James Harden was measured and lethal and Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza and Clint Capela played like All-Stars around him as the Rockets went into Portland and took down the Blazers 130-114.
Harden finished with 38 points on 50 percent shooting to go along with 10 assists. Eric Gordon shot 6-9 from three-point range and dropped 26 off the bench, much of which came in the third and fourth quarters while Harden was sitting. When these two go off, the Rockets will win damn near every time.
Clint Capela scored a career-high 21 points with 9 rebounds, 2 blocks and no turnovers as he imposed his will on Mason Plumlee and Ed Davis. Down the stretch, Capela’s rim protection turned the tide decisively in the Rockets’ favor as the Blazers couldn’t respond to Harden’s pick-and-roll assault. This was the punctuation at the end of the fourth-quarter crescendo for this pair. Make sure the sound is on:
The Rockets shot 53.3 percent from the field in the first half and 33 percent from deep. Harden had 21 points and 5 assists and Gordon had 11 at the break. They played the Blazers pretty even before the crew pulled away late.
Most importantly, Harden checked out of the game with time left in the first quarter — a rarity this season — and the Rockets down a few points. The bench unit of Eric Gordon, Sam Dekker, Corey Brewer and Nene, plus Patrick Beverley, outplayed the Blazers’ bench and took the lead. Harden and the starters merely carried the same lead into halftime.
In the second half, Harden exploded even more, but the real difference was Gordon and the play of the bench. Other than everything that’s happening with Harden, Gordon and the bench are the most encouraging development: with Bev and EG as the backcourt whenever Harden sits, the Rockets have competent playmakers to work with Brewer, Dekker and Nene. It works.
The Rockets are now 11-6. They’ve won five of six games since Beverley came back, and they’re tied with Memphis for the fourth spot in the West. They’ve blown out the Blazers twice in two tries now, beaten the Spurs and beaten the Jazz.
They haven’t yet played the Clippers or Warriors, but they’ve played 11 of their 17 games on the road, and still played their next three away from home. Even if they lose those three games against the Jazz, Warriors, and Nuggets, they’d be 11-9 and have a very home-heavy schedule the rest of the way.
More thoughts from tonight:
- Beverley guarded C.J. McCollum most of the game, and McCollum went off for 28 points on 19 shots. The Rockets switch a lot, but Beverley didn’t have his best game. That being said, he did absolutely stuff McCollum on a block, and McCollum hurled the ball at the ref in frustration. Technical. It was classic Bev.
- It was a career-high in scoring for Capela, but 21 points will not be his career high for long. He is EATING of late, and he and Harden’s chemistry on the pick and roll, even more impressive because of the Beard’s funky rhythms, is perfect.
- Nene offers a lot on offense and has big mitts that make his rebounds look fun, but he is a disaster on pick-and-roll D. There was a lot of Twitter hate for him when he subbed in, but bench big men are never perfect. He does more good things than bad.
- The Rockets closed this game with Harden, Bev, Gordon, Ariza and Capela. The Blazers countered with Maurice Harkless, Allen Crabbe and Mason Plumlee along with their two guards. With Capela at the 5 and Ariza’s defense next to him instead of Anderson’s, the Rockets are a really dangerous small-ball team. It’s fun.