Rockets 130, Blazers 114 - The Eric Gordon Show

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Both teams got off to red-hot starts and it seemed that defense was going to be optional in this game. That’s not totally unexpected when these teams play each other, but it’s not likely anyone thought both teams would shoot in excess of 60% from the field in the opening period. The Blazers backcourt was the early story in Portland as the dynamic duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum scored 20 of the team’s 35 points in the quarter (McCollum scored 10 points on 100% shooting).

For Houston, Harden was the only statistical standout in the first quarter (11 points to go with four assists). However, every player that saw early time made an impact offensively. Despite the defensive woes, the ball movement was solid and the energy was high-octane. Sam Dekker capped off the quarter with an exclamation point by blocking a Lillard lay-up out of bounds with five seconds left, then stealing the inbounds pass and finishing a transition lay-up of his own. That basket ended the quarter and the game was tied at 35.

The second quarter kicked off with Eric Gordon hitting a three while being fouled, and converting the four-point play. Gordon and the rest of the second unit (along with starting shooting guard Patrick Beverley) really played well, and they managed to keep up the fast-paced and energetic tone of the previous period. The three-point shot still wasn’t falling at a respectable clip, but the defense got better – especially in transition. On one play, Corey Brewer got sky high to swat a McCollum shot away (forcing McCollum’s first miss of the game).

At halftime, the Rockets were up 65-62 behind Harden’s 21 points and five assists. The Blazers backcourt of Lillard and McCollum boasted 12 points and 20 points, respectively, with Dame contributing five assists of his own.

The third quarter saw more “defense optional” back-and-forth action from two of the most fun-to-watch teams in the National Basketball Association. Harden had the pick-and-roll working to perfection, finding Capela for an alley oop and Ariza for a corner three. After the Rockets had built the lead up to 10, Portland went on a quick 7-0 run and eventually tied the game.

What followed next was the Eric Gordon show.

After slumping the past few games, Gordon CAUGHT FIRE in the second half. Midway through the third, he went on a crucial 8-0 run all by himself. His roll continued on into the fourth quarter, nailing back-to-back threes and igniting a Rockets run.

The Rockets defense really stepped up in the final period. Thanks to Clint Capela anchoring the paint at a truly elite level, the Rockets held Portland to just 33% shooting and only 22% (2/9) from the three-point line. Meanwhile, the Rockets maintained their hot shooting, hitting 52% from the field and 50% from three. After less-than-stellar shooting from downtown in the first half, the Rockets pushed their percentage for the game up to 47.2% (17/36). The Blazers only scored 21 points in the fourth, compared to the Rockets’ 34.

Things got testy in the fourth quarter after a few questionable calls went the Rockets’ way. The crowd at the Moda Center got restless and showered the Rockets with boos, especially after Clint Capela hit Mason Plumlee with a flagrant foul (it wasn’t that excessive). The atmosphere didn’t rattle the Rockets and they quickly put the game away, thanks to staying true defensively and moving the ball smartly and efficiently. Portland clearly got frustrated with this game, but they also have to be frustrated at how they've played recently - they've lost seven of their last nine.

This win was a total team win.

Despite early defensive problems, the Rockets buckled down. Despite poor shooting from beyond the arc, the Rockets kept shooting the wide-open ones and eventually broke the slump. James Harden recorded 38 points and 10 assists, Eric Gordon had his best game of the season with 26 points, five rebounds, and four assists, Clint Capela played lockdown defense and contributed 21 points and nine rebounds, and Trevor Ariza put in 18 points on 86% shooting.

The Rockets have a tough one on Tuesday as they head to Utah to play the Jazz.

Game Ball 

This is a segment of the game recaps that will give the proverbial game ball to a player that proved to be most valuable to the Rockets on a given night. This award won’t necessarily go to the player that puts up the best numbers, but to the player that made the greatest impact on the team – tangible or intangible.

Sunday’s game ball goes to Eric Gordon.

This was far and away the toughest game ball to give out in this season. James Harden is continuing to make the ridiculous look easy and Clint Capela seems to set a new personal record with every game. However, this one is going to Gordon because a) he had his best game as a member of the Houston Rockets, and b) he performed in crucial moments.

Gordon had 11 points at halftime and it looked like he was finally breaking out of the slump he’s been going through the last few games. Well, he definitely had a slump-breaking game, scoring 26 points on 60% shooting from the field (this includes nailing 6 out of 9 from beyond the arc). Adding five rebounds and four assists is just a nice cherry on top of his hot shooting.

The most important part of his hot streak was that it came at moments when it seemed Portland was poised to take over. After a 10-3 lead that allowed the Blazers to tie the game, EG went on a personal 8-0 run, which predicated Harden checking back into the game. He then swished a couple of threes early in the fourth and gave the Rockets a cushion to just play defense and smart basketball. They didn’t have to force anything or panic because Portland had taken the lead.

Gordon’s play is crucial because he vastly improves a bench that needed help while he was in the starting lineup (due to Patrick Beverley being out with injury) and because the third quarter felt somewhat reminiscent of last year’s disastrous third quarters. The Rockets could’ve folded (or collapsed altogether), but Gordon’s shooting and playmaking just wouldn't let that happen. It’s hard to see it happening much at all this season because the addition of Gordon to the team is such an important one.

With the Rockets continuing this five-game road trip that'll end Houston’s brutal stretch of road basketball (they will have played 14 of the first 30 away from Toyota Center), they’ll need Gordon to continue to make sure the bench is not only a unit that can maintain a lead, but one that can win games as well.

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