The injured Portland Trail Blazers couldn’t manage a pretty game versus the Houston Rockets tonight. They played one brilliant quarter, built a huge lead, then frittered it away with poor defense. When the chips were down, they went to their old standby, the three-point shots. That, and 30 points from Damian Lillard kept Portland alive through the final seconds of the game, but in the end, they fell short by a final score of 104-101.
Derrick Jones, Jr. ruled the first quarter. High-flying dunks were only the beginning of it. He grabbed rebounds, disrupted passes, and was the active ingredient in Portland’s attack. When Jones, Jr. wasn’t destroying the Rockets with energy, Damian Lillard did it from the perimeter. 10 points from Dame in the first 8 minutes put Portland up 25-8. This was the first time a quarter looked easy for them in at least two weeks. Lillard would finish with 13 points and 3 assists in the frame and the Blazers led 32-17 after one.
Unfortunately, the second unit couldn’t keep up the pace at the start of the second quarter. The bench bunch devolved into isolation or one-pass offense. Their shots missed. The defense wasn’t much better. The Rockets had the lead down to 4 by the 5:30 mark. Lillard stopped the bleeding with a layup, an assist, and a three in short order after checking in. But Portland never recovered their rhythm. They ended up with centers defending on the perimeter and guards defending inside. That’s...not going to work. Add in 11 fast break points for Houston—an entire game’s worth in one period—and you can see where Portland’s former 20-point lead slipped. By halftime, Houston led 53-50 and this was a ballgame.
The story wasn’t much better at the outset of the third. Portland’s defense was atrocious; Houston extended their lead. Three-point shooting from Lillard and Gary Trent, Jr. kept the Blazers alive, but Portland fans were holding their breath, hoping it would hold up. It almost did. The Blazers held on, mostly behind 28 points from Lillard through three. They trailed 77-86 headed into the fourth.
The opening of the fourth featured Trent, Jr. stepping up with a pair of threes, bringing Portland right back into it. The margin fluctuated between 1-4 points for a while. The good part for Portland was that Lillard was on the bench during that span. The Blazers continued hitting threes, but they didn’t defend them well. Jones, Jr. went down with an ankle sprain, which also sprained Portland’s perimeter defense. But it’s hard to lose when the threes go in. Trent and Anfernee Simons made sure they did.
Houston’s lead remained a single point past the 2:00 mark as the scoring went back and forth. It remained there past the 1:00 mark as well. Victor Oladipo hit a layup over Enes Kanter with 26 seconds remaining, putting the Blazers down 3. Trent had a chance to return the favor on the next possession, but the layup wouldn’t fall. After a foul and free throws, Simons hit a three, but only 3 seconds remained on the clock. Portland trailed only one, but there wasn’t enough time for the foul and a good possession. After Houston’s free throws, the Blazers had 2 seconds left for the tying three. The shot that had buoyed them all night failed them at the end as Simons airballed a deep three. All things considered, Portland did well to put themselves in that position, but they still fell short.
Guards and threes were the story of this game Lillard scored 30 on 5-11 shooting from deep. Trent, Jr. put in 23 points, making 7 of 13 threes. Simons contributed 14, shooting 4-9 on triples. Between them they hit 16 threes, the bulk of Portland’s 17-41 effort for the night.
Shooting 41.5% from distance is enough to win most games, but the Blazers stayed outside, didn’t draw fouls, and allowed Houston a 9-point edge at the foul line. That made the difference.
The Blazers take on the Chicago Bulls in the Windy City on Saturday night at 5;00, Pacific.