Hey folks, this wasn't that bad of a game. The first half was pretty nice, in fact. I had a lot better feeling after this game than after either of the last two, which surprises me because I had figured this one to be an automatic depression-inducer.
The very first thing we need to acknowledge is the difference Brandon Roy makes in our intangibles, most notably attitude. From moment one you could see it in every line of most every body out there. If you look at the last couple of games we moved around in the first quarter, but it was the movement of an NFL Quarterback who's lost his confidence. The Blazers got a fair amount of "happy feet"--rushing around without purpose or confidence. That gave way to eventual resignation and stagnation in the pocket (so to speak). Tonight we came out with purposeful movement and confidence. That's Brandon Roy's influence.
Also, outside of the fourth quarter, how many truly bad shots did you see us take compared to the last couple of games? That's Roy too.
I haven't seen a guy make this kind of attitudinal difference since Clyde Drexler. In the flurry of the wins and losses don't lose sight of the fact that it's a privilege to get in on the ground floor of this career. Everybody who loves the Blazers should be excited about the prospects of seeing this guy play for the next 15 years.
As far as the game goes, as I said it was a great first half considering the opponent and the situation. We played with focused, directed energy. We did a fantastic job quick-doubling Yao with our guards. Everybody's game plan includes double-teaming the big guy but it's often from across the lane and it often comes slowly. We took the guy closest to him and just jabbed right in. Did you catch those steals we poked away when he brought the ball down? We basically made him a non-factor (comparatively) in the first half. Lamarcus and Martell hit their shots, which makes all the difference in the world for our overall confidence. We expect Brandon to hit them but we really need forward scoring to make the offense click. We blasted the Rockets in points in the paint. We had them shooting over the top while we drove or posted--a real role reversal. The outside shots we hit opened up the floor, allowing this. We did a decent job rebounding. We also had great tempo, getting into our offensive sets quickly and even fast-breaking a couple of times. We saw visions of the future when Lamarcus made that one dash down the court ahead of all the Rockets players and miles ahead of Yao.
In the second half, alas, they ground us down. Yao Ming stopped monkeying around outside the key and went all Andre the Giant on us in the paint. Nothing good is going to happen for us when he establishes position three feet from the hoop. We are dead unless we foul. And foul we did, to the tune of 13 free throws for him, of which he hit 11. When we doubled or tripled to compensate they simply swung the ball and hit the open shooter. When we covered that shooter they drove past us. Tracy McGrady ended up as the only significant Rocket that didn't have a pristine shooting night, and as we all know T-Mac doesn't need to hit 50% to alter the game. On the other end of the court Lamarcus, our main weapon, went a little cold and Roy missed a few from the field and the line. That's how the Rockets built a lead. They're hard to catch when they do that because of their deliberate style and their plethora of halfcourt weapons. We never hit enough shots or got enough stops to catch up. Ballgame.
The first eye-popping stat of the night was our 13-point deficit at the foul line. We shot 52% on 21 free throws, they shot 86% on 28 free throws. You almost don't have to know any other stats than that one to tell we lost. The second interesting line was three-point shooting. We shot 2-6 (33%). They shot 7-16 (44%). Anyone else remember when we were winning doing that to other teams?
--Brandon had a rough first game back, shooting 5-13 from the field and 5-10 from the line for 15 points. He did have 8 assists and 5 rebounds, which was classic form. Every team tries to body up Brandon and pound him into a bad night. Between Shane Battier and Bonzi Wells Houston is better at it than most. Another reason this is a bad matchup for us.
--Lamarcus had an amazing offensive first half, a so-so offensive second half, combining for a good game overall. He shot 10-26, which isn't great, but he scored 22 with a variety of moves. He had 3 blocks (great). He also had 3 defensive rebounds (not so great). I understand he's playing farther out on the floor on both ends than the traditional power forward and this is going to hamper his ability to notch huge rebounding numbers, but we just cannot survive getting less than one defensive rebound per quarter from one of our bigs. It doesn't work that way.
--Joel Przybilla had a pretty good night I thought. His offense was OK when he touched it (which thankfully wasn't much). He also got 9 rebounds.
--Martell shot 5-8 for 11 points and had 6 rebounds too. This was the first night in a while that he's been both aggressive and confident and I would have liked to have seen him make a few more drives and/or receive a few more passes off screens for jumpers. He was hot early in the second but kind of wasted it taking long shots off the dribble while covered. In retrospect we probably should have fed him more.
--Travis Outlaw played 27 minutes and got 7 points. He has to double that at least if we're going to win. A little bit of the sizzle has fizzled for him.
--Jarrett Jack only got 19 minutes. Whatever anybody else critiques (and there's plenty to critique) on the plays when I yell, "Nice drive!!!" at my TV the word that most often follows is "Jarrett". He scored 7 on 50% shooting.
--Sergio bounced back a little from his nightmare the other night, shooting 3-4 and netting 2 assists in 11 minutes.
--Channing Frye was good, not great. He did burn some fouls against Yao. This is a tough team for him to play against.
--Steve Blake was Steve Blake. His 5 assists were nice. He ran the offense well enough and make some nice plays with his feet on defense.
One-Sentence Game Summary:
This game was better than expected, not as good as needed.