On a night without two key rotation players in the line-up in Parsons and Delfino, the Rockets came out and got a critical game on the road against the kind of team we love to play down against. The offense was incredibly effective early. Defensive lapses early kept Portland in the game, but eventually Portland's offense (read: LaMarcus Aldridge) cooled off allowing the Rockets to build a lead and get one game closer to clinching a playoff berth.
James Harden and Jeremy Lin took turns turning the Portland's defense into complete mush.
Harden was ungodly in the first quarter, scoring 17 efficient points on 9 field goal attempts. He drained three pointer after three pointer until the Blazers started to play up on him. Then he just blew past defenders in front of him for easy points at the bucket and charity stripe shots. Harden kept us from falling behind early as our offense outside of him was harder to come by than usual. Garcia hit 3 three pointers in about 4 offensive possessions in the first quarter, but outside of that the offense needed Harden badly - and James delivered like any 80 million dollar player would.
After Harden got a blow on the bench, it was Jeremy Lin time. After a muted first quarter, Lin got incredibly aggressive in the second and third quarters. He was feeding players, drilling three pointers, and driving aggressively for lay-ups. This is the Jeremy Lin we like to see. He wasn't dominating the ball, but he was getting his for sure. Greg Smith in particular was a huge beneficiary, getting 10 fourth quarter points off of wonderful pick and roll drop-offs by Lin. Jeremy also seemed to always show up and make a play when the Blazers were making a run whether it was hitting a three or getting a teammate easy layups.
To sum this all up, let's look at the backcourt comparison
Lin/Harden: 55pts (55% shooting), 11 rebounds, 14 assists.
Lillard/Matthews: 29 points (32% shooting), 6 rebounds, 11 assists.
Did someone in Rockets management kill one of LMA's family members? This dude plays like he has a chip on his shoulder when he plays against Houston. I thought he was going to drop 50 on us the way he was playing this game.
He ended up with 32 points, 13 rebounds, 3 assists, and a steal
He scorched the Rockets for 24 points and 10 boards before halftime. He was beating up on Omer on the boards, keeping Asik relatively quiet the entire first half. He got several offensive boards and was also knocking down shots. Not easy shots either. His fade-away jump shot has got to be the hardest shot to defend outside of Dirk. He has so much length and so much touch. He's the only player outside of Dirk who I truly believe will sink every difficult fader he tosses up.
Luckily for us, he seemed to only show up for the first half of basketball. In the third quarter, he did not score a single point and only got one field goal attempt. The third quarter is also when the wheels started to fall off for the Blazers. Without the consistent offense down low, the Blazers often looked lost on offense. They found themselves taking way too many long shots late in the shot clock and let us pressure their transition defense.
I don't know if this was Portland not feeding him the ball enough or the Rockets picking up their defense. Likely, it was a combination of both. Houston really did look very good defensively in the third period. We were rotating very well off pick and rolls and forcing bad shots/turnovers.
Though near the end of the third, the Blazers got on a bit of a run, the Rockets closed out with a few impressive offensive and defensive series to stop the bleeding heading into the final period.
Bottom line, however, is that in order for this team to remain competitive in games (especially if Batum is out) LMA needs to keep the scoreboard moving and Damien Lillard needs to be a much bigger factor early on to get others involved.
Tonight was just not that night.
Other Odds and Ends
Greg Smith - Almost reaching his career high, he was incredibly reliable putting the ball in the basket close to the rim. He is still a foul machine, but 19 points and 5 rebounds in 23 minutes is nothing to sneeze at on any NBA court. As I mentioned earlier, several of those were off of Lin deliveries, but he can be very reliable down low scoring the basketball.
Omer Asik - after getting figuratively punched in the mouth by LMA and the Blazers in the first, Asik came out in the second half and somehow ended up with his 11 rebound average. He was clearly frustrated with both the referees and with the Blazers early on (even picking up a rare technical at one point) but trucked through to put up the kind of line we are familiar with from the big man.
Patrick Beverley - I say this almost every time I get a chance, but I love this guy more than words can describe. His line didn't jump off the screen (7pts, 2rbds, 6asts) as much as his bright yellow kicks did but he is the definition of a player that the box score will never encompass. Although only credited with one steal (a great hustle play at the end of the third on a lazy Blazers in-bound pass) he was clearly the impetus for several changes of possession. He will be a critical piece in any play-off run we have.
Terrence Jones - not doing anything spectacular in his follow-up. In fact, he did not look good at all. Zero points and 2 turnovers in 13 minutes. Plus/minus was not bad, so we wasn't exactly losing the game for us, but he was unimpressive to say the least. He was also taking minutes from T-Rob, who only saw garbage time minutes in the 4th.
Turnovers - the end of game box score may not give you this impression, but the Rockets took care of the ball fairly well through the first three quarters. In fact, with about 9 minutes left in the 4th we only had 8 turnovers. There were the usual no-look passes gone awry, but outside of that we were not letting Portland get out on the break much against us (14 fastbreak points for them). We can certainly be doing better than this, but we are undoubtedly been doing better.
Critical win on a night without one of our ‘big 3' on the road. Portland has a history of delivering heartbreak to Rockets fans. But, tonight we can sleep happy knowing that Harden, Lin, and the rest will get some much needed down-time in preparation for the second leg of our final back-to-back of the seasons as we look to finally scratch the Nuggets off the list of teams we've gotten a W against.
Hats off for a solid victory for the good guys tonight.