The red and yellow boys really gritted through a difficult game while playing significantly shorthanded with only nine players available, including Briante Weber who did not take the court for basketball purposes.
When the first quarter finished 25-19 Rockets it seemed unlikely either team would reach 100 points. The game’s pace improved as both sides leaned in to their shared defensive stereotype of barely playing it.
This personnel drought was made worse when Tarik Black took a jab to his right eye and was forced to leave the game in the third period. The hit from Ed Davis was ruled a flagrant one and Black was forced to leave the game to undergo concussion protocol, he did not return. The once-and-current Rocket had 13 points on 6-8 shooting in 15 minutes (he also had four fouls).
Chris Paul played the role of hero in the fourth quarter. The Rockets led all game, but allowed the Trail Blazers to claw the lead down to three points with just over three minutes remaining. Paul answered with a flurry of timely assists, a dagger three pointer and a circus layup in traffic which iced the game with just over a minute remaining.
Eric Gordon kept the Rockets afloat through the difficult stretches of the game. The guard dropped 30 points by knifing to the hole with annoying frequency and daring Portland to stop him or foul him.
Ryan Anderson looked good in comparison to recent performances but still underwhelmed with just 8 points on a night where Houston would have signed a clone of Gerald Green’s with half the talent to play 15 minutes.
Anderson’s latest quiet performance was overwhelmed by the deafening silence of Trevor Ariza’s zero points in 39 minutes. A heavy workload last year eroded Ariza’s play and relevance as the season wore on. Tonight was a dangerous omen of how 40-minute-a-night workloads in the middle of the year can do the same.
Damien Lillard returned after missing two weeks and finessed his way to 29 points with many Beard-esque drives which sent him to the line a game-high 12 times, he converted 10.
Evan Turner and C.J. McCollum scored 18 and 24 respectively. A worthwhile performance from any other Blazer likely would have swung this game, but the Portland supporting cast didn’t look up to the job.
This was the type of win Houston needs to grit out several more times as the season goes on to maintain the pace they’ve set before the All-Star break. A quality team came into Toyota Center and a battered and short staffed Houston team was able to beat them back.
Up next for the Rockets is a trip to the desert to play the Phoenix Suns on Friday.