In a Nutshell
The Blazers follow up Monday's ultra-luster effort with a lackluster one tonight, failing to rebound, defend the pick and roll, or rotate to the perimeter. The absolute lack of meta-game ruins an otherwise fine shooting performance as a team.
To the surprise of...well...nobody the Blazers came out flat in this game. In fact a Marine barber, a truck-stop pancake maker, and a 12th century cartographer were all spotted in the third row bowing and chanting, "We're not worthy!" Raymond Felton tried to pump up his team early, attacking the rim, hitting a jumper, pushing the ball up the court and waving his arms for teammates to follow. None did, really. Mediocrity soon set in. The Blazers played passable offense but made no real attempt at credible defense. What do you need to do against the Rockets? The textbook says to watch Scola and the guards on the pick and roll, keep an eye on Kevin Martin, and watch out for the three-pointer on the kick-out. The Blazers watched Martin pretty well. That was it. Other than that they watched Lowry whip passes, watched Scola score on easy jumpers after a quick roll out off the screen, and watched as the Rockets lofted threes over their heads, half-jogging to cut them off. 30-28 Houston didn't look bad after the first period, but what the heck were the Blazers doing allowing Houston 30 points? Also this was the limpest near-30-point quarter we've seen in a long time.
It would be nice to say that the bench, limited to Jamal Crawford, Nicolas Batum, and Kurt Thomas tonight, came in and turned the game around. Sometimes a proficient second unit can do that, bringing the energy when the starters don't. Crawford gave the Blazers a three-pointer. But outside of several Thomas jumpers--the iced tea of Portland's offensive wet bar--the Blazers were slouching. Wesley Matthews hit a three, a jumper, and dunked but outside of the slam those were pedestrian plays. Nicolas Batum could have come out with a white towel wrapped around his waist and not a stitch of clothing on besides and still kept the quarter completely family-friendly. That's how much he moved. With nobody but Crawford showing any chutzpah Portland's offense tanked. Meanwhile the Blazers turned over the ball repeatedly, rebounded with sterling mediocrity, and their weak-side defense might as well have omitted everything after the hyphen. Houston led by 14 at the half, gaining a dozen in the period.
The first part of the third period was more of the same, then the Blazers woke up behind Gerald Wallace and a smaller lineup. These guys pressured the ball, ran out, made life hectic for the Rockets for the first time all evening. Wesley Matthews drove and drew foul shots. Wallace slapped away balls and ran out on the break. Batum even dropped the towel at the end of the quarter to reveal his Superman Junior underoos. Behind this blitz the Blazers cut a 19-point Houston lead at the 7:30 mark to just 7 by the end of the period. The Rockets led 77-70 going into the fourth.
The assault continued in the early fourth quarter but you could tell the steam was running out in the usual ways. First the Blazers started relying on longer and longer shots to sustain their offense. They hit a couple threes but you always know that's the last few ticks before the kitchen timer goes "DING!" for them. If they have to rely upon those long shots, the game better be close to over. Second, Houston started grabbing more offensive rebounds as the second half progressed, the side-effects of a small lineup and the energy expended making the Big Run and playing with 7 guys all game. To their credit the Blazers did manage to tie the game at 9:56, 9:07, and 8:44 but they never took the lead. Then point guard Goran Dragic, in for Kyle Lowry who had been injured in the third, proved that the name on the back of the jersey doesn't matter to the Rockets. Any point guard in that uniform is apparently capable of ripping apart the Blazers. Dragic attacked the lane on multiple occasions, threaded nifty passes to shooters, and generally made the Blazers look foolish and (once again) slow. Houston's lead was only half a dozen during the quarter's middle minutes but after climbing up Mount Everest six more feet might as well be a mile. The crowd knew the Blazers weren't coming back. The Blazers knew the Blazers weren't coming back. A few missed jumpers later and Houston had the game salted away. 103-96 was the final margin. Having lost only a single game at home before this week, the Blazers have now dropped two straight.
Did we mention not paying for one bad call with two bad losses during the pre-game discussion?
One name you haven't heard mentioned so far is LaMarcus Aldridge. He had 3 steals and 2 blocks...that's good. He also shot 5-14 for 13 points with only 5 rebounds and looked no more peppy than his teammates. It was a bit of a sad game following up a great one for him.
Raymond Felton continued his tradition of looking like a great, aggressive, butt-kicking point guard for the first five minutes of the game and then fading into oblivion. 9 points on 4-11 shooting. 3 of the 4 makes and 7 of the 9 points came in the first 4:53 of the game. He had 6 assists.
Wesley Matthews hit 3 of his 4 makes in the second period and earned a slew of free throws in the third. But he shot 4-10 himself for his 17 points. He was good during the run, so-so otherwise.
Gerald Wallace was really the only guy who brought it for more than a single period in this game, providing some energy in the opening half and standing right at the center of that second-half storm that threatened to knock the Rockets off of their perch. He was the one player deserving of the label "good game". He went 8-11for 20 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists. Too bad he got saddled with those other stick-in-the-muds tonight.
Marcus Camby, suffering from bronchitis, played 18 minutes with 5 rebounds and 2 steals.
Jamal Crawford had an inspired offensive game off the bench, shooting 8-15 for a team-leading 21 points, 6 assists, and 2 steals. Apparently Crawford and Wallace, two of the newer Blazers, are more immune to the "we lost that last game because we're Portland" doldrums.
Batum had 10 points on 3-5 shooting but owes his entire night to 2 made three-pointers. Where was the guy that ripped the jock off of James Harden and ran it through the blender?
Kurt Thomas hit 3-6 shots in an impressive second quarter but ended up with 3 rebounds in 15 minutes. The Blazers needed more boards from Thomas and Aldridge in Camby's absence.
Craig Smith had a rebound and went 0-2 in 5 minutes. The Rockets knew that he was going to shoot and snuffed him.
Fun With Numbers
- Houston 10-23 on three-pointers, 43.5%. Did I mention the Blazers didn't rotate out with any alacrity? This ruined a night when the Blazers shot 7-18 for 39% from the arc themselves. Those are supposed to be winning nights.
- Similar story: Blazers shoot 47% from the field, allowing the Rockets 53%.
- Those stats ruined Portland's +8 points from the foul line.
- Blazers outrebounded on the offensive glass by 3, defensive by 7, for a -10 margin overall. Counting rebounds like that is a little suspect but tonight the story was real.
- Blazers force 22 turnovers, many of them in that critical second-half comeback, but commit 19 themselves to ruin the evening.
- Blazers 74 shot attempts on the evening. They average 84. Kind of a slow night, eh?
If you don't pay attention you don't win. It's not enough for three guys to each have one brilliant 8-minute stretch. You need multiple players playing brilliantly, or at least hard, for most of the game. It still feels sometimes like guys on this team are depending on who they are instead of how they play. The name only tells part of the story and it doesn't mean jack on a particular night if you don't back it up by playing to the best of your ability. This is especially true on defense. Everybody understands that your shot will be off some nights. Standing and watching while plays go by you is a much harder sell.
Read about the encouraging Houston victory at The Dream Shake.