The Portland Trail Blazers lost to the Houston Rockets 113-118 in Overtime.
Remember how I said that last game was “soul-crushing?” If that was true, then this one was “take your soul, put it in a blender, form it into patties, cook them on a grill, and feed them to you.” It was a whole ‘nother level of frustration as the Blazers led throughout the game, only to score ONE field goal in the game’s final 7:31 to squander a 13-point lead, then have Lillard foul out on a very silly pushoff in overtime AND, to add insult to injury, get four (count ‘em, FOUR) chances at a three in the waning seconds and brick every last one of them.
The hair-pulling in this game goes beyond offensive impotence and bleeds into things like Matthews playing Harden MUCH too tight at the end of regulation. The aggressiveness that would work on 99% of other NBA players actually works against even talented defenders like Matthews, as Harden can easily worm his way by his man and recoil like he’s been shot every single time… or if not that, then hit the deck and roll around like someone sucker punched him. Can the NBA go back and call a flop on exaggerated, after-the-play acting? Probably not, but they should.
That intestine-twisting, “I can’t believe this is happening” feeling, which Marriam-Webster has yet to define properly, extends even to the officials, who began the game by calling fouls for looking at someone with a furrowed brow, then spent a few minutes turning away and watching the game devolve into a rugby match, then went back to making questionable calls and, importantly, terrible jump balls that both were tapped about a nanosecond after it left the official’s hand, and had a parabolic curve towards Houston that would make your TI-83 short-circuit.
If you’re not coming away from this feeling a little bit of what might be called disgruntlement, then you probably weren’t rooting for the Blazers, in which case, leave. Nah, I’m messing with you, please stay. But seriously, leave. Just kidding. Sort of.
The Blazers blitzed off to a sizable lead before Houston reined it back in. With the first quarter in the books at 30-28, you figured this would be a good one, and you’d be right… sort of.
The second quarter was spent realizing how questionable the calls were, mostly to the Blazers benefit. With the Blazers slashing and kicking, or slashing and finishing, or slashing and just continuing to run around, the Houston defense looked a little like ocean bouys caught in gale-force winds. The disruption worked in the Blazers’ favor. Nicolas Batum (8-12-6 with 2 blocks) had some great finishes in transition, the Blazers moved the ball, and Portland took a 54-47 lead into the half.
The third was a lot more of the same. The Blazers had an answer for each and every Rockets push, and you wouldn’t be blamed for being a little proud of the guys in red and black. One sign of a good team is being able to build a lead, however slender, and respond to the inevitable pushes against it. That they did, and the Blazers were up 87-75 going into the fourth.
Everything was right with the world. The offense was flowing, the defense was impressive, and to top it all off, a basket by Dwight Howard in the waning seconds of the 3rd was waved off! Both teams were playing very hard, and as a Blazers fan, you couldn’t ask for anything more when your team’s up 96-83 with about 7:20 to go.
And then things got weird.
The scene had already been set somewhat, as the Rockets’ first team foul came with 5:30 to go in the quarter. The Blazers were in the penalty. But no matter, because there was a double-digit cushion to fall back on!… or at least it was. With 4:40 left, it was 96-89. 40 seconds later and it was 96-90. Less than a minute later, and it was 98-95… and everyone in Portland was facepalming hard enough to cause temporary blindness. Portland couldn’t hit a shot. The Rockets smelled blood, and the crowd was foaming, especially that one guy in the front row with a Drexler jersey who was yelling, gesticulating, and berating both the officials and Blazers players in a way most unbecoming of a fan. Also, being in the front row, one can affect the game if a snot bubble travels 2 inches from your frothy face and makes its way onto the court. People pay good money for those seats, though… GAME ON!
With nothing working and everything falling apart, Wes Matthews (26 and 4) strapped on his big boy pants and set out to play tough offense and to stop James Harden on defense. Only in this case, playing Harden so closely gave a chance to go right around Matthews and pretend to be fouled in the process. Which is exactly what Harden did.
With 11 seconds left and the Blazers clinging to a 2-point lead, Matthews was fouled, and needed both free throws to make it a 2-possession game and essentially ice it. He missed one.
That cracked the door for Houston. Harden flung it open like a bow-legged cowboy storming into a saloon by drilling a contested three from the corner with 8 seconds left, right in Matthews’ grill.
The game knotted at 106, the Blazers had 8 seconds to get a decent look, 8 seconds to perhaps drive, or maybe set some screens and come around a curl for a chance to win. Instead, Batum, who had a decent game but at this point already had 6 turnovers (mostly off bad passes), decided to pull the trigger on the out-of-bounds lob to Damian Lillard (21-4-4 with 7 turnovers of his own) that was poorly timed and poorly executed, and it was picked off. Beyond the fact that an out-of-bounds lob with 8 SECONDS LEFT would give your opponent ANOTHER chance to tie or win (the responsibility for which falls to Coach Stotts), it was just a really bad pass.
The only thing more stupid was the stupid overtime, especially when Lillard fouled out by hitting stupid Patrick Beverley in his stupid facemask. Never mind that Beverly had thoroughly frustrated Lillard all night long, there is no excuse to be called for an offensive foul at such a critical juncture, especially when you already have 5 fouls. Without a player willing and able to pierce the Rockets’ defense effectively, the Blazers faded like a brightly-colored t-shirt in a tub full of bleach, ending the game on four consecutive missed threes and deflating the emotional balloons of Blazers fans worldwide.
If you looked at the score, this would be a great game. Overtime? Against Houston? On the road?!
But if you watched it, it was truly the sort where the blood drained from your face and into your boots… and then probably out of your boots and onto the floor where it congealed in a tidy little puddle of disappointment.
The Blazers will have to be resilient as they face three more road games before coming home, the next against the Grizzlies on Tuesday at 5:00 p.m. PST. Here’s hoping the collective soul of Rip City can be repaired.
Our perpetual hero, Robin Lopez, had some of the nastiest box outs, rebound taps, and blocks this side of Marcus Camby. He had 11 and 11 with 5 blocks, and his impact was even bigger than that, as he limited Howard as best as anyone could. How lucky are the Blazers to have this guy?
LaMarcus Aldridge had 28 points, but needed 27 shots to do it. He also had 12 rebounds and some blocks, and looks a little more like his old self every game. He did have a frightening cold spell that chilled the whole team during the third, but followed it with three straight buckets. Another few games, and he should be right as rain.
Mo Williams running the point instead of Damian Lillard in overtime was… not good. That’s kind of a shame, too, because he had a solid game with 11 points and 11 assists, but it should be noted that almost all of those points came very early on. I don’t know if he runs out of gas or what the deal is, but sometimes his production just falls off a cliff. To his defense, Houston is a pretty long team… not the best matchup for him.
CJ McCollum had 7 points, and looks fearless even if his actions don’t warrant it. That’s not a bad thing. He’ll get better.
The Blazers’ sixth man tonight was, without a doubt, Mr. Turnover. They let Mr. Turnover into their house to get a glass of water, and he ended up pulling a Rick James and grinding his feet all over the couch. Lillard had 7 of them. So did Batum, and as described earlier, almost ALL of his were preventable, the result of bad passes. Batum has been trying way too hard lately to make plays. For a man of his talent, playing within himself should be more than enough.