The Portland Trail Blazers gave the Houston Rockets a run for their money during certain stretches of this game but "Rockets" and "run" and "money" have been used in plenty of post-game recaps this season, usually to the opponent's detriment. So it was tonight. Portland's energy and execution lapsed sporadically, allowing Houston to rip away momentum every time the Blazers sought to challenge. The result was an exciting 18-point loss for the Blazers.
The overriding impression from this game: Blazer fans should stand in appreciation of LaMarcus Aldridge every time the guy passes by. Aldridge bent this game towards the Blazers from the opening tip. Forget the 14 points he scored in the first quarter, nearly matching James Harden's three-point infested 17-point period. In the opening 3:30 of this game Aldridge hit three face-up jumpers, grabbed an offensive rebound for a put-back dunk, forced a steal, and dished an assist for good measure. As if his physical presence after injury wasn't enough, he announced loudly and clearly that this season isn't over for him. His production buoyed his team to an energetic 31 point period. Unfortunately Francisco Garcia took advantage of Victor Claver's defensive inexperience and Harden took advantage of everyone, period. Between them Garcia and Harden hit 6 three-pointers in the period and Houston scored 35, topping Portland by 4. Even as they were applauding the effort, Blazers fans had to know that 35-31 was a Rockets-type score.
The second period began with an epic battle pitting Victor Claver on one side and Houston's entire offense on the other. Claver scored a valiant 6 points in the first 6 minutes of the period, the only Blazer to hit a field goal in that stretch. The Rockets offense put up 18 and the rout was on. Credit Houston's defense too. They throttled Damian Lillard and forced the Blazers into repeated attempts at the shot clock buzzer. Meanwhile Portland's defense gave up 5 layups in 9 minutes plus more threes. Turnovers fueled a brief run at the end of the second and Portland pulled back within 7, 56-63, at the half.
No sustained run would be forthcoming in the third period as Aldridge, having scored 24 in the first half, attempted only 1 field goal in the quarter. The Blazers got back within 11 with 30 seconds remaining but a dunk, turnover, layup sequence in the final 12 ticks of the period quashed any comeback hopes. Portland would end up losing every quarter of the game to succumb by the final margin of 16.
In the preview for this game we said the Blazers had to beware points in the paint and fast break points for the Rockets. Portland allowed 54 points in the paint but scored 52 themselves, neutralizing the advantage. Fast breaks were another matter, as Houston outscored the Blazers by an enormous 28-14 margin on the run. We also said the Blazers needed to sneak in some offensive rebounds and capitalize on turnovers and three-pointers. They got the rebounding part right, snagging 14...an impressive accomplishment against a strong-rebounding lineup. But the Blazers forced only 12 turnovers, committing 13 themselves. Worst of all, the Rockets shot 12-28, 43%, from distance while the Blazers shot 2-20, 10%. No matter how well they did on the boards and in the paint, the Blazers had a -82.5% chance of besting the Rockets with that kind of disparity in such a critical category.
Just the highlights tonight...
The curtain call for Aldridge: 32 points on 12-19 shooting, 8-10 from the free throw line, 13 rebounds, 3 assists, and a steal.
Victor Claver did well enough in the start. He got lost defensively but he looked more confident than ever on offense, including a magnificent and-one finger roll in the second period that literally brought me out of my chair. He went 4-8 on the night for 9 points in 27 minutes.
Damian Lillard never got on track, shooting 4-12, drawing only 3 foul shots, and scoring 11 while Jeremy Lin doubled him up for 22. Lillard did have 7 assists and 2 steals.
The good news for Wesley Matthews: 18 points, 4 assists, 2 steals. The bad news: that came on 6-19 shooting including an astonishing 1-11 from beyond the arc. Plus, well, Harden = 33 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists.
Eric Maynor hit no shots and dished only 1 assist in 15 minutes. The Rockets really clamped down on Portland point guards.
Will Barton had a fine night, shooting 4-9, scoring 9 with 6 rebounds and 4 assists plus a block in 21 minutes.
I'm not sure there's much else to say other than, "How long again until we can help bump the Lakers out of the playoffs?"
Congratulate The Dream Shake on their team playing a great game.