The Portland Trail Blazers headed into Houston to face the Rockets with high hopes tonight, owners of a three-game win streak and fresh off a convincing win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. As it turned out, Chris Paul’s 37-point performance was simply too much for the Trail Blazers to overcome on the second night of a back-to-back. Damian Lillard returned to action for Portland, his timely 29-point performance giving his squad hope in the fourth quarter. After trailing by double-digits most of the game, they managed to cut the Houston’s lead to just three in the final moments. But Paul and Eric Gordon filled absentee James Harden’s role on offense admirably, steering the Rockets to a valuable 121-112 victory over a conference opponent.
Late Push Nearly Foils Paul’s Big Night
Both teams opened sluggishly from the field—a problem that would persist for the Blazers for the majority of the first half. Eric Gordon scored 8 first-quarter points to put the Rockets out in front until an Ed Davis shot inside leveled the score at 19 with 2:03 remaining in the quarter. Portland’s offense sputtered in the final two minutes, though, paving the way for Chris Paul to lead a 6-0 run, giving Houston a 25-19 lead after one.
Outside of an early three-pointer from Shabazz Napier, Portland’s shooting woes continued into the second. With the Blazers offense stalled, the Rockets jumped out to a nine-point lead behind a timeout-provoking PJ Tucker shot in the paint at the 8:29 mark. Portland emerged from the timeout with Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic doing their best to keep pace with Houston’s Paul-led attack, to no avail. Whether is it was getting his own shot, or finding an open Tarik Black in the middle, Paul had no problem exploiting the Blazers defense. Portland fell behind by 14 points with just under 4 minutes remaining, finishing the half on the wrong end of a 55-45 score.
The Blazers came out of the locker room firing to start the second half, cutting the Rockets lead to just five points after a Turner 3-point shot with 11:19 on the clock. Portland was unable to slow down Gordon and Paul on offense, though, and the Rockets pushed their lead back to double-digits with just over eight minutes remaining in the quarter. Every time Lillard brought the Blazers within striking distance, Paul and Gordon stepped up to stymie the comeback effort. Thanks to a midrange buzzer-beater by CP3, the Rockets finished the third with a 86-77 lead.
Gerald Green joined the perimeter scoring parade in the fourth, expanding Houston’s lead to 103-89 as the final quarter approached its halfway point. Instead of succumbing to a blowout loss, the Blazers rallied behind a 7-0 Lillard-only scoring run. Baskets by McCollum and Turner brought the Blazers within three points with 3:05 remaining, but Paul was not going to be denied. With a little help from Clint Capela at free throw line, Paul drove a stake into the heart of Portland’s comeback hopes. The Blazers made it interesting, but the Rockets kicked through the finish to capture the 9-point victory.
Switch or Collapse - Portland Had No Answers For Houston’s Pick-and-Roll
Chris Paul’s 37 points were impressive enough on their own, but his ability to exploit Portland’s pick-and-roll defense secured Houston’s victory. Tarik Black and Clint Capela shot a combined 11-for-17 from the field en route to 26 points. Both big men found spots and shots thanks to Paul’s expert passing. The Blazers abandoned their paint-collapsing defense for most of the second half, but switching screens only had a minimal effect on Houston’s effectiveness. CP3 finished the night with 11 assists, only 3 rebounds short of a triple-double.
The Blazers’ early shooting woes were compounded by their inability to secure offensive rebounds. Portland hasn’t had a ton of problems in this department so far this season, so it was shocking to see them on the wrong end of a 11-2 offensive rebounding margin at halftime.
Portland kept their turnovers in check for most of the night, but a costly five-second inbounding violation late killed their hopes of escaping with a surprise victory. They finished the game with 14 turnovers, only one more than Houston’s 13.
Dame Shakes Off The Rust For An Impressive Final Frame
Damian Lillard didn’t convert a shot from the field until the second quarter, but still managed to finish the game with a team-high 29 points. Along with his scoring, Lillard looked sharp while running the offense. He dished out eight assists and committed only two turnovers.
CJ McCollum had an efficient 24 points on 9-of-16 shooting from the field. Unfortunately for McCollum, his solid night was dwarfed by Eric Gordon’s 30-point outburst.
Ed Davis continued to do Ed Davis things. When the Blazers stagnated, it was Davis’ relentless effort that kept Portland within a respectable distance. The former North Carolina standout hustled his way to a blue-collar 11-and-10 double-double.
Jusuf Nurkic couldn’t finish inside for most of this contest, which prevented Portland from getting easy baskets when they needed them the most. Nurkic struggled his way to 8 points on 4-of-13 shooting, and somehow didn’t manage to earn a single trip to the free throw line.
Shabazz Napier looked mortal against the Rockets. After returning to the bench for this contest, Napier struggled to find his rhythm on both ends of the court. He finished the night with nine points and a team-high three turnovers.
Zach Collins’ boxscore won’t blow anyone away, but he did the little things well tonight. The 20-year-old rookie hit an open 3-pointer, and did a solid job of staying in front of perimeter players after switching on defense. Collins finished the night going 2-of-3 from the field for 5 points.
A Days Rest Before New Orleans
The Blazers will continue their current road trip by facing the Pelicans in New Orleans on Friday.
—Steve / @SteveDHoops / BEdgeSteve@gmail.com