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Veterans Lead Blazers to Redemptive Triumph in Houston

It takes a village. And sometimes their elders.

Portland Trail Blazers v Houston Rockets Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

One night after a soul-crushing loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the final seconds of regulation, the Portland Trail Blazers took the Houston Rockets to overtime and claimed a 137-131 victory. Jerami Grant hit a huge three-pointer at the fourth-quarter buzzer to tie the game. He’d end up with 21 points. But he was aided by veteran teammates working in concert to assure that Portland would not drop two heartbreakers in a row.

If you missed the action, you can read our quarter-by-quarter recap here. After that, here are some other observations from the game.

Anfernee Simons

Even though Jerami Grant hit the most spectacular shot of the evening—and maybe the season—Anfernee Simons was the clear star tonight. He scored 33 on 13-20 shooting, including 4-9 from distance. Simons put up 16 points in a blistering third period alone, demonstrating his unparalleled scoring ability and bringing his team into relevance. But the Rockets doubled him throughout the fourth, turning him into a half-baked passer instead of a scorer, taking away most of his effectiveness.

This has been the story for Simons and his team lately. He destroys opponents until they focus the defense on him. Collectively, his comrades can’t score enough to make the strategy futile, re-freeing their star again.

This was an impressive outing for Ant, but he needed help converting production into an actual win.

Overtime Heroes

Again, the credit for getting the Blazers to overtime goes to Grant, but Malcolm Brogdon scored the critical points in fourth quarter and the extra frame to seal the win. He was aided by Deandre Ayton, who made critical hustle plays in overtime to secure extra possessions and points. Those were hidden, but critical, factors in the victory.

Ayton’s performance redeemed a somewhat pedestrian effort defensively for most of the game. The switch turned on late. Suddenly, he seemed like a true seven-footer with hands and feet all over the floor. Bravo to him for the strong effort. He finished the game with 18 points and 17 rebounds, 6 offensive, plus 2 blocks. He shot 8-13 from the field as well.

Brogdon scored 19 with 6 assists, most coming late, at critical junctures.

Oh, and that Grant guy also produced 9 assists. The Blazers had 31 total, their second straight night of decent passing.

Offensive Rebounding Late

Offensive rebounds were a crucial part of Portland’s late rally. The Rockets played pretty good defense up until the last 10 minutes of action. Late in the fourth and in the extra period, the Blazers outworked them. When they didn’t get clear shots, they rebounded misses. Those extra attempts covered up their own lack of defense, providing the critical edge they needed.

Portland finished the game with 13 offensive boards tonight. Houston had 8. We’ve criticized the heavy emphasis on O-Rebs plenty this season. It should be noted that tonight, it worked.

Pick and Roll

Not everything was rosy in this outing. The Rockets wore out the Blazers with screens tonight. Portland was ok addressing them at first, but as the game wore on, they appeared to “stick” on screens more. It was frustrating to watch Houston get easy scores inside and open looks from distance with fairly simple pick-throwing, whether the Blazers were in man-to-man or zone. The Blazers definitely need to work on their defensive continuity, if not their schemes.

Jekyll and Hyde Zone

Speaking of schemes, Head Coach Chauncey Billups has been calling for more zone action from his charges, but that defense really, really doesn’t appear to be working well. Until the exact moment it does, however.

The Rockets scored easily in the seams of Portland’s zone most of the night. Part of it might have been that zone defenses require communication and coordinated motion. The Blazers aren’t good at that yet, I guess? It’s hard to read why the zone defense looks so poor, but it does for big stretches.

The big exception came early in the fourth period and continued intermittently thereafter. The Blazers masked their fourth-quarter zone as a man-to-man defense for the first 10 seconds or so of each possession. Switching from man to zone seemed to confuse the Rockets, forcing them to eat clock to earn bad shots. With Houston confused, Matisse Thybulle plucked steals like Halloween candy left on the porch. The allowed the crafty guard to lurk and strike,

Cumulatively, though, it wasn’t enough to counterbalance the overall shaky nature of the scheme. If Portland fields so many athletes, it’s also hard to understand why a zone is necessary instead of an aggressive man-to-man, especially now that the roster is almost back to full strength.

No Secondary Defense

Completing the trifecta defensively, the Blazers showed almost no energy helping on defense until the game was on the line. This was especially true of the first unit. Rotations weren’t late. It was more like they didn’t exist. Houston fields plenty of quick players, but the Blazers showed feet as flat as a Kansas prairie.

All sins are forgiven because Portland upped the effort and won, but had they lost, this point would have been bolded and underlined.

To wit: the Rockets, one of the worst shooting teams in the league, hit 56.1% from the field in the first half. They finished the game at 53.2%. For reference, that’s against a season average of 45.9%.

Houston also shot 40% from distance in the first half against a weak Portland defense. They came back to earth by the end of the game, falling to 33%, just below their season average of 34%.

Threes

Though much of the season, Portland’s offense has been three-point dependent. They don’t always take a huge number of threes by percentage of total shots. (Tonight they attempted 35 triples out of 98 total field goals.) But it’s at least semi-accurate to say that when the threes are falling, the Blazers look good. When they’re not, it almost doesn’t matter what else is happening, the offense seems mired in mud.

Tonight Portland’s offense had the consistency of sludgy margarine until the top of the third period, when they hit 4 out of 5 threes in the first five minutes. They’d make 8 in the third quarter alone, 15 for the game, shooting 42.9% from the arc. Without that kind of accuracy, they wouldn’t have made it to overtime. It’s a dicey way to operate, but when it works, it’s pretty sparkly.

Up Next

Boxscore

The Blazers wrap up their mini-road trip on Friday night, facing the San Antonio Spurs in a 6:30 PM, Pacific start.