In a Nutshell
In a game uglier than a Sam Cassell mugshot the Blazers ride any hot hand available and try to weather crazy offense by Houston's guards and mean rebounding by Rocket big men. Despite the lackluster effort a few minutes of classic Portland defense and a small talent advantage are enough to push the game into overtime where Houston's guards have the last laugh.
Ugh. You really want to know? OK.
The Blazers opened the game trying to get the ball inside--or at least farther inside than they normally get it--against Houston's weak interior defense. They had some success, even getting center Samuel Delambert in foul trouble. You'd have thought the sailing would be smooth after that, but the Blazers started drifting farther outside with every possession. Their only attempts at interior play were some missed lay-ins by LaMarcus Aldridge off of awkward moves and a couple of botched attempts at posting by Gerald Wallace who didn't even get as far as Aldridge did. After that it was outside offense, usually bailing out to a guard for a contested, desperation jumper against the shot clock. Unsurprisingly the percentage was low. Meanwhile Kyle Lowry ripped apart Portland's defense in every way conceivable as the guards were unable to cover him and the bigs unable to rotate fast enough. Only a couple of threes by Nicolas Batum kept the Blazers afloat in the period. Houston led 27-21 at the end of one.
The second period saw the Blazers go with a real post threat in Craig Smith who, while lacking the overall talent of an Aldridge or Wallace, at least knows how to use his body in close with his back close to the basket. Smith's early probes showed that Houston's interior defense does indeed stink, so he happily waltzed his way to 10 points in the period. Batum continued his heroics, not only dropping a dozen points on the Rockets but blowing up a couple of their fast breaks with last-second swats of layups. Sadly Batum couldn't redeem all Portland's mistakes. Since nobody else besides him got back in transition and the Rockets were feasting on the boards the Blazers nearly got run out of the building. Houston opened up a 14-point lead but Batum sprayed the fire with his three-point extinguisher once again, actually leaving the Blazers ahead a point in the second quarter tally and only down 5 at the half.
The third period looked to be Portland's turn-around time when the team attacked the lane early for a host of short shots, layups, and drawn fouls. They took the lead midway through the quarter but once again Houston's guards--Lowry, this time joined by Kevin Martin--hit shots on the other end. Portland could never control the boards and thus couldn't sustain any tempo or dominance. The Blazers also got away from the lane as the period progressed, just as they had in the first half. That let Houston take the quarter and an 8-point lead into the final stanza.
Finally the Blazers woke up in the fourth quarter, forcing turnovers and rebounding the dang ball. As Portland's defense got more energetic Lowry's options became fewer and he began to freeze up. His shot went cold and the Blazers feasted on quick layups, open threes, and free throws. Portland pulled ahead and stayed there until the 1:40 mark of the period. Though their lineup featuring Batum, Aldridge, and Wallace had played well they also coughed up some silly turnovers trying to make moves not in their arsenal. When push came to shove none of them seemed to want the ball for critical shots. That left Wesley Matthews trying to fill the void. He hit 1 shot in the last couple minutes of the game but missed 2 more. Meanwhile Houston's guards rose like zombies from the grave, Lowry dishing to Martin for a layup and then hitting a three of his own. The latter shot put Houston up 2 but Aldridge canned a mid-range jumper and Lowry missed the game-winner. This game was going into overtime, tied at 97.
The overtime featured more missed shots, more scrambling for rebounds, more semi-ugly play. The difference was that Houston scored all their points in the lane or from the free throw line while the Blazers either turned over the ball or shot jumpers. Portland played hard but there wasn't enough gas in the tank. When the horn sounded the Rockets walked off the court ahead by 2 with the "W" in their pocket, 107-105.
The Blazers' rebounding is bad without Marcus Camby. Team effort is great but you need an anchor in the middle around which to rally. That was absent tonight. The Rockets looked confident going for every board. They didn't get all of them, of course, but they bumped Portland out of plenty. During the streaks the Blazers did rebound they prospered but those were too few.
