Feeling a little panic?
Well, you can stop now. It's not time yet. Wait until Tuesday's game. We said at the beginning of all of this that whatever happened tonight wouldn't decide the series. That means whatever...even a deflating blowout. Read a few posts below and you'll see it in black and white. Just as important as what happened tonight is the Blazers' reaction to what happened tonight. That's what will determine how this series goes. I can see the Blazers winning one game in Houston. I don't believe the Blazers can win two there. Right now the vision becomes very short term. Win Game 2. That's all there is to it.
The truth is, a blowout was always a possibility. That's part of never having been there before. The Rockets have been to the dance six years straight and never so much as got off the wall, let alone getting to put their moves on. They know the deal. They weren't going to hold back. This was like the Blazers showing up for a boxing match, walking in the gym, setting down their bag, and saying, "Hey, where do I change into my BAM!!!"
"What the heck? I just walked in the...BAM!!!"
"But I'm not even...BAM!!!"
"Hey ref, are you gonna...BAM!!!"
"Oh, so it's that kind of fight."
Yeah, it's that kind of fight. Unfortunately by the time the Blazers figured that out they were down 15 with shaken confidence. Trying to come back against the Rockets is a difficult task at any point, but with everything rolling right for them and the Blazers, through shock or discouragement, abandoning nearly everything that got them here a comeback just wasn't going to happen.
The game got physical right out of the gate. Portland was banging guys around as they cut or set screens, which was good. The problem was the Rockets' style of physical was leading to points. The Blazers' style was leading to fouls. Houston force-fed Yao Ming right at the start, throwing their haymaker immediately. Yao connected again and again. That in itself wasn't the game-decider. I actually thought the Blazers did the right thing by not sending the farm after him when he started hitting. He was eventually going to miss or tire and then it would have been Portland's turn.
The real problem for Portland came around the periphery of Yao's great night. For example...
--Once Yao started scoring it put pressure on Portland to answer. When under pressure the Blazers tend to revert to one-on-one play, which they did tonight. Most of the night Portland played 1- or 2-man offense instead of 4- or 5- man offense. This played right into the Rockets' hands.
--Once Houston started rolling Yao and his teammates got some courtesy calls from the refs which weren't being reciprocated the other way. The problem was most evident in the first quarter but the Blazers ended up making it a game-long affair. When the whistles appeared to blow unevenly Portland stopped being aggressive inside. Having missed out on a couple foul shot opportunities they shrugged their shoulders and shot outside instead. When they did drive they pulled up short of the rim instead of taking it all the way and forcing the refs to make decisions. If you drive and then fade the refs are going to assume you stopped you instead of the opponent stopping you. If you want calls, especially in the playoffs, especially when things are going against you already, you have to get some Iverson-esque pinball action going in there. The Blazers just didn't.
Granted the puzzling foul criteria contributed to the Blazers' game being off. But this is the playoffs. Portland can't let that happen. When you let somebody--ANYBODY--take your aggression and passion away from you then you're not going to make it. You have to fight for that stuff. You have to look everybody in the eye and say, "This is MY house, this is MY ball, and these are MY moves in MY space. Now put me on the damn line." If the other team starts dominating you then nobody is going to have any sympathy when the whistles go against you too.
On the other end, when the Blazers got into the penalty early in both of the first two quarters it became like a slow points leak that they could never compensate for.
--The Blazers were having trouble controlling rebounds. They faced a shortage of offensive rebounds early. Houston shot the lights out at the beginning of the game so even the one or two offensive rebounds the Rockets did put back really hurt. Without control of the glass the Blazers were never able to push, nor to force the Rockets out of their comfort zone.
--Brandon Roy's supporting cast came up blank. The Rockets smothered LaMarcus Aldridge. Steve Blake missed jumpers he usually hits. Eliminate those two and who else produces points in the starting lineup? Everybody but Brandon looked nervous. There was precious little help from the second unit, whose offensive confusion was palpable. They literally looked like they had not played together before on certain trips down the court. Spacing was non-existent. Passing was spotty. Picks were lame. Shots were long and contested. Don't even talk about the three-pointers. The hoop could have been twice as wide and they still would have clanged. Nothing came easy, or even normal, except when Brandon had the ball.
