You could see the way this 118-103 loss for the Blazers was going to go from the opening minutes of the game. Portland started out sending extra men after Rockets super-scorer James Harden. Houston struck back by moving the ball around the double-team, finding Omer Asik open inside for easy shots. So the Blazers bailed out of that plan and started single-covering Harden. He then embarked on a quest to become the first player to register a quintuple-double by scoring 1,879,235 points. (Cuz if the numbers won't fit in the "pts" column of the boxscore they've got to spill over somewhere, right?) Harden would finish the game with 35 points and 11 assists, burning the Blazers no matter who (or how many) they sent at him. This constant threat kept the lane open, passing angles free. It's not like Portland played a bad offensive game. They shot quite well in the first half and despite a gradually slumping second half still finished shooting 45.5%. The Blazers had 53 points at intermission...on pace for a respectable 106. But the Rockets had 62 at halftime themselves and never fell off their torrid shooting jag, firing 59.5% from the field, 46% from the arc for 48 minutes. There was no way the Blazers were going to keep up with that, even had they been able to leave their starters all night. They couldn't and they didn't. It was just a matter of too much offense from a team that knew exactly what they were doing and executed incredibly well against a team that played fine, but not great.
The Boxscore will tell you that all the easy stats went Houston's way. They over-matched Portland's four best starters with great games from four starters of their own. Naturally their bench outplayed Portland's too. What can you do? That's the way the Rockets are playing right now.
LaMarcus Aldridge continued his long-standing tradition of burning down Texas every time he passes through, firing 14-23 for 31 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. Interestingly Aldridge's 10 defensive rebounds provided 40% of Portland's total for the night. Everybody else combined only managed 15. If LMA hadn't been on this would have been a 40-point loss.
Damian Lillard also provided impressive bursts of production, making fans and opposing players drop their jaws in the second quarter with a 9-point outburst in 1 minute, 21 seconds of play. (Could have been 10 but he missed a free-throw.) Lillard also had a couple of nice defensive stands when left out on an island against Harden. Basically he got underneath Harden's dribbling hand and wouldn't let him put the ball on the floor...not a bad way to handle a bigger player. Harden shot over him, of course, but it was still a great effort. Lillard ended up 7-13 with 18 points, 6 assists.
Nicolas Batum spent the first half passing up shots as we've seen over the past couple weeks. Then in the second half he finally took the bit in his teeth and started producing offense. That second-half rally propelled him to 24 points on 7-12 shooting, 4-8 from distance. He also had 3 blocks but only 3 assists and 2 rebounds plus his defense didn't look that much more aggressive than his first half shooting attempts. Here's my question: did his wrist magically get better between halves or have we seen too much of this passing up shots thing now? When you have a good look out of your halfcourt set and you don't shoot it's really hard to get another one. The clock moves fast. Plus the definition of "good look" means a defender wasn't near you, meaning 5 guys are hanging around the other 4 to whom you just passed. Nic's passes have been very good lately...beautiful even. They weren't in this game. Sooner or later defenses are going to catch on. If you can shoot 12 times one night you can shoot 12 times another. For that matter if you can shoot 12 you can shoot 16 (or in past games convert 7 to 12). He had 24 points tonight. I think the Blazers want him taking those shots with gusto and confidence, not reluctance.
J.J. Hickson used comparative quickness and offensive rebounding to net 12 points on 6-11 attempts. He was totally overmatched going against Omer Asik, however, and his 21 minutes showed it. He had but 1 defensive rebound tonight.
Wesley Matthews, like Batum, was a beneficiary of Aldridge's flood of points and shots. He got a half-dozen three-point looks tonight, most of them wide open. He missed all 6, finishing the game 1-9 for 2 points with 3 assists, 1 rebounds, and a steal. He didn't look that mobile on defense either. This is not a night he'll write home about.
Victor Claver played 23 minutes off the bench tonight, looking pretty nice early. He hit a couple shots, grabbed some rebounds. His effectiveness dwindled as his minutes stretched but that was as much a product of his team's downward slide as his own effort. He finished with 5 points on 2-6 shooting, 5 rebounds, an assist, a steal, and a block.
Nolan Smith also got 5 rebounds in 15 minutes with no Ronnie Price playing tonight. He had 6 points on 2-7 shooting but both makes came in garbage time. The most noticeable part of his point guard game right now is how often he's forced to pick up his dribble way out on the court and how, as a result, the offense stalls and degenerates into one-on-one plays. Aldridge was making those one-on-one plays over and over again tonight so it's not like it hurt the Blazers unduly but it's still not fun to watch.
Meyers Leonard's Ballet of Badness continued tonight, just with more minutes to expose some of the things that were wrong. He had a couple of really painful attempts at defensive plays early...situations where he tried to help but only ended up inhibiting his own defensive partner. He smoothed out a little as the game progressed and he got more comfortable out there but it never was poetry. He ended up with 3 rebounds, 1 assist, a foul, and 0-3 shooting in 19 minutes.
Will Barton and Luke Babbitt played 8 minutes each while Joel Freeland got 4. None of them looked sharp.
Portland's bench totals: 16 points, 5-20 shooting, 2-7 from distance, 16 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, 1 block, 3 turnovers, and 5 personal fouls in 77 combined minutes. The starters didn't do anything to stop Houston so it's not surprising the great performance from Portland's Big 3 got overshadowed. But man, the performances from everybody else sealed this game up tight for Houston.
The Blazers play Orlando on Sunday. They're on an 11-game losing streak. Hopefully the road trip will even up then.
The Dream Shake will be liking this performance.
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