The Portland Trail Blazers played another close game on the road tonight, facing the athletic Houston Rockets on the second night of a back-to-back. Their defense wasn’t impressive. Their rebounding turned off and on like a faucet. But a tidal wave of threes and 33 points from Anfernee Simons kept the game close despite Portland’s flaws.
Against the Oklahoma City Thunder a night prior, Portland lost by two in regulation. Tonight they were in a similar situation, down three with 1.6 seconds remaining. Jerami Grant hit an improbable leaner to send it into overtime, giving his team a chance to flip the script.
Strong play from Malcolm Brogdon and Deandre Ayton in the extra period helped the Blazers make good on Grant’s miraculous conversion. They earned a 137-131 overtime win.
Ayton scored 18 points with 17 rebounds, Brogdon added 19. Alperen Sengun led the Rockets with 30.
Here’s how the action went.
The game started off just as advertised: a contest between two of the worst offenses in the NBA. Shots that came from anywhere beyond zero feet looked dicey, beating the paint off of the rim. The Rockets got off the launching pad by adhering to the zero-foot radius, as their perimeter players hit cutters for free and clear dunks in the halfcourt...a bad sign for Portland. The Blazers answered by going in the lane themselves, hitting short shots and free throws. Anfernee Simons added a couple of baseline jumpers. That was enough, barely, to keep up with the dunking Rockets. Houston led 14-10 at the first timeout with 6:51 remaining in the first.
The Rockets came out of that timeout with...another dunk. Whee. But Scoot Henderson hit a three and Jerami Grant a jumper to counterbalance it for the moment. Then the teams went back to their zero-foot or brick ways, this time with the Blazers striking close. A few free throws and the occasional made jumper dusted the period like gold flakes on one of those way-too-expensive rich folk hamburgers, but it was basically a dunk and layup fest throughout. At least shots were falling, as shooting percentages—once suspect—soared above 50 for both teams. Houston led 31-30 after one.
Portland threw a zone defense into the game at the end of the first and opening of the second. Houston shredded it with three three-pointers to start the period, streaking ahead by 9, causing Head Coach Chauncey Billups to call a preemptive timeout with 9:17 remaining and his team down 41-32.
The Blazers had a hard time catching up, mostly owing to missing their all their field goal attempts in the first five minutes of the period. Free throws helped keep the scoreboard ticking, but Houston definitely affirmed their intentions to keep a lead, hitting six shots to Portland’s zero.
Deandre Ayton finally got the lid off the bucket with a turn-around jumper in the lane, but the clock read 6:30 and the Rockets hit another shot 9 seconds later, so the effect was muted. In an instant replay, Anfernee Simons hit a long three followed by an even longer one from Jalen Green.
That’s the way the period went. Whenever the Blazers did something well, Houston did too. Whenever the Blazers did something poorly, Houston still did well enough. The Rockets played fairly steady. Portland went up and down like a yo-yo.
Ayton and Simons keyed a mini-rally in the final three minutes of the period, scoring inside, countering a seemingly never-ending parade of points from Alperen Sengun. Those late buckets made the margin respectable, cutting Houston’s lead from 13 to 6. The Rockets led 63-57 at the break. Jalen Green had 19. The Blazers had 15 free throw attempts...the most remarkable thing about their offense to that point.
Anfernee Simons came out of the gate ready to score, spurring the formerly-dormant Portland offense. 5 points from Simons and 4 from Jerami Grant brough the Blazers back within a single point before 2:00 had elapsed.
Portland’s defense couldn’t keep pace, however. Alperen Sengun hit a three and dunked to stave off the Trail Blazers run.
Not to be denied, Simons and Matisse Thybulle hit threes again. Then Brogdon struck from deep. Suddenly, the Blazers were playing with a narrow lead, 77-76, at the first timeout of the period with 6:34 remaining. Hitting 6 out of 7 shots, 4 out of 5 threes will do that for you.
Thybulle and Simons struck from distance after the shot. The sick, extended onslaught of triples should have propelled the Blazers to a double-digit lead. But their defense wasn’t doing anything of note.
