, 121-116 in overtime on Friday night at the Moda Center.
McHale again started Omer Asik in place of Terrence Jones. Asik had success against Aldridge in Game 3, helping to hold Portland's All-Star to 23 points.
The two teams played closely for most of the first quarter, but the Rockets took a 29-22 lead after an 11-4 run highlighted by two straight 3-pointers from Daniels.
Daniels, who spent time in the D-League this season and only made his NBA debut on March. 5, was the unlikely hero of Game 3 when he drained a 3 with 11.9 seconds to go in OT that proved to be the winner.
Houston led 61-51 at the half, led by Parsons with 19 points. The Rockets maintained the lead through the third quarter and Harden's jumper from the top of the key stretched it to 92-84 with 8:31 left.
Portland got within 94-91 on Batum's layup with 6:35 left. Lillard's 3-pointer tied it at 94, but Harden answered with his 3 for the Rockets.
Aldridge made a layup to put Portland up 102-97, but Howard made three of four free throws to narrow it before making two big blocks. Harden hit free throws to tie it at 102 with 1:11 left. Aldridge missed a layup and Harden hit another two foul shots to give the Rockets back the lead.
Parsons finished with 26 points for the Rockets.
"Everything you do is magnified and all the little things that we're not doing cost you ... and we're down 1-3 because of it," Parsons said.
NOTES: Houston guard Patrick Beverly did not participate in the shootaround because he wasn't feeling well, but he started the game. .... NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was at the game but he was not available to the media. Silver is facing a storm of controversy surrounding racist comments purportedly made by Clippers owner Donald Sterling. ... The Blazers all wore black socks in solidarity with the Clippers. "I wanted to do something to support our brothers," Aldridge said. ... It was the Blazers' 100th overall playoff victory.