The Portland Trail Blazers downed the Houston Rockets today in a game that held as much suspense as...well...your averaged Super Bowl. Even at 17 points, the final margin of 96-79 wasn't indicative of how far the Blazers put the Rockets under. Portland actually led by 32 in the third period.
As is typical of recent-vintage Portland-Houston matchups, James Harden and Dwight Howard amassed impressive statistical totals: 33 points for Harden, 17 points and 14 rebounds for Howard. These amounted to a hot dog stand in a hurricane. Under other circumstances they would have been nice, but given the situation they hardly mattered. "Did I just smell something good? Oh...dang. My car's upside down in the river now."
As you might suspect, the game flow ran one direction: downhill, straight towards the Blazers. The Rockets started out the game turning over the ball like they were allergic to it. They found success driving into the lane but nowhere else. When the Blazers weren't running back Houston's mistakes, they spent more time in the corner than a toddler with an attitude problem. Dishes for open sideline threes became the currency of the hour. When the Rockets spread out to cut off those shots, Portland had a laughably easy time scoring at the rim with guard layups or Mason Plumlee dunks. Portland led 29-23 after one.
Then they really ran away with it.
The second quarter was a symphony of suckage for the Rockets. They played no defense. Except on the possessions they played less than no defense. Portland found open lanes to the basket or anywhere else they wanted. The whole quarter--and really for the rest of the game--the Blazers played in an offensive rebounding snow globe. Whenever they missed, they picked up the ball and tried again. Only a slight loss of focus (perhaps caused by the rapidly-ballooning lead) kept them from outscoring the Rockets by 40 in the frame. A litany of easy misses kept the margin to a more reasonable 26-13. That still left Portland up 54-36 at the half.
Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum helped push the lead to 74-42 with 5:00 remaining in the third, evidence of what would have happened if the Blazers hadn't restrained themselves. Houston made a huge comeback in the fourth, shaving 21 points off the lead behind three-point shooting and blah-blah defense from Portland, but at that point it hardly mattered. Those 21 points amounted to only 2/3 of Portland's edge. Plumlee got a nasty cut on his eye courtesy of an inadvertent elbow from Montrezl Harrell, Houston fans cheered mightily for a double-digit deficit with 3:00 remaining...the show was long over by then.
After getting handed their hats and told to get out of their own building by the Toronto Raptors on Thursday night, the Blazers crammed those chapeaus down Houston's throat today, earning a little redemption and a chance at building an advantage over a team that they're planning to chase in the race for a playoff berth. The Blazers don't seem to like the Rockets anyway, and they really don't like the Rockets when something is on the line.
Portland may lack instinct, experience, commitment, and intimidation on defense, but they're simply crawling with athletes. When they know where shots are coming from, they can get after the opponent as well as anybody. No team in the league telegraphs where shots are coming from like the Rockets do. The shooter is either holding the ball or one bail-out pass away. As a result, the Blazers looked magnificent defensively today. Houston shot 32.5% from the field, 19% from the arc. If it weren't for free throws, they'd have had no points at all.
How bad was Houston's performance? Howard and Harden shot 13-28, 46%. The rest of the team went 12-49...24%. The Rockets made only 25 field goals today, converting around 6 shots every 12 minutes.
The Blazers honored injured 20-year-old forward Noah Vonleh by grabbing 20 offensive rebounds. They probably could have honored Chris Kaman were they so inclined.
On the rougher side, Portland turned over the ball 21 times. This is normally a recipe for disaster but Houston turned it over 23 times and the Blazers won the points-after-turnovers race 30-16.
Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum played with one arm tied behind their backs in this one. Lillard shot 7-20 for 21 points and 10 assists. McCollum attempted only 13 shots and scored 16.
Mason Plumlee went dunkety-dunk-dunk-dunk on the Rockets, scoring 10 points. Starting forwards Al-Farouq Aminu and Moe Harkless attempted 14 three-point shots between them, hitting 5, scoring 25 points combined. The performance of the three non-star starters helped define the difference between the two teams. Portland's supporting cast stepped up while Houston's bombed.
Outside of Gerald Henderson, whose 16 points and 2 steals off the bench made him the fourth Beatle in that supporting cast combo, the bench had a fairly unremarkable outing. Ed Davis and Meyers Leonard rebounded plenty. Leonard looked fired up, at one point absorbing a shove from Houston point guard Patrick Beverley after coming to the defense of Lillard during a short scrum. For the record, Leonard might as well have been Andre the Giant getting shoved by Jumping Jim Brunzell. He didn't sell Beverley's move at all. He just looked at him like, "Go get Dwight."
Links and Such
Boxscore (I hope you like big numbers.)
The Dream Shake ought to be upset, but they're probably used to it by now. If there's a bigger waste of talent in the league than the Rockets, I don't know about it. Maybe somewhere in New York...or everywhere in New York, but I still think the Rockets are more inexcusable.
The party's over for the Blazers as they face the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday night at 5:00 p.m. Pacific.
In case you missed it, check out this important announcement about Blazers' Edge Night, 2016 and help us send 2000 underprivileged kids to see the Blazers-Kings game on March 28th! Donating is easy. Just click here and use the promo code:
Promo Code: BLAZERSEDGE
Ticket Costs range from $7-13 (There is a $5 processing fee per order.)
You can also call our ticket rep, Lisa Swan, directly at 503-963-3966. You will need to indicate to her that you are donating the tickets you order to Blazer's Edge Night.