Well, that might be the single weirdest game the Blazers have played all season. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on the game narrative, what’s working and what isn’t, the script flips completely. After a fairly evenly-matched first quarter, the Blazers jumped out to a decent halftime lead with the Rockets seemingly unable to find their footing on defense. Turn the page to the other side of halftime and suddenly Kevin Martin is fighting hard for Basketball Jones “whoa boy” honors as the Blazers go ice cold from the field. Fortunately for Portland, Houston returned the favor in the fourth, at one point going more than nine minutes without hitting a field goal. And even though the game went down to the wire (Houston had the ball with a chance to tie it with less than three seconds left in the game), it never felt particularly close because the majority of the action was defined by big runs one way or another. Fortunately for the Blazers, everything they did wrong in the fourth quarter last night against Dallas they seemed to do right tonight, and it proved to be just enough to scrape out a win and the possibly-crucial season-series tiebreaker with the Rockets.
You cannot say enough about growth we’ve seen from LaMarcus Aldridge this past month or so, and he was once again stellar tonight. His stat lines have been pretty impressive (he put up an increasingly commonplace 27 and 13 tonight), but the numbers don’t tell the whole story. He looks far more comfortable in the post than he did even as recently as November, and this newfound ability to score in the paint has been a major factor in the Blazers’ recent wins. I hate to sound like a homer here, but quite frankly, there is no reason why Aldridge shouldn’t be an All-Star the way he’s been playing lately.
But the biggest difference between tonight and last night was clearly bench production. The Blazer reserves were almost entirely a non-factor in Dallas, but tonight they came up big. In the first half, when it seemed like we were headed for a repeat of Monday’s blowout victory, Dante Cunningham had a nice shift in which he scored eight points in nine minutes. Rudy Fernandez knocked down a few shots at crucial times and was a major factor on the defensive end late in the game. And Patty Mills…there’s really nothing we like to see more than Patty getting his opportunities and taking advantage of them. In the third quarter, when the Blazers couldn’t buy a bucket and Kevin Martin was doing his best LeBron James impersonation, Patty hit a couple of threes to keep Portland at least relatively close. He ended the night with 14 points, 12 of which came off three-pointers.
Martin, by the way, was absolutely masterful tonight. His 45 points, which would be an impressive number under any circumstances, are made all the more remarkable by the fact that he did it on 13-of-18 shooting, including a career-high-tying six three-pointers. In the third quarter, he seemed to get to the line at will. Give this guy a decent point guard and he could legitimately make the leap to become one of the top 15 or 20 players in the league. Luckily for Portland, once they started defending him more aggressively later in the game, no other Rockets player was able to step up and pick up the slack.
Wesley Matthews had another off-night offensively. He was the only Blazers scorer who did not hit double figures, but this was the kind of game where that didn’t really matter. The Blazers finish out this three-game road trip on Friday in Minnesota, but tonight’s game might be the most pivotal. This week’s two victories over Houston ensure a season-series advantage, which, given that the Rockets at this point are one of the Blazers’ major competitors for the 8th seed in the Western Conference, could come up big later on as a tiebreaker. The Blazers also own the season series against the Suns and are tied with Memphis currently (they play again in April).