The Portland Trail Blazers need every win possible during their final week of the regular season, trying to climb into a Top 6 seed in the 2021 NBA Playoffs and avoid the play-in tournament. They certainly got one tonight, posting a franchise record 50 points in the first period against the Houston Rockets, then mostly coasting to a fairly easy 140-129 victory.
Damian Lillard scored 34 in the victory, adding 6 of Portland’s 30 assists along the way. CJ McCollum poured in 28 and 7 assists while Norman Powell contributed 28 more points. For those counting, that’s 90 points between the three starting guards. Jusuf Nurkic shot 10-14 for 22, the fourth starter to top 20.
The win was the 400th in Portland for Blazers Head Coach Terry Stotts.
The Blazers started out using Jusuf Nurkic as a steamroller inside. Bigger than anyone on the floor, Nurk bulled his way to scores and flipped nifty assists to Norman Powell for a pair of early threes. Houston had no answer. Between them, Powell and Nurkic scored Portland’s first 14 points. The Blazers hit 8 of their first 11 shots, helped by a Houston game plan that evidently included copious doses of zone defense, despite Portland’s shooting ability. The Rockets also hit 8 of their first 11, so the scoreboard stayed tight. But Houston couldn’t keep hitting forever and Portland, well...could. Before you could sneeze twice—technically in the 67-second span between 5:17 and 4:10 of the period—CJ McCollum hit three three-pointers and stretched a 26-24 lead to 35-24. McCollum would hit another jumper soon after, followed by a pair of Lilllard threes. NOBODY could keep up with that level of scoring. The rout was on.
Houston scored an impressive 33 in the period, but the Blazers shot 12-16 from the arc, 71% from the floor overall, notched a dozen assists, and scored 50. Their 12 threes made tied an NBA record for a single quarter. The 50 points marked a franchise record for points in a quarter.
The Blazers didn’t hit a three for the first four minutes of the second quarter. It hardly mattered. They scored just fine at the rim, as Houston’s defense came up short in every way imaginable. Foul shots off of the inside attempts slowed down the tempo of the game, but also added to the score. A couple easy threes by the Rockets got the margin down to 10 in the latter stages of the period, but Nurkic took care of that without much trouble, reprising his inside performance from the first. Still, the Blazers left the door ajar, as their second unit kept allowing buckets at the rim. Portland led by 16, 79-63, at the half.
The Rockets had one chance to turn this game around: coming out of the locker room blazing, wresting the game away from Portland early in the second half. They didn’t do it. Portland’s defense wasn’t great—Houston played accordion with the lead a few times—but the Blazers did keep the Rockets in the halfcourt, disallowing quick and easy attempts. That alone prevented Houston from scoring enough.
A couple of threes from Lillard carried the Blazers through a scoring drought in the opening minutes of the third. The Rockets got the lead down to 7, but the Blazers attacked the interior and kept them at bay. A Lillard three with 4:11 remaining put the Blazers over the 100-point mark. Houston followed suit with 30 seconds remaining. Portland’s second unit just couldn’t defend. 17 points from Lillard in the period covered that up just fine. Portland led 111-101 after three.
Houston actually gave the Blazers a little bit of a scare at the start of the fourth, canning deep shots to cut the lead to 5. But Powell and Derrick Jones, Jr. threw down dunks and hit free throws, reminding the Rockets that it was pretty much Portland’s option to score any time, and any way, they wanted to. Lillard also remained in the game as insurance. If the Blazers couldn’t score inside, his jumper was always a safe bet. When Jones, Jr. dunked on a fast break with 6:22 to go, the lead was 13 again and the Blazers were firmly in control. They kept their starters in until the two minute mark and won it going away.
Stay tuned for Steve Dewald’s analysis of the action tonight!
The Blazers will face the conference-leading Utah Jazz on Wednesday night at 6:30. Pacific.