You know that feeling in college (or high school) when you try and start a big paper a few days ahead? Your intentions are to get a head start on it and give yourself some leeway. At the same time since there are days before its due you have the option of closing your laptop and walking away with chances to finish that paper ahead of you. That’s kind of how I feel about Game 3. Yes, Portland has to win a game in the Toyota Center to advance past the first round. But just like you don’t have to finish that paper days ahead, the Blazers don’t have to win Game 3. You can cram it in the night before it’s due just like the Blazers can steal Game 4 or *knock on wood* Game 6. That doesn’t mean that winning Game 3 wouldn’t be amazing. Because just like that great feeling on the occasion you actually bang out your paper days before its due, the elation that comes with a Portland win in Game 3 would be insane. But again, keep in mind that Portland doesn’t have to win Game 3. They can lose, understand what it takes, make adjustments and still have a shot at stealing Game 4. Or worst case scenario win a must-win at home in Game 5 and steal a must-win in Game 6. Just realize that there is a difference between this game and Game 2. Tuesday night was a must-win, tonight is just really, really important.
Game 3 of this series may not have that nifty ‘must-win situation’ tag attached to it but its importance can not be underestimated. As the series shifts to Houston and the Toyota Center, both teams are tied 1-1 but that tie runs deeper than those two numberrs. Both teams come into Game 3 ‘legitimately’ feeling good which is generally rare. And I say ‘legit’ because there is no false confidence on either side. No Carlos Boozer saying ‘We won’t go down 3-0′ instead of ‘All we have to do is take care of home-court and we’re back in it’. Portland comes into tonight feeling good because they have a new-found confidence that they can beat the Houston Rockets. And that confidence is half the battle right there. The talent and ability wasn’t in question but as Game 1 showed, no confidence = a beatdown. Fortunately all those feelings attached with Saturday night’s debacle were buried in a cavalcade of Brandon Roy buckets and LaMarcus Aldridge jumpers. Essentially, Tuesday night served as the perfect rebound girl for the horrible relationship known as Game 1. For Houston, although they lost Game 2, they accomplished their number one mission and that was to steal a win in Portland. Now they have home-court advantage in this “best-of-5″ series, and depending on the length of the series, 3 of the next 4 games are taking place in the Toyota Center. Also, there are lingering feelings that they may have given Game 2 away. They have experience in that they have been in this situation before and I highly doubt they will be giving anything away at home. Houston is essentially pulling a Kelly Clarkson; they’ve been waiting for a moment like this for years.
(Actually no, they blow it everytime they get a chance. Zing.)
Something’s gotta give.
The prospect’s of Friday night are a bit scary for the Red & Black Attack on the outside looking in. This is Portland’s first playoff road game. If Game 1 was any indication about how this team is going to deal with ‘first times’ trouble could be on the horizon. As stated before, Houston will be looking for a win in a big way. This is where that experience comes in. They (should) have a sense of urgency to take care of business at home. They know that this is the reason why they needed to steal one from Portland, so they could win games at home. Something they have done a great job of doing all year. Losing home-court advantage after stealing it would be a huge blow to this team. Not just because the momentum of the series will completely shift Portland’s way. But because if you consider all of the Rockets’ playoff struggles over the years, a huge sense of doubt will creep in. I expect the crowd to be double crazy considering Mutombo will be honored and presented with the Citizenship Award. The first quarter is going to speak volumes about this game. And, the Blazers performance in Game 3 will speak a lot about the hopes of Game 4.
Keys to success:
- Play with confidence. The Blazers can’t let playing in front of this raucous crowd rattle them. They have to show up and play a mature and confident game. If they get shy, tentative and borderline scared then the Rockets will absolutely eat them up. There’s no way around it. Portland has to be ready to take a punch early. The Rockets will have an emotional boost returning to their home-floor.
- Be prepared for Houston’s adjustments. The key to winning in the post-season is your ability to make adjustments. When you come out on the losing end it’s a lot easier to implement adjustments on what didn’t work. This fact favors Houston tonight. Let’s be honest, there is no chance in hell Yao Ming is only putting up 6 field goal attempts in Game 3. I’ll put my Captain Obvious t-shirt on and say Houston is going to look to get him the ball early and often. They know that their offense runs through Yao. You get Yao going and all of a sudden he draws even more attention which leaves the weakside open for open three pointers or drives at the basket. Guys who can’t create baskets for themselves no longer have to. Not only that but I guarantee the rest of Houston’s players are going to look to punish the Blazers on the weakside for giving Yao so much attention. They feel like they left Portland off the hook. Or at least Von Wafer does. Offensively, Portland has to be ready for the fact that Houston is going to try and take stuff away. There is no way Houston is going to let Brandon Roy beat them in Game 3. I also figure they are going to come at LaMarcus Aldridge pretty hard as well. Portland has to be prepared for that. The Blazers were able to make the adjustments and punch Houston back in Game 2, now they have to be ready for Houston to do the same tonight.
