Long Story Short: The Blazers make it an interesting affair with great first-quarter hustle and heroic fourth-quarter shooting but the Rockets' power-packed defense proves too much in the critical moments.
When the Blazers started the game missing a couple of long jumpers and a layup you figured that this was going to be another long, struggling comeback attempt much as the recent New Orleans and Utah entailed. When Trevor Ariza and Aaron Brooks combined for 7 points in less than 2 minutes you wondered if it was going to be a contest at all. But fear not, Blazer fans! Your heroes shut off the spigot at that point, getting hands in faces and forcing the Rockets to choose between difficult shots and long ones, neither of which fall within their proficiency range. On the other end Portland woke up from its season-long slumber and realized that, despite all the injuries, it had a potent 6'10" scorer in the lineup. LaMarcus Aldridge started spanking the Rockets from mid-range with a couple of lane attempts thrown in for spice. Jerryd Bayless assisted in the flurry early and Steve Blake late. The Rockets countered with a little Aaron Brooks but he only scored 8 in the quarter while Aldridge netted 12. LMA's supporting cast was better offensively as well and the Blazers walked out of the quarter with a 28-18 lead, just the prescription for a team that had lost its first quarters for the last month or so straight. They did it with smart offense, lane-protecting defense, and most of all hustle. It was an ovation-worthy performance.
Unfortunately the game did not end after the first quarter and the second and third acts of this play were not as joyful for the good guys. The Blazers soon discovered that trying to outhustle the Rockets is like trying to beat Ben Golliver in a Speedos contest. Even on your best night it's not going to happen, chump. The Rockets wiped off their bloody noses, grimaces, and began clamping down on the Blazers hard. Portland players still scored, but they either had to be lightning quick on their move or shoot from way out. Portland had to elude Houston's defense rather than beat it. Fernandez and Batum filled the quickness role, Blake the range. But even between them it wasn't enough. Houston guards Brooks and Kyle Lowry started making mincemeat out of the Blazers' defense. The Blazers threw a zone to keep inside scoring down but both of the small Houston guards just ran right through the seams. Man-to-man wasn't doing any better. Those two accounted for 20 of the Rockets' 31 points in the quarter. The Blazers scored but 19. When the dust cleared Houston led by 2 at the break. The magnificent first quarter was history.
The third period saw both teams settle into form. The energy was up. The tempo was brisk. They went at it tooth and nail. Aaron Brooks started the period looking to score but when Portland got distracted by him Luis Scola and Chuck Hayes, heretofore quiet, started converting layup after layup. The Rockets continued to rely on Scola and Brooks. The Blazers went with the pot pourri approach, drawing points from Bayless, Dante Cunningham, Nicolas Batum, and Aldridge. Unfortunately the Houston offense had a sweeter aroma and their lead was 11 with 3 minutes remaining in the period. That's when Rudy Fernandez and Steve Blake started shooting the lights out from three. In a little over a minute they combined for 3 triples, cutting the lead back to 3. Unfortunately in the last minute Scola and Brooks put punctuation marks on their period, each scoring once, and the Houston lead was 7 going into the fourth.
You have to give the Blazers credit. They came out strong in the final period. Juwan Howard got a couple of shots off of nice passes. Steve Blake splashed another jumper. All of a sudden the lead was 4. LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum chipped in a few. On the other side it was a scene straight out of the classic Star Trek episode "Return of the Archons"...the one where that puritan society was controlled by a supercomputer? "All hail Landry. The Will of Landry shall be done! Do not speak evil of Landry!" Oh wait...that was Landru, wasn't it? Same difference. The guy was infallible in the fourth. He zapped us with his scoring stick of doom. Dunks, layups, jumpers, free throws...he did them all to the tune of 15 points in the period. As the clock wound down Rudy Fernandez set his phasers on "Three", draining 3 of them in the closing 3 minutes plus a couple of free throws besides. Meanwhile the Rockets left the door open by missing 4 of the final 7 free throws the Blazers awarded them while trying to play catch-up. Between Rudy's marksmanship and the Rockets' charity-stripe bungling the gap got closer and closer. With 8 seconds left Rudy drained the last of his threes to cut the lead to 100-102. With 7 seconds left Landry went to the line to put the game away. He hit the first, 100-103. But he missed the second! But the rebound caromed long and the Blazer guards didn't cover well. For what seems about the millionth time in the last month Portland blows a critical rebound on a free throw late in the game and the Rockets ice it by hitting a final free throw. The quote from Dave's living room was exactly this: "Come on, Landry, miss the shot! But if he does we better...AWWWWW #$%@#@!!!" 104-100, Houston. Good game...still a loss.
