The Portland Trail Blazers and Houston Rockets faced each other for the second time in a row on Saturday evening at Portland’s Moda Center. One day ago, the Rockets smashed, mashed, and downright embarrassed the Blazers, taking a huge lead in the first period and never looking back. In Game 2, the Blazers came out motivated, energetic, and on-target, refusing to let Houston have their way.
What the Rockets couldn’t take by fiat, they took by attrition. The Blazers had decent moments, but they couldn’t keep the Rockets under 50% shooting, nor did they have enough offensive firepower to keep up under those circumstances. Houston pulled away in the second half, earning a 115-98 victory.
Alperen Sengun scored a career-high 27 points for the Rockets, keying a fourth-quarter run that put away the Blazers after a tight game. Jalen Green added 25. Trendon Watford and Brandon Williams led the Blazers with 15 apiece. The teams combined for 41 turnovers.
Both the Blazers and Rockets started a little slow in this one, missing shots that didn’t look too hard, but... Blazers and Rockets. Portland proved once again that, despite improving leaps and bounds in defensive energy and point of attack defense, they still stop ball movement like Barney Gumble stops beer consumption. Houston penetrated, then kicked out to WIDE open shooters for easy threes. Fortunately, CJ Elleby also hit a couple of long balls on Portland’s end. Keon Johnson added one, meaning the Blazers hit as many threes in the first half of the first period tonight as they did in the whole game last night. That kept the score close: 14-11 Portland after six minutes.
The Blazers continued to hit deep as the period progressed, but so did the Rockets, aided by Portland’s now-predictable switch into zone defense. Portland found an edge on the glass, however...an out-sized advantage considering how many shots both teams were missing. They tried to give it back with 8 turnovers, but good board work and reasonable offense gave Portland a 28-24 lead after the first.
Two things happened to turn the tide a little in the second period. First, Portland’s threes wouldn’t fall. They weren’t worse shots. They weren’t worse shooters. They just stopped dropping. Second, the Rockets turned up the energy, winning disputed possessions that the Blazers had handled easily in the opening quarter. Without control of tempo and floor space, absent three-point shots to even out the balance, Portland started slipping.
This brings up something interesting about the Blazers. It’s not just about quality of play, singularly or in aggregate. It about leaving margin for errors... because there are GOING to be errors. Without threes, without superior hustle, the Blazers just don’t have enough room to accommodate their inevitable mistakes. It’s like running up a big sand dune. You can do it, but your momentum has to be constant, or it’s just going to swallow you.
The Rockets began to swallow the Blazers in the second, hitting 11 of their first 16 shots. Fortunately for Portland, Keon Johnson put on his Superman cape and hit a couple of threes, keeping them afloat despite a tide of Houston scoring. Brandon Williams followed in his wake. Between them, those two guards helped Portland out of their bumpy pothole, keying a 7-0 run just before halftime. The score was tied at 60 at the half.
Whatever offense blossomed between the Rockets and Blazers in the first half ghosted them in the third. Observers were treated to a symphony of bonks and clanks, punctuated by the occasional whistle. The Rockets missed almost everything in the lane, but hit a couple of threes to save themselves. The Blazers missed everywhere.
Trendon Watford took his turn as the hot hand of the moment for Portland when everyone else fell short. He took the lane with authority, converting over outstretched arms. It was the only part of the offense that didn’t come in fits and starts... or, more accurately, fits and stops.
The good news was, with nobody scoring consistently, neither team could build a lead. Since the Blazers are almost always on the wrong side of those leads, that worked to their advantage.
Houston persisted in shooting threes as the period meandered through its later minutes. It didn’t work. Portland was able to collapse in the lane with impunity, forcing misses and running out. That was marginally more successful, the only way besides Watford Ball that the Blazers could score.
That’s how the flow went until the last three minutes, when Houston suddenly caught fire. A three from Jalen Green along with a couple of Christian Wood dunks staked them to an 85-78 lead after the third.
The fourth quarter started with Keljin Blevins and Keon Johnson picking up the slack for the offense. They hit, but that also tells you pretty much all you need to know about Portland’s attack. The Rockets weren’t that far out in front, but every Portland bucket was work-intensive. Their lack of individual scoring—or even moves—made catching up about twice as hard as usual.
When the teams weren’t scoring, they were trading turnovers. The messiness that had typified large swaths of the first half came back for an encore in the fourth period.
The game turned around the 6:00 mark in the fourth when Dennis Schroder and Alperen Sengun each hit a three on consecutive possessions. That took Houston’s lead from 7 to 13. Under that “twice as hard” rule, it was the equivalent of 26. The Blazers needed a big surge, quickly. They just didn’t get it. It wasn’t as ugly of a loss as Friday night, but it was, ultimately, just as assured.
The basketball gods added injury to insult when Trendon Watford went down with an injury with 3:01 remaining in the fourth. He was helped off the floor and could not shoot his assigned free throws.
We’ll have extra analysis from the game coming soon!
The Portland Trail Blazers will line up against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday night in a special game. It’s Blazer’s Edge Night, where 1753 young participants and their chaperones will converge on Moda Center courtesy of donations from people at Blazer’s Edge who made the evening possible. Stay tuned for news about the event over the next few days!