- Get ready for a lot of Yao. As usual, containing Yao Ming is issue #1 for the Blazers. I stated this above but I would guarantee that Houston will focus on getting Yao the ball a hell of a lot more than they did in Game 2. He’s shooting way more than 6 times in this game. I predict somewhere between 12 field goal attempts and 20 for Yao in this game. I can’t say this enough, when Houston runs their offense through Yao, things go so much smoother for them. Not only does he cause trouble but his kickouts to the weakside can create open looks or open driving lanes for his teammates. Portland not only has to front Yao and make it hard for him to get the ball but they have to make life difficult on Yao when he gets it.
- Be the aggresssor, attack the basket. Portland has got to come out very physical and very aggressive against this Houston team. Continue pushing and shoving Yao around. Crash the boards. Get to the free throw line. I highly doubt that Game 3 wil be officiated as tight as Game 2 was. If I’m the Blazers, I’m looking to go at Yao as much as possible. The refs haven’t given Brandon Roy one fall call as he attacks Yao Ming at the basket but Portland needs to go at him. If Yao gets in foul trouble the game completely changes. And when Yao is out, Portland definitely needs to attack the basket because the Rockets will have no one to protect the rim. Portland has to show up on the glass and has to find ways to get to the free throw line. Setttling for jumpers will not work on the road in the playoffs. Especially in a building you’ve traditionally struggled in.
- X-Factors must show up. After their performances in Game 2, Houston is not going to let Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge win this game. At least that’s what we should expect. Steve Blake, Rudy Fernandez, Travis Outlaw and Nic Batum are going to have to establish themselves as offensive threats. If they can do this the Houston D will be spread out giving Roy and LMA better opportunites to score. If they can’t, Houston’s team defense can concentrate on the two stars. And if Houston can get their help defense going, it could be a rough night. All it takes from Blake or Batum is nailing an open J. Blake has struggled with his shot this series (2-for-8 from behind the arc), getting good looks but struggling to knock them down. Tonight he will have to knock those shots down. Outlaw will have to find a way to show up in this series. He’s made his contributions but has generally been ineffective in this series. That is being nice (7-for-19). If he can finally get going the Blazers will get a major boost. I love him going at Von Wafer. I don’t love him going at Shane Battier. Against Wafer he gets whatever he wants but I feel like whenever Battier guards him he ends up shooting a really tough fadeaway. If any one of these guys can show up in a big way, Portland will have a great chance at stealing this game in Houston. Rudy has played well but will have to keep it up. Oden just has to stay out of foul trouble. They just have to be ready because I fully believe Houston is going to try and take Roy and LMA away.
- Contain Aaron Brooks. Portland partially figured out how to guard Brooks in Game 2, containing him very well until his explosion late in the 4th quarter. They are going to have to keep it up if they want to win in Houston. Brooks can not only create his own shot with his speed but also can create shots for others. Portland has got to figure out how to guard Brooks if they want to win this series. Generally speaking if they can figure out how to take Brooks away they take away the #3 scoring option of the Rockets which is a great thing.
- Win the battle of the benches. Houston got huge production from their bench in Game 2. If it weren’t for LaMarcus Aldridge’s production in the second quarter of that game, Kyle Lowry and Von Wafer might have won Game 2 for the Rockets. Portland has got to take advantage of their second unit over Houston’s second unit. It’s that simple. In the second quarter of Game 2 they didn’t but they figured it out in the second half. If Houston can get production out of their second unit, things will be extremely tough for the Blazers in this game.
- Stay out of foul trouble. Mainly this goes out to the big-men. Oden, Joel and LMA have to stay on the court. Have to. This just is not a good match-up for Channing Frye. And I will turn to heavy drinking if we need Ruffin to be our love muffin. Heavy. Drinking.
- Keep things close. I really feel in my heart of hearts that if the Blazers can keep it close going into the 4th that they can pull it out. Yao causes match-up problems, but as far as superstars he’s pretty easy to take away. Think about it, if you front him and discourage the Rockets from throwing the ball into him their offense will stagnate. I like Portland’s chances of executing down the stretch over Houston’s.
This Game 3 will firmly swing the momentum into one of these teams corners. A Portland win erases Game 1 completely and immediately enters doubt into all of the Rockets faithul. A Houston win re-inforces their home court advantage. As I said earlier, something has to give and one of these teams must fall. Will the Blazers show up and take control of this series? Or will they fall to a determined and prepare Houston team? We will find out tonight.
Topics: Aaron Brooks, Blazers, Blazers Nba Playoffs, Blazers Rockets Game 3, Brandon Roy, Greg Oden, Houston Rockets, Joel Przybilla, Kyle Lowry, LaMarcus Aldridge, Luis Scola, Portland Nba Playoffs, Portland Trail Blazers, Rockets, Rockets Home Court, Rockets Nba Playofff, Ron Artest, Rudy Fernandez, Shane Battier, Steve Blake, Toyota Center, Travis Outlaw, Von Wafer, Yao Ming