Portland has been a problem for the Houston Rockets. Earlier this season, the Blazers rode LaMarcus Aldridge (averaging 28 points against the Rockets this season before tonight), rookie of the year favorite Damian Lillard and Nicolas Batum to two overtime wins despite a considerable Houston lead at half time during both games. Tonight the Rockets stepped up in a game that has huge implications for the team's future and post season aspirations. James Harden was firing on all cylinders and Chandler Parsons filled in beautifully as the Robin to Harden's Batman. Jeremy Lin got off to a hot start and continues to impress with his reclaimed jump shot (2-3 from deep). The Rockets shot 60.3% from the field and could not be denied from deep (12-26). The Blazers were unable to recreate any third quarter magic and aside from LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum, Portland struggled. Wesley Matthews was a non-factor and the Blazer's bench was horrible. The Rockets have not lost three regular season games to Portland since 2003 and for now that run remains intact.
Before tonight's game, James Harden told the media that the Rockets were treating tonight like a playoff game. Harden delivered. By half time Harden had already dished out eight dimes, 20 points and he had not missed a single shot . The Rockets have a tendency to bring out a high velocity game with their opponents and the Blazers fell right into step. Houston shot 64.9% from the field but allowed the Blazers to hang around largely due to second chance points. LaMarcus Aldridge got hot from his money spot at about fifteen feet out and no amount of defense was able to deter him from getting buckets. Omer Asik was an enforcer on the defensive end and had four blocks early on. Toney Douglas left the game with a left hip pointer and did not return. In the prior two losses to the Blazers, Houston had a ten point plus lead by the start of the third quarter. Tonight the Rockets started off the third quarter with just a nine point lead.
Things got scary in the third quarter when Nicolas Batum hit an all too familiar three from the arc but the brief flash of momentum was a false alarm. The Rockets were able to build on the lead and by the end of the third quarter the margin had ballooned to double digits. Chandler Parsons hit some important shots to erase Blazer runs and Patrick Patterson helped pad the lead with some athletic dunks and jumpers. Earlier in the season, the Rockets threw away countless games in the third quarter blowing leads and allowing other teams to go on crippling runs. Tonight I saw a more mature team. A team that played with passion and playoff caliber determination. Patrick Beverly had a fierce steal off of a telegraphed pass late in the third quarter that helped cement the game. The fourth quarter featured more dominance by James Harden and some flashes of excellence from Patrick Patterson.
I questioned the Rockets as a playoff caliber team this season even after trading for James Harden. It's time to reassess. Houston looks like they are destined to make some noise this summer in the post season and things will only get better from there. I think we can all agree that it's a good time to be a Rockets fan.
For more, check out Blazer's Edge.