The Portland Trail Blazers kept their date with the Houston Rockets from turning into a total snoozefest Friday night at the Moda Center. It was no 40-point romp that embarrassed the franchise and put the game out of reach by halftime, though the game was never too close either. Trendon Watford scored a team-high 19 points, Drew Eubanks dunked his way to 18 points, but ultimately the Blazers couldn’t hit enough three-pointers to keep up with the hot-shooting Rockets, falling 125-106 in another outing that will help their Draft Lottery odds.
If you missed any of the action, you can find our quarter-by-quarter recap here.
After you’ve caught up on the action, here are some observations from tonight’s loss.
Three-Point Shooting Disparity
Despite losing by almost 20 points, the Blazers made the same amount of field goals as the Rockets. The Rockets shot 43-83 from the field, while Portland shot 43-85. The stark difference in the scoreboard can be explained by one major statistical category: three-point shooting. Houston shot a superb 19-45 night from deep. Portland shot a painful 3-20 from three-point land, horrid enough for 15% on the night. That’s a 48-point difference in threes alone. The Rockets built their lead up to double digits in the first quarter by knocking down seven three-pointers. The Blazers played them more or less even the rest of the way, but couldn’t knock down enough outside shots to bring the game back into single digits and threaten the lead. Far gone are the days when Portland’s best weapon was the three-point shot, at least for the rest of the 2021-2022 season.
Points in the Paint
With no support coming from their outside shot, the Blazers had to get their points somewhere. Portland did this by feasting in the paint. Houston gives up the most points in the paint in the NBA at just under 53 points per game. The Blazers finished down low to the tune of 74 points tonight. Some of it was a testament to Houston’s defensive deficiencies, some of it was because turnovers led to easy fast break layups, but some of it was due to Portland’s crisp interior passing. Several times tonight, Blazers made quick passes to open teammates cutting or stationed at the block for easy dunks and layups. Watford showed off his facilitating knack from the high post, dishing out a career-high six assists. The best of this mix was a play in the third quarter: Watford got the ball at the high post, faked a handoff to a guard swooping around the arc, then spun around to attack the basket before tossing the ball to a cutting Greg Brown III on the left baseline for an alleyoop slam.
Speaking of Watford, the rookie out of LSU had a solid outing, scoring 19 points on an efficient 8-13 from the field, adding six assists and five rebounds. What’s refreshing is how the 6’9’’ forward gets his buckets. Watford didn’t attempt a single three-pointer tonight. Instead, he relentlessly drove the ball to the rack out of the post and on the break, using an array of eurosteps and ball-fakes to initiate contact and free up space in the lane. It feels like a long time since the Blazers had a forward or guard on the roster who didn’t primarily rely on outside shooting to generate offense. Now with versatile guys like Josh Hart and Watford, the Blazers have at least two players who can add a downhill attack to the offense.
Watford led all Portland scorers against Houston, but Eubanks gets the gold star tonight. The big man finished with 18 points and five rebounds on an ultra-efficient 9-12 from the field. Eubanks was so efficient because he made a commitment to dunk nearly everything, ending up with seven dunks. The former Oregon State Beaver showcased great hands and physicality, handling catches in the low post and off the roll for emphatic finishes. He also banged on the boards, flying in for a highlight putback dunk in the second half and forcing loose ball fouls if he didn’t secure the ball himself. He was Portland’s most reliable offensive weapon all night, especially in the first quarter when he kept the Blazers afloat with eight points. He was playing so effectively and his teammates were shooting so poorly, that he warranted more touches. Eubanks is making a strong case for why the Blazers should invest in giving him a roster spot beyond this season.
A Win for Modern Analytics
The game tonight was a classic example of the modern NBA offense: Triples, layups, and practically nothing in between. Out of Houston’s 125 points, only two baskets came from the midrange. Portland scored only three midrange baskets all night, with the first midrange make for both teams coming in the last minute of the first half on a Watford floater that was just outside the paint. If anybody was wondering if CJ McCollum or Carmelo Anthony still played for the Blazers, the death of Portland’s midrange game answers the question.
The Gang’s All Here
Portland’s bench had a rare boost in morale tonight, as several injured Blazers showed up to cheer on their teammates. Damian Lillard, Joe Ingles, Nassir Little, Jusuf Nurkic, Josh Hart, Anfernee Simons, and Justise Winslow were all in the building sporting street clothes. It was reminiscent of NBA Summer League action in Las Vegas, or the high school varsity team showing up early on game day to watch the junior varsity squad run.
Putt-Putt Dreams Do Come True
The highlight of the night wasn’t Eubanks’ various slams or Brown’s alleyoop from Watford. It wasn’t even Houston Rocket guard Jalen Green’s high-flying windmill in the second quarter. No, the highlight of the night didn’t come from anybody on the Portland or Houston roster. It came from a Blazers fan named Dave, who nailed a 94-foot putt during a game break that won him $50,000 in front of the Moda Center crowd. Dave just won himself a big check and is likely on his way to a big bank right now.
The Blazers will face these same Houston Rockets tomorrow night at 7:00, Pacific at the Moda Center.