I don't even know what to say about Portland's guard defense right now. Martin and Lowry just took turns picking on whomever they wished...Raymond Felton often ending up the butt of their jokes. Portland's big men are willing to help but again without Camby, how much can they give? They're responsible for their own men, for rebounding, and for offense. Portland's guards have to do more than shoot and occasionally run off of steals. If Houston's guards were a disease tonight they'd have caused a pandemic. Their Blazer counterparts just couldn't contain them.
You love the heroic individual efforts by Batum and Smith but the Blazers needed those astonishing (and to this point nearly unprecedented) bursts of offense to avoid being blown out by a Houston team not known for looking as good as the Blazers made them look tonight. This team needs to do a little soul searching before they hit New Orleans on Monday.
LaMarcus Aldridge was great on the offensive boards tonight, grabbing 7 and scoring off of a couple immediately. He had only 3 defensive boards. He also got pushed off of the block repeatedly by Houston defenders, missed jumpers, and got decidedly non-aggressive when his shots didn't fall. He went 7-21 for 22 points off of 8-10 foul shots with 5 assists and 2 blocks but that stat line was probably more shiny that his game.
Gerald Wallace also struggled to get into the offense. He was able to convert some straight-line drives but anything else might as well have been quantum physics. Anyone who thinks Wallace is a straight post-up player in any sense of the word should review his possessions from this game. He's not. 4-12, 10 points, 8 rebounds.
Kurt Thomas nabbed 7 rebounds in his 20 minutes filling in for Camby. Nice enough.
Wesley Matthews scored 5 points on 2-8 shooting with 2 rebounds and 1 assist in 34 minutes. His defense wasn't great but it was good enough to make the Rockets run at Felton during their critical possessions down the stretch.
Speaking of, Felton went 6-12 for 13 points, his most impressive moves being early drives to the hoop for nice finishes. As is his pattern, those disappeared as the game progressed. He could not defend either Houston guard. There's no other way to put that. As just mentioned, the Rockets were singling him out on possessions when they needed a score to save the game. 5 assists, 4 rebounds.
Jamal Crawford went 3-12 for 11 points but he was more active than Portland's other guards. He nabbed 4 steals and dished 4 assists and looked like one of the few regular rotation guys with pep in his step. His crime (besides shooting a low percentage) is that he can neither play nor defend the point guard position.
Craig Smith pounded his way to 11 points on 4-5 shooting in 16 minutes. He looked like he was into this game, playing with energy and having a grand old time. This was clearly his best game as a Blazer. He's also Portland's only post option right now.
The game ball goes to Nicolas Batum who, following multiple rough nights this season, uncorked all at once to the tune of 9-15 shooting, 6-7 from the arc (you read that right), 5-6 from the free throw line, 29 points, 4 offensive rebounds, 8 rebounds total, and four amazing blocked shots to save layups on the other end. He looked like the Flash out there, playing in a different gear than his teammates. Bravo.
If you're wondering why Nolan Smith isn't playing more, factor this in. I have yet to see him get back to play transition defense this year even when he's not the shooter or in the play. He had a rebound in 3 minutes.
Fun With Numbers
- Blazers 17 offensive rebounds but Houston 19. Ouch!
- Houston 54 total rebounds. Also ouch! Blazers 46.
- Houston 21 fast break points, many of them happening via sloppy defense.
- Houston 50 points in the paint to Portland's 42.
- Those numbers overcame even field goal shooting and Portland's advantage in three-point shooting and turnovers...often indicative of Blazer wins.
This wasn't the worst effort ever from the Blazers. They missed Camby and, as always, struggled with tired legs and a lack of 48-minute focus on the back end of back-to-backs on the road.
Also...I've been a fan of Kyle Lowry for some time. It's nice to see him making good. He worked for it.
Check out The Dream Shake to celebrate the win.