This is why we can’t have nice things. After a week of nothing but love for the Trail Blazers, after countless positive articles from the national media, after anointing Damian Lillard as the best player this side of Steph Curry, the Blazers went and laid a damn egg against the Houston Rockets. Did it have to be Houston? Anyone but Houston.
The Blazers were well on the way to their seventh win in a row, and broke open an easy 21-point lead against the dumpster fire that is the Rockets. (Calling the Rockets a dumpster fire in an insult to both dumpsters and fires everywhere.) But at some point during the second half Houston remembered they were a competitive basketball team and not a couple of dudes waiting for the next pickup game to start. They ended the game with a remarkable 44-16 run to completely stun the home crowd and walk away with the victory.
So much for being able to finish out close games. Time to cancel that championship parade, Portland.
This is up there with one of the worst losses of Portland’s season. That it came on national TV, after all the praise they received for their recent play, makes it sting that much more. The Blazers are supposed to be everyone’s favorite scrappy underdogs, not a team that validates James Harden’s terribleness.
Things started off so well, too. Damian Lillard opened the first quarter with eight points (and five assists) though it felt like he could have dropped down twenty-five if he wanted. Despite being guarded by the longer Trevor Ariza, Dame sunk his first two threes and was well on his way to another thirty-point outing. The Rockets defense was non-existent—they couldn’t handle a simple pick and roll and gave up dunk after dunk at the rim. A couple of careless turnovers led to easy buckets on the other end, and Houston’s body language was that of a bunch of skulking teenagers. If it wasn’t for a quiet, eight straight points from Harden, Houston would have been sunk.
Portland ripped off a 10-0 run in the second to stretch their lead to 18. Ed Davis crashed the boards, Gerald Henderson sprung around the court, and both Allen Crabbe and Meyers Leonard chipped in threes. Portland was pure ball movement while the Rockets looked allergic to passing. While the reserves were wrecking the court, the players on the Portland bench—specifically Dame—were getting fired up. With smiles a plenty and a flowing offense, the Blazers were proving the national media correct. They entered the half with a solid 64-49 lead.
And a quick run to start the third from CJ McCollum pushed Portland’s lead all the way to twenty-one, forcing Houston to call a quick timeout. Their subsequent out of bounds play was a lob for Dwight Howard that Josh Smith threw ten feet over the top of the backboard and into the fifth row. Rockets gonna rocket.
But then, somehow, Houston found a sense of kinetic urgency. Much like their playoff comeback against the Clippers last season, the Rockets shifted into an extra gear and started laying it on. Jason Terry hit a couple of threes, the perimeter defense ratcheted up, and the Blazers couldn’t get their hands on any loose balls. An 8-0 run cut Portland’s lead to ten, but the Rockets weren’t done yet.
James Harden, notorious receipt collector, started cooking. Allen Crabbe played some remarkable defense—he avoided fouling, knocked the ball away a couple of times, and denied Harden a path to the rim—so Harden just faded to the three-point line and started sinking from deep. He finished the third with eleven straight points, and opened the fourth with a three-point play the old-fashioned way.
From there Harden was just unstoppable. He made his way to the line, hit a myriad of step-back jumpers, and just caused general havoc on the court. The Rockets won every hustle play, got out into transition, and kept coming on like an unstoppable wave. With 4:41 left to go in the fourth, the Blazers had just one made field goal and five turnovers. They had completely imploded.
When all was said and done, the Rockets walked away with a 119-105 victory. Harden poured in 44 points, the majority coming during the second half surge. Despite Lillard’s strong start, he shot terribly the rest of the night and finished with a pedestrian 23 points.
Portland’s ball movement completely disappeared. They looked tense, and couldn’t solve the blitzing attack Houston was putting forth. Everything the Blazers tried was one on one, and the Rockets shut that down with ease. This looked like a game from the Blazers of the beginning of the season, like the team that blew a giant lead against Detroit. And the defense? 119 points? To the Rockets?!
Hopefully it was just a blip. Portland’s schedule is about to get incredibly tough and they lead the Jazz by just a game and a half in the standings. Everyone was quick to crown the Blazers, but they apparently still need to take a few lumps before reaching that next level.