Portland righted the ship offensively tonight, staying close to the Rockets in field goal percentage (46.7-45.7, Houston) and draining 38.1% of their threes. They got outrebounded by 4 but they also shot 6 more attempts than Houston which adds up to a decent rebounding effort overall. The ball moved quickly for the Blazers all night, a necessary component of any offense versus Houston. The tempo stayed up for the most part. The Blazers got 25 assists as a result, all to the good. But Portland got killed on the interior in a couple ways. Houston had 52 points in the paint to Portland's 32. Houston shot 43 free throws to Portland's 21, accounting for a +11 point margin for the Rockets. Given those stats it's even more impressive Portland hung close. You can tell the shots they got, though longer than Houston's, were good ones. Once again the Blazers had no answer for Aaron Brooks and once again the flailing he caused on Portland's part left opportunities open for Houston's forwards. It was a typical Portland-Houston matchup that way. We'd have 6 more wins and a second-round playoff berth to our name over the last couple of years had we just drafted Brooks.
Even though LaMarcus Aldridge scored 20 points versus 25 against Utah I liked this game from him better. He recognized the double-teams better and dealt with them by passing to the right spot most of the time. He got in the lane more and looked more active on defense. 20 points, 7 rebounds, 4 blocks.
Rudy Fernandez made up for his recent woes by getting hotter than Lindsay Lohan's spoon tonight. (Yes, I'm feeling snarky and grumpy because of the loss.) Rudy hit 5-6 threes, 9-14 overall for 25 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists. I like aggressive Rudy.
Speaking of aggressive, Nicolas Batum was at it again. And by "at it" I mean a full-on assault on the court in nearly every way imaginable. He moves his feet so quickly on defense you forget that he's playing defense because it doesn't look like he's working. He hit 4-7 shots for 12 points. Oh, he also had 9 rebounds. Oh, he also had 5 assists. All of this happened in 28 minutes. Plus I think his shoulder wrap looks cool and should become a standard part of the uniform for all Blazers.
Steve Blake looked like he really, really wanted to play in this game after his putrid showing Wednesday night. He not only moved fast, he shot and passed decisively. 6-10 overall, 2-4 from distance, 14 points, 9 assists. He can alley-oop a little too.
Dante Cunningham hit 3-6 shots in 16 minutes but also picked up 5 fouls. Juwan Howard hit 3-6 shots in 35 minutes and also picked up 6 rebounds. Juwan says: Don't do what Dante Don't does.
Jeff Pendergraph had 2 personal fouls in his 3 minutes of playing time. He didn't listen to Juwan.
Andre Miller and Martell Webster had ouchy nights. Miller went 1-6 for 2 points with 3 assists in 21 minutes. His main claim to fame was 3 offensive rebounds, more than any other Blazer. Webster went 1-7, 0-5 from distance, for 2 points in 21 minutes also.
When's Brandon coming back? Tomorrow? Huh? Tomorrow? Is he coming back tomorrow? I'm just going to close my eyes and when I open them you can tell me he's coming back tomorrow, OK? Tomorrow is Saturday, you know. Saturday rhymes with "Brandon", you know. Well, not really, but they both have that short "a" sound. We can re-name it "Brandonday" if he'll come back. I'll check Travelocity for fares to Dallas if you want me to. Do you need a hotel and car too, Brandon? Because I can get you a discount if you do...
Read about the Houston win at TheDreamShake