James Harden missed his second game in a row with a grade-1 plus hamstring strain, leaving Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, and Clint Capela to shoulder the burden for the Rockets. The defense has been a major issue with this team, leaving the Rockets “going back to the drawing board,” according to Chris Paul.
Tonight, they found themselves in Toyota Center against Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and the 4-2 Portland Trailblazers. It was the last game at the Toyota Center before a five-game road trip. The Rockets entered as a team with something to prove, coming off of a three-game losing streak. Portland was on the back-end of their back-to-back and was playing their fourth game in six days, while Houston was coming from three days’ off since their last match.
The first quarter started very sluggishly on offense, with the Rockets shooting just 5 of 27 for 19% via NBA.com and also an abysmal 1 of 10 behind the arc. Nobody could get in a rhythm, whether it was a blown layup or a brick on the wide-open 3. However, the defense came to play after having three days off; the team came together and held the Blazers to 19 points, shooting less than 38 percent.
In the second quarter, the Rockets came out more aggressively, sprinting out on a 10-2 run to tie the game at 28. Melo woke up late in the quarter with a crossover, leading to a dunk. Immediately after, he grabbed a steal and made an outlet to Eric Gordon for a three. The excitement was short-lived because when the Rockets stopped capitalizing on defensive efforts, the Blazