blzhtn.jpeg

As soon as it was announced yesterday morning that the Houston Rockets had fired their coach, Kevin McHale, last night’s game had trouble written all over it. Houston had been asleep at the wheel for their first eleven games, dropping seven of them in frustrating fashion. James Harden looked like he was still drunk in a strip club yelling “swag” to anyone with a camera. The team needed a change.

And with a change comes new results. If Houston couldn’t get up for Kevin McHale anymore, maybe they could get up for J.B. Bickerstaff, their new interim head coach. For 47:59 of the game, the Blazers looked like they were going to avoid falling victim to the new coach bounce and escape with one of their more impressive victories of the year. They were going to hold off a suddenly recharged Houston team.

And then Corey Brewer drained a one-footed thirty-footer with a second left on the clock. Oops.

Don’t get me wrong, the Blazers didn’t play their best tonight. They slogged through a miserable first half, one where Damian Lillard was held without a single field goal and Portland turned the ball over ten plus times. Despite the sloppiness, and despite the poor shooting, the Blazers entered the half with a 46-35 lead. The Rockets were still the Rockets, new coach or not. They had no interest in being on the basketball court, and except for a few threes from Trevor Ariza couldn’t get anything going offensively. Lots of standing around, lots of finger pointing, lots of laziness.

Allen Crabbe was the offensive catalyst for Portland, hitting from all over the court: threes, twenty-footers, even a nice one-handed floater in the lane. Tim Frazier provided a nice spark and did a commendable job running the point for his first extended minutes of the season. Portland’s bench outscored Houston’s 24-4 in the half.

The third quarter held more of the same. Portland jumped out with a quick 5-0 run, forcing Houston to call time. The game was slipping away from Houston fast and it was on the verge of becoming another disappointing blowout. Lillard got his first bucket of the night, a three, and Portland pushed their lead to as many as 17.

But still, with some outside shots and solid offensive rebounding, Houston kept Portland within shouting distance. The Rockets were as desperate as Dwight Howard is to get everyone to like him. For the first time in forever, the Blazers were going to have to protect a lead.

After loafing through the first three and a half quarters, James Harden finally let his beard down and took over the contest. The Rockets ripped off an impressive 15-2 run to get it within two, and the charging Houston team that toppled the Clippers in last year’s playoffs finally showed up. With the sparse crowd into the game, the Blazers were dangerously close to a repeat of the Detroit fiasco from a few weeks back. Instead of folding they answered with a 7-0 run of their own, followed by a massive charging call that Dame drew on James Harden. Portland had all but weathered the storm. Baby steps. The losing streak was about to be snapped.

Houston then dialed up a full court press that the Blazers weren’t ready for, and the Portland offense officially melted under the pressure. Seemingly unable to cross the half-court line, the Blazers held their lead together with glue and some scotch tape but still Houston pressed on. Up three with ten seconds to play, the Blazers did the smart thing and intentionally fouled Harden to take away the chance of a three-pointer. After he and Aminu traded free throw makes, Houston had the ball with six seconds left and no timeouts, forced to go the length of the court for a three to tie.

Support The Portland Mercury

Allen Crabbe lost Harden on a screen. Crabbe did his best to intentionally foul him again, but Harden was able to dribble to half-court and rifle a pass to Corey Brewer. And just like that, a miracle one-legged three from a guy who had been 3-23 from deep before tonight tied the game. Of course. The Blazers had 0.9 seconds to try for the win—where have we seen that before??—but Lillard’s desperation heave was nowhere near the rim.

The Blazers lost the fourth by a total of 38-23, this after allowing just 35 points total in the first half. There was no way the Rockets were losing in overtime, not after that comeback, not for their new coach. James Harden scored all nine Houston points in OT, and finished with a massive 45/11/8 line, by far his best of the season. In the end, Portland fell 108-103.

This one is going to sting, both because the Blazers finally had a winnable game they couldn’t close out and because the Rockets are just the worst. Portland is better than their seven-straight losses would indicate. At least this brutal road trip is finally over. And hey, another loss means a better chance at Ben Simmons in next year’s draft, so things could be worse.