If Portland's game had been any streakier tonight two cops would have chased it all over the field, thrown a blanket over it, and then hauled it off to spend a night in the hoosegow.
The Blazers started off the game in fine form with some good passing, screening, and scoring inside and out. We didn't let the fact that our jumpers were falling deter us from working the paint game. Brandon Roy in particular displayed the full 31 flavors of scoring plus he came out with all kinds of energy and drive. Halfway through the first period we were up 15-7 and looking fine. The only fly in the ointment came from whistles blown against us. Less than 5 minutes into the game every frontcourt player had one and Lamarcus had to sit with two. That left holes in the big man defense which Houston was quick to exploit. The Rockets sprinted into the lead until they, themselves were dealt a devastating blow with Yao Ming collecting his second personal with 3:16 left in the quarter. Portland is even now, right? In fact better than even because the Rockets need Yao more than we need Lamarcus and because our second unit is so mighty. WRONG! The Rockets' new lineup of Chuck Hayes, Luis Scola, Ron Artest, Von Wafer, and Avery Brooks proceeded to destroy us. They went on an 11-4 run in the final three minutes of the quarter while the Blazers just went limp.
The second quarter wasn't that much better as Portland struggled shooting and couldn't corral any offensive rebounds to make up for it. At least they didn't let the Rockets score over 30 again like in the first quarter. This time it was 29 and Portland went into the locker room down 17.
Game over, right? WRONG!
The Blazers finally decided to play some defense in the third quarter. They started by packing guys inside, denying the close shot, and gang-tackling underneath the boards. It was plenty effective as Houston never got on track and only managed 18 in the quarter. Meanwhile the Blazer offense went on another streak which we'll just simplify and call "The Batum". Starting at the nine-minute mark of the third and continuing for the next six minutes and change, peppered by the occasional Roy or Aldridge bucket, you saw:
Nic for three
Nic for three again
Nic dunks off a feed from Blake
Nic with the hat trick treyfecta
Nic lays it in...AND ONE!
Nic hits the free throw
Sick, Nic. Sick.
All of a sudden with two minutes left or so in the third Portland is back within 5. This is going to be a close fight from here on, right? WRONG! Yao Ming and Ron Artest take over the end of the third and the beginning of the fourth and Portland is down 14 again despite the French heroics.
So...8 minutes left, down 14, this game is really over now, right? WRONG! Back comes the defense. Back comes the rebounding. Roy, Aldridge...Roy, Aldridge...Outlaw, Outlaw, OUTLAW! A little under three minutes left, Portland down 3. The Houston crowd is getting nervous.
Who will take it down the stretch? Portland has the momentum. Portland has the quickness. Portland wins a ton of close games. It's got to be the Blazers, right? Perhaps with another miracle shot from Roy? Right? Right? WRONG!
Jumper...jumper...hey guys, you know this isn't the first quarter, right? WRONG! Jumper...couple of token layups during the foul shot parade...game over. Houston wins by 4.
The Blazers shot as well as the Rockets tonight. They shot as many free throws. They could have used another three-pointer but that didn't kill them. The turnovers were about equal. The back-breaker was Portland's inability to get offensive rebounds. Without those second-chance points and the resultant ability to score even when we weren't hitting we just couldn't produce enough points. That's no real surprise against Houston, though. Also the assists were way down tonight as we depended on individual heroics. That had a lot to do with Houston's defense too. The Blazers can with on individual efforts but they do win when the offense is more fluid. The lack of bench production from everybody but Travis didn't help.
--Brandon Roy was all over the place tonight. This was as intense of a game as I've seen from him in a long time. He shot early and often but he was also scrapping for rebounds and poking at loose balls. And all of this happened pretty much from Moment One. I suspect we'll need more of that in the coming weeks. The Blazers need more hot starts like this. 24 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists.
--Lamarcus drew 10 foul shots which was fantastic. The Rockets had a hard time solving him. He and the rest of the Blazers also had a hard time solving Luis Scola though. 8 rebounds was OK. 2 blocks was great. 21 points was just what the doctor ordered. But those 5 fouls kept him from scoring the 25 we really needed.
--Steve Blake played 40 minutes and tallied 7 rebounds and 5 assists. He had trouble staying in front of Aaron Brooks. If that were a crime half the point guards in the league would be in jail though. He was playing as hard as Roy.
--Nicolas Batum's scoring stretch was one of the clear highlights of the night. He ended up with 14 points on 6 shots, going 3-3 from three-point range. He was just overmatched against Ron Artest, but that's to be expected at this stage. I'll be glad when Artest isn't a Rocket anymore.
--Joe Przybilla had 8 rebounds in 30 minutes but this wasn't going to be a game where one guy alone could do it underneath the boards. He did all he could against Yao and it was effective enough. The big guy didn't beat us, which was one of the reasons we were able to get close. Joel did the best defensive job against his counterpart of any Blazer.
--Travis Outlaw came off the bench and shot 7-14, mostly on "Travis Shots". It's hard to complain when 50% of them go in though. He added only 3 rebounds in 27 minutes and he couldn't help much with the opposing forwards either. Still, we wouldn't have been close without him. 15 points (but no free throws, which is the other drawback to "Travis Shots").
--Rudy Fernandez had a tough night, missing shots he usually hits and taking shots he usually passes up. He hit 2 of 6 for 4 points in 16 minutes.
--Channing Frye got into the game when Lamarcus had to sit because of fouls. He got to guard Yao Ming for a while and even though he fronted him bravely he really didn't have much of a chance with the size disparity. 3 fouls and 1 rebounds in 9 minutes.
--Shavlik Randolph also saw some meaningful minutes (albeit only 4 of them) and continued to impress with his hustle rebounding. He had 3 boards, 1 block, and 1 foul.
--Nate wasn't into playing back-up point guards tonight.
It's no surprise we lost. The Rockets are older, bigger, and have some near unstoppable talent. It may have been surprising we got it that close. The gap between these teams right now isn't huge and Houston is a full-on rooster while Portland's still poking its way out of the egg.
One take-away point here for the Blazers is that, drama aside, it's a lot easier to get those extra points with a little extra work and concentration in the second and third quarters than it is to make all of them up at the end like that.
Check out the Houston reaction at TheDreamShake
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