The Portland Trail Blazers turned in perhaps their finest performance of the season on Wednesday night, holding one of the NBA’s top offenses in check in a 117-107 road win over the Houston Rockets. All five Blazers starters finished in double-figure scoring totals—led by the 25 points of Damian Lillard—while Rockets star James Harden was held to a season-low 13 points on a disastrous 3-12 shooting line.
Neither team was able to separate in the opening frame. The Rockets missed a number of open jumpers but were able to find some success in the paint. For the Blazers, Hassan Whiteside was a focal point offensively, as he had seven points in the quarter on 3-5 shooting, but was just 1-4 from the charity stripe. The Rockets got into early foul trouble, with Danuel House alone picking up three fouls in the period.
After Houston started 2-8 from distance, Eric Gordon was able to connect twice in the closing minutes. The Blazers led 28-26 at the horn, with Lillard starting 0-5 from the field before knocking down a mid-range jumper in the final minute.
The Blazers opened on a 7-2 run, with Anthony Tolliver scoring five quick points to pick up where he left off against the Charlotte Hornets on Monday. The Blazers made a concerted effort defensively to contain Harden, doubling him and forcing the Rockets’ ancillary pieces to become involved. Ben McLemore hit a pair of threes, but Carmelo Anthony was able to take advantage of a size mismatch in the paint for the Blazers to keep them in front.
Around the middle of the quarter, CJ McCollum started to catch fire, hitting from downtown, the mid-range and at the rim. The Rockets shooters went ice cold, and the Blazers extended their lead to double-digits. A Lillard triple put them up 14 with 2:30 remaining before Russell Westbrook snapped an almost four-minute drought without a field goal for Houston with a three of his own. Portland led 60-47 at the half, with the Rockets going just 6-27 from three over the first 24 minutes of action.
After the teams traded baskets (and missed baskets) over the first few minutes, the Rockets started to involve Clint Capela at the rim on lobs. Blazers countered by going through Lillard, who scored 12 straight Blazers points over a five-minute stretch to keep the lead intact. Kent Bazemore snapped the run, hitting a fall-away corner three to put Portland up 14 at the four-minute mark, while the Rockets continued to brick open three-point attempts.
After Gordon finally knocked down a triple for Houston, Nassir Little immediately answered with a three of his own on the other end—taking advantage of a missed defensive rotation that left him wide open. Portland would lead by as many as 17, before the Rockets finished the period on a 6-2 run to make it 90-77 entering the final frame.
Houston opened on a 5-0 run to pull within eight, before Gary Trent Jr. and Tolliver connected on back-to-back threes to put the Blazers back up 14, all within the first two minutes of the quarter. Harden picked up his fifth personal foul with 7:30 remaining, but a three from P.J. Tucker pulled the Rockets within nine a minute later. McLemore then knocked down a three on the team’s next possession, pulling Houston within six and forcing Portland to call timeout.
After the Rockets pulled within five, the Blazers got back-to-back triples from McCollum and Anthony to go back up double-digits. Houston never made another serious run after that, and Portland held on for the 117-107 victory
Aside from the 25 points from Lillard—who also had seven rebounds and seven assists on the night— Portland got big performances out of McCollum (24 points, six assists), Whiteside (18 points, 18 rebounds) and Anthony (18 points, 12 rebounds). Carmelo, playing his first game in Houston since his unceremonious release last season, had a particularly efficient night, going 7-10 from the field and taking advantage of a size mismatch over the number of Rockets defenders who tried in vain to slow him down.
Perhaps most importantly for Anthony, he didn’t seem to let the moment get the best of him. Instead of forcing shots, he was able to pick his spots and help take pressure off of Portland’s perimeter shooting, with the Rockets having to focus on him in the paint. The unselfish performance added another chapter to season-long redemption story, one of the bright aspects of a difficult season for the Blazers.
The Portland bench unit also deserves a ton of credit in the victory. Tolliver was a huge spark in the pivotal second quarter, in which the Blazers outscored the Rockets 32-21. And while Little and Trent scored just five points each, both of their three-pointers immediately followed a Rockets bucket—quelling potential rallies.
Failure to Launch
The Rockets entered the night averaging 119 points a game, second in the NBA to only the Milwaukee Bucks, but struggled mightily against a Blazers defense that has been an issue throughout the season. Harden, averaging nearly 40 points a game, was essentially a non-factor. The Blazers put considerable defensive pressure on him, forcing Westbrook and the Houston role players to step up. While Westbrook finished with 31 points, he missed several lay-ups, five free throws, and took nearly double the field goal attempts of Harden—a recipe for disaster for the Rockets.
With the added pressure on Harden, players like Gordon, McLemore, House and Austin Rivers drew favorable looks. However, only Gordon was able to consistently knock them down, and even he was just 7-18 on the night. House (1-6 from three) and Rivers (1-5, 0-3 from distance) were ice cold, and McLemore bricked multiple wide open attempts to go 6-15 from the field overall.
The Blazers stay in Texas to take on the Dallas Mavericks on Friday night at American Airlines Center, with tip-off scheduled for 6:30 p.m. PT.