Rockets 107, Blazers 117 - Blazers Light Rockets Up in Portland

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This game was always going to be a high scoring affair, so it’s not surprising that both teams combined for 121 points with six double-digit scorers by halftime. Both James Harden and Damian Lillard – the game’s marquee stars – led the game with 15 points in the first two quarters, but Lillard was a more effective passer with seven assists (compared to Harden’s three). It helps that the Blazers shot the lights out of the building, hitting 50% from the field – including hitting a blistering nine out of 16 attempts from beyond the arc. Ironically, the Rockets, who only made five threes in the first half, managed to break the NBA single-season record for three-pointers made (previously 1,078).

The Rockets found themselves in a hole to start the second half (they were down 65-56), and things didn’t get any easier. The Blazers got nearly any look they wanted and converted with incredible efficiency, evident by the fact that they put up 96 points through three quarters. As atrocious as the Rockets were in terms of defense and offensive efficiency, Houston was lucky to be down just 11 points by the end of the third (96-85) – a lead that could quickly evaporate with just a few made threes.

The Rockets opened the final period on a 9-2 run, with all points coming from competing Sixth Man of the Year candidates Lou Williams and Eric Gordon. What followed was a nice five-plus minute stretch of Portland failing to make a basket from the field, allowing the Rockets to cut the deficit to four points.

During this stretch, Houston’s trainers were seen cutting the tape off of Harden’s left wrist, leaving TNT’s announce crew to speculate that Harden may be done for the night. And that would be an understandable move, even in a close game like this. Harden has been dealing with an injured wrist (on his shooting hand, I might add) and has aggravated it in a couple of games recently. The Rockets are essentially locked into the third seed and wins or losses at this point are basically meaningless. Apparently, TNT didn’t get the memo that James Harden doesn’t operate that way. With a little over five minutes left, he checked back into the game and promptly drained a three to cut Portland’s lead to two (103-101).

Houston managed to tie the game at 105 after a Trevor Ariza dunk with about two and a half minutes left to play. Portland scored the next eight and all but sealed its fifth straight victory. Despite hitting a clutch three after he checked in, Harden followed with three absolutely terrible possessions by jacking up a couple of threes (this is a guy with an injured shooting wrist, after all) and committing a game-ending turnover.

In the end, defense and inefficiency is really what doomed the Rockets on Thursday. The Blazers have been red-hot since the acquisition of Jusuf Nurkic (who posted 19 points and 11 rebounds) and had awesome performances from Lillard (31 points, 11 assists), Maurice Harkless, Allen Crabbe, and Al-Farouq Aminu, who all combined for 49 points. The Rockets hit just eight threes for a dreadful 23.5% and seceded any look the Blazers wanted.

James Harden was incredibly inefficient, scoring 30 points on 30 shot attempts – including 11 missed threes. This inefficiency is unquestionably due to Harden’s injury, but perhaps a more telling statistic about how this game would go for the Rockets is that the NBA leader in assists only recorded four in this game. Maybe it would have been best to rest him in the fourth period, and for tomorrow’s game as well.

Houston had to expend a lot of energy to make a comeback in this one, so it’s not exactly fun to think about what might happen in Oakland tomorrow as the Rockets take on the Warriors for the second time this week.

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.

Thursday’s game ball goes to Trevor Ariza.

With Harden and co. struggling to be efficient from the field, someone needed to step up and hit shots. On Thursday, that someone was Trevor Ariza, who scored 17 points on 63.6% shooting (including three makes from downtown) and also tied his season-high with six steals. Ariza can go through extended slumps during the regular season, but his consistency tonight should hope to provide an example for his teammates (Lou Williams, in particular, needs to be more consistent).

The Rockets aren’t exactly playing their best ball with just seven games until the Playoffs, so here’s to hoping that changes in the next couple of weeks.

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