--This was just one of those nights when everything the opponent tossed up, they hit. Portland's defense really wasn't that atrocious or vulnerable to anybody besides Yao. Brooks just went off. Scola and Artest looked completely comfortable and hit the majority of their shots as well. That's not Houston. It's like the bad parts of the Houston offense were distilled out for a night. They're going to be back as long as the Blazers keep showing commitment to defense.
Yao alone didn't, and won't, kill us. But all of these things together? Every Fourth of July when you're out in the park watching the show somebody tells the story of the year when the goofball pushed the wrong button or lit the wrong fuse and the whole display went off at once. That's pretty much what happened tonight.
One of the things that did go right was the pick and roll against Yao. That's going to be a staple of the Portland attack because it tires him, gets him away from the bucket, threatens to draw fouls on him, and in the absence of any of these things still provides good looks at the hoop.
It's doubtful that the experiment is repeatable, especially with the Blazers forewarned. I fully expect Portland to come out angry on Tuesday. I do expect the Blazers will get the win. The problem is that every game to Houston is lose-able and the margin has just narrowed. The pressure will be off a little with a victory in three days but the line Portland is walking until then is razor-thin.
The stats from this game are, of course, sick. And not in a good way. It was just a weird outing. For instance the Blazers got up 19 more shots than the Rockets, which normally you'd think would spell a win. But with Houston shooting 58.5% while Portland fired at 41.7%, the Rockets actually hit three more field goals. The Blazers shot 1-11 from distance. The Rockets held a 24-10 advantage in free throws made. The Blazers had 15 offensive rebounds, which is an enormous number, especially when compared to Houston's 8. Despite that Portland lost the overall rebounding battle...by 14. Portland had only 12 assists. Those last two stats show more than anything that Portland was not going to win this game no matter how many shots we made. This may have been the best of Rockets ball but it just was not Blazer basketball at all.
--Brandon Roy did his best to carry the team offensively. He was the only guy who had any success penetrating, invariably off of Joel's screens. He shot 10-23 for 21 points. He only had 2 assists and 2 rebounds though. That isn't a complete Brandon night.
--Greg Oden had success going up against Dikembe Mutumbo, though he was protected from major minutes against Yao. He was the only guy besides Brandon who looked like he knew what big game business was about. 6-7, 5 rebounds, 15 points in 22 minutes. It isn't the worst strategy in the world to bring in Greg every time Yao sits. Be it foul trouble or rest Yao will need bench time during this series. Greg could make the Rockets fear those moments.
--Rudy Fernandez didn't get many touches or shots (1-3 on the night). A stagnant offense doesn't play to his strengths. But he was still energetic, confident, and moving around out there. Kudos to him.
--The ESPN commentators commented on Steve Blake's defense, or lack thereof. I'll say it again...Aaron Brooks is not going to win this series for the Rockets. In fact I'd rather have him try than Yao. We do, however, need Steve to sink his threes. 2-6 shooting, 1-4 from distance, 5 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds.
--Joel was cleaning up scraps inside offensively and had 8 points and 5 rebounds in 17 minutes. He had 17 minutes because of his 4 fouls.
--Travis Outlaw's 4-10 and 9 points in 26 minutes doesn't bother me. 2 total rebounds does. No matter who he's defending or where he is when the ball goes up we need him fighting for rebounds.
--LaMarcus Aldridge couldn't get it going. Luis Scola could. The less said about this the better. Unless it reverses we'll have a hard time winning a game.
--Nobody else could make enough of a difference to matter.
The worst part about the spread schedule in the first round is that we'll have to live with this game for the next three days. The Blazers will too. Hopefully the bad taste will make a difference.
Out of courtesy and affection I'm going to mention TheDreamShake but I don't imagine you'll want to read anything over there until after Game 2.
You can find the Gameday Threads in all of their gruesomeness here.
Jersey Contest Playoff results for this game:
- FromAfar 30
- Sir-1 25
- Tweener 25
- MavetheGreat 12
- Blazersand2000--Eliminated via sudden death tiebreaker