Another Simons three-pointer at the 4:51 mark only put his team up two, 83-81. Yes, the Blazers had the lead, but they needed a Biblical flood of threes to obtain it. No matter how many they swished, they couldn’t reach escape velocity. The Rockets hit a half-dozen threes themselves, plus dunks and layups, plus some straight-away jumpers. Portland wasn’t forcing them out of anything.
Simons hit 6 field goals in the third, scoring 16 points in the frame. The Blazers hit 8 three-pointers. All of it put together staked Portland to a 98-96 lead heading into the fourth.
After the barrage of distance shots in the prior period, Portland started the fourth trying to get it inside. Duop Reath had a dunk, Scoot Henderson a layup in the halfcourt, Matisse Thybulle a couple of layups of his own off of steals and run-outs. The last one put Portland up 106-103 with 9:23 remaining. Game historians will notice a repeated pattern. That’s four blindingly-easy shots converted to maintain a lead of only 3 points, which wouldn’t hold anyway. That tells you something about Portland’s defensive prowess tonight.
The Blazers did find a defensive spark in Thybulle, who lurked in the zone defense to poke away steals. That, at least, worked. On that thread hung Portland’s ability to stay in the game until crunch time arrived.
Unfortunately, the Blazers would give back the turnovers midway through the period as their offense slowed down. Steals and conversions for Houston made the score 114-110, Rockets at the 4:57 mark, at the last regularly-scheduled timeout.
Close buckets from Anfernee Simons and Deandre Ayton off of some nice offensive rebounding tied the game at 114 over the next minute. To their credit, the Blazers were not going away,
As had been typical the whole game, the Blazers took one step forward and two steps back. Ayton scored inside, but Portland gave up two buckets in quick succession. That put them down 2 instead of up 2. Then they turned over the ball for an Alperen Sengun dunk, leaving themselves in a 120-116 hole with 1:20 remaining.
Malcolm Brogdon scored on Portland’s next possession, but Sengun capped a fantastic night by putting Ayton in the washing machine, putting Houston up 4 again.
That’s where the deficit stood on Portland’s penultimate possession of the game. The Rockets triple-teamed Simons at the top of the three-point arc, leading to a broken pass to Jerami Grant, who then found Brogdon in the corner for a three. The Blazers trailed 122-121 with 3 seconds remaining.
Portland intentionally fouled on the inbound pass, but it was their first in the last two minutes and they weren’t into the penalty, requiring a second foul. Aaron Holiday hit two free throws, putting the Rockets up 124-121 with 1.6 seconds remaining. The Blazers had a timeout and one shot attempt remaining.
Jerami Grant got free on the pass in, running away from the bucket. He rose for a leaning three which hit the backboard and banked in, sending the game to overtime.
Malcolm Brogdon scored the first five points of overtime, a three and a leaner on the run. That, plus a couple hustle plays by Deandre Ayton, gave Portland a three-point lead with 2:30 remaining. A possession later Simons, single-covered once again after a crowded fourth quarter, streaked to the rim for a conversion. Portland led 133-126 with 2:14 remaining. Finally, it looked like they might win it.
Ayton, saving plays left and right for Portland in overtime, fouled Alperen Sengun on the next possession. Houston’s star of the game made only 1 of 2, though. It was a two-possession game, but both of them had to be threes for Houston.
The Rockets had two decent looks from beyond the arc on their very next possession with 1:30 remaining, but they missed both. After a Simons miss, Fred VanVleet streaked to the other end for a layup. Houston trailed by 4, under a minute remaining.
A Brogdon miss should have opened the door for Houston, but he rebounded his own miss. He’d miss another shot, but Ayton—his overtime compatriot—rebounded and put the ball back in. That put the Blazers up 6 with 10.9 seconds remaining, no timeouts for Houston. It was enough to seal the game.
Stay tuned for more analysis of the game. coming soon.
The Blazers wrap up their mini-road trip on Friday night, facing the San Antonio Spurs in a 6:30 PM, Pacific start.