Having sufficiently calmed down from Sunday night’s thrilling game, in which the Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Houston Rockets 122-120 in overtime, it is now time to step back and analyze what we saw. Here are, in no particular order, things I noticed during the game that were worth writing down at the time.
1) Mo Williams and Damian Lillard’s perimeter defense needs improvement. I’ve been saying it for a while now, but amidst all the flash of Lillard’s scoring outbursts, his defensive fundamentals are…. not so solid. I can’t necessarily chalk it up to a lack of effort, but the ease with which he gets buried by screens is disturbing, and when this happens, it forces the rest of the team’s defense to bend in uncomfortable ways. Neither point guard looked great while playing defense, and the ease with which Jeremy Lin was able to waltz into the lane multiple times caused me much consternation.
2) While his three in overtime was about as clutch as they come, I did not find Nicolas Batum’s overall game to be that stellar. Obviously, the bad comes with the good, so I may just be nitpicking, but the majority of Batum’s negative plays seem to be easily fixable. I would categorize most of them as simple inattentiveness, which has no place in a playoff series. Being even a single step, or even a half-step, out of position on defense can make all the difference against a sharpshooting team like Houston, something Batum was guilty of on more than one occasion.
3) James Harden shot 8-28. Dwight Howard shot 9-21. LaMarcus Aldridge poured in 46 points on 17-31 shooting. This scares me – terrifies me in fact. I think we can confidently say that these three extremes will not happen again, and this does not bode well for the Blazers. Aldridge has performed well against Houston this season, but requiring 46 points from him for an overtime win is unnerving.
4) Aldridge’s non-scoring contributions were on full display. He gets much of his attention for his scoring abilities (and rightfully so), but Aldridge showcased elite rebounding as well as solid defense in Game 1. Rebounding in the NBA often looks like something that just happens, but Aldridge was working for those boards. He was reading the ball well, getting in correct position, and putting a body on a Rocket. Those second chance points ultimately proved to be incredibly valuable.
5) Much has been said about the refereeing. Looking at the game completely objectively, there were 65 fouls in 53 minutes of basketball, good for well over one per minute, excluding technicals. Of the 242 points scored, 55 of them came on free throws. When the final buzzer sounded, forty percent (four of 10) of the starters had fouled out.
5b) I doubt you will be able find any basketball fan that would be pleased with any of those facts. Part of what makes basketball so appealing as a sport is the free flowing nature that the games can assume. Unfortunately, this could not happen Sunday night due to the constant whistles. While it’s easy to blame these specific officials, I would consider this more of a league-wide problem, and one that I hope new NBA commissioner Adam Silver takes seriously.