The Portland Trail Blazers played another close road game tonight, facing the athletic Houston Rockets for the second night in a row. Their defense was not impressive. Her rebound turned on and off like a faucet. But a barrage of threes and 33 points from Anfernee Simons kept the game close despite Portland's weaknesses.
Against the Oklahoma City Thunder the evening before, Portland lost by two points in regular time. Tonight they found themselves in a similar situation, trailing by three with 1.6 seconds left. Jerami Grant hit an unlikely leaner that went into overtime and gave his team a chance to flip the script.
Strong play from Malcolm Brogdon and Deandre Ayton in overtime helped the Blazers make up for Grant's miraculous conversion. They earned a 137-131 overtime victory.
Ayton scored 18 points with 17 rebounds, Brogdon added 19. Alperen Sengun led the Rockets with 30.
This is how the action went.
The game started exactly as advertised: a battle between two of the NBA's worst offenses. Shots that came from more than zero feet looked dangerous and knocked the paint off the rim. The Rockets got off the ramp by sticking to the zero-foot radius while their perimeter players hit free cutters and made clear dunks in the halfcourt…a bad sign for Portland. The Blazers responded by going to the lane themselves and making short shots and free throws. Anfernee Simons added a couple baseline jumpers. That was just enough to keep up with the Dunking Rockets. Houston led 14-10 with 6:51 left in the first timeout.
The Rockets came out of that timeout with…another dunk. Phew. But Scoot Henderson hit a three-pointer and Jerami Grant hit a jumper to make up for the moment. Then the teams returned to their zero-foot or brick game, this time with close scoring from the Blazers. A few free throws and the occasional jump shot dotted the period like gold flakes on one of those rich people's overpriced hamburgers, but essentially it was a dunk-and-layup fest throughout. At least the shots went down, as the shooting percentages – once suspicious – rose to over 50 for both teams. Houston led 31-30 after one.
Portland brought a zone defense into play at the end of the first and beginning of the second. Houston made three 3-pointers to start the period and took a 9-point lead, which led to head coach Chauncey Billups calling a preemptive timeout with 9:17 left and his team trailing 41-32.
The Blazers had a hard time catching up, largely because they missed every field goal attempt in the first five minutes of the quarter. Free throws helped keep the scoreboard ticking, but Houston definitely asserted its intent to keep the lead, taking six shots to Portland's zero.
Deandre Ayton finally managed to take the lid off the bucket with a turn-around jumper in the lane, but the clock read 6:30 and the Rockets hit another shot 9 seconds later, so the effect was muted. In an instant replay, Anfernee Simons hit a long three-pointer, followed by an even longer one from Jalen Green.
This is how time passed. Whenever the Blazers did something well, Houston did it too. Whenever the Blazers did something poorly, Houston still did well enough. The Rockets played pretty stable. Portland went up and down like a yo-yo.
Ayton and Simons staged a mini-rally in the final three minutes of the quarter, scoring inside to counter a seemingly endless parade of points from Alperen Sengun. Those late shots made the lead respectable, cutting Houston's lead from 13 to 6. The Rockets led 63-57 at halftime. Jalen Green had 19. The Blazers had 15 free throw attempts…the most notable thing about their offense to that point.
Anfernee Simons came out of the goal ready to fire up Portland's previously dormant offense. Five points from Simons and four from Jerami Grant brought the Blazers back to within a single point with 2:00 remaining.
However, Portland's defense couldn't keep up. Alperen Sengun hit a three-pointer and dunked to fend off the Trail Blazers' run.
Undeniable: Simons and Matisse Thybulle scored threes again. Then Brogdon struck from deep. Suddenly the Blazers had a slim lead of 77-76 heading into the first timeout of the period with 6:34 left. If you hit 6 out of 7 shots and 4 out of 5 threes, that will do it for you.
Thybulle and Simons struck after the shot from distance. The stark, extended rush of threes should have given the Blazers a double-digit lead. But their defense did nothing of note.
Another three-pointer from Simons at the 4:51 mark put his team ahead by just two points, 83-81. Yes, the Blazers had the lead, but they needed a biblical barrage of threes to get it. No matter how many times they shot back and forth, they couldn't reach escape velocity. The Rockets scored half a dozen three-pointers themselves, as well as dunks and layups and a few straight jumpers. Portland didn't force them to do anything.
Simons made six field goals in the third period for 16 points in the frame. The Blazers made eight three-pointers. All in all, Portland secured a 98-96 lead heading into game day four.
After the flurry of long-range shots in the previous period, Portland made its fourth attempt to get the ball into the goal. Duop Reath had a dunk, Scoot Henderson had a layup in the half court, Matisse Thybulle had a few layups of his own after steals and run-outs. The final play gave Portland a 106-103 lead with 9:23 left. Gaming historians will notice a repeating pattern. That's four incredibly simple throws implemented to maintain a lead of just 3 points that wasn't going to last anyway. That tells you something about Portland's defensive strength tonight.
The Blazers found a defensive spark in Thybulle, lurking in zone defense to fend off steals. At least that worked. Portland's ability to stay in the game until the going gets tough depends on this.
Unfortunately, the Blazers gave up the ball midway through the period as their offense slowed down. Steals and conversions for Houston made the score 114-110, with the Rockets at 4:57 at the last timeout of regulation.
Close balls from Anfernee Simons and Deandre Ayton after some nice offensive rebounds tied the game at 114 in the next minute. To their credit, the Blazers weren't going away
As was typical throughout the game, the Blazers took one step forward and two steps back. Ayton scored inside, but Portland allowed two shots in quick succession. That put them down by 2 instead of up by 2. They then turned the ball over for a dunk by Alperen Sengun, putting them in a 120-116 hole with 1:20 left.
Malcolm Brogdon scored on Portland's next possession, but Sengun capped a fantastic night by putting Ayton in the washing machine and putting Houston ahead by four again.
Here the deficit came on Portland's second-to-last possession of the game. The Rockets triple-teamed Simons at the top of the three-point arc, which led to a broken pass to Jerami Grant, who then found Brogdon in the corner for a three-pointer. The Blazers trailed 122-121 with 3 seconds left.
Portland intentionally fouled the inbound pass, but it was their first in the final two minutes and they failed to get to the penalty spot, requiring a second foul. Aaron Holiday hit two free throws to give the Rockets a 124-121 lead with 1.6 seconds left. The Blazers had a timeout and had one shot attempt left.
Jerami Grant got free on the pass and ran away from the basket. He rose for a three-pointer that hit the backboard and went into the dugout, sending the game into overtime.
Malcolm Brogdon scored the first five points of overtime, a three-pointer and a leadoff run. That and a few frantic plays from Deandre Ayton gave Portland a three-point lead with 2:30 left. One possession later, Simons, again alone in coverage after a crowded fourth quarter, raced to the rim to convert the ball. Portland led 133-126 with 2:14 left. Finally, it looked like they might win.
Ayton, who played left and right for Portland in overtime, fouled Alperen Sengun on the next possession. However, Houston's star of the game only managed 1 of 2. It was a two-possession game, but both had to go for three for Houston.
The Rockets had two good looks from outside the arc on their next possession with 1:30 left, but they missed both. After a missed shot by Simons, Fred VanVleet raced to the other end for a layup. Houston trailed by 4 with less than a minute left.
A Brogdon miss should have opened the door for Houston, but he rebounded his own miss. He would miss another shot, but Ayton – his compatriot in extra time – rebounded and brought the ball back. That brought the Blazers within 6 points with 10.9 seconds left without a timeout for Houston. It was enough to decide the game.
Stay tuned for more analysis of the game. soon.
The Blazers wrap up their mini-road trip Friday night, taking on the San Antonio Spurs in the Pacific at 6:30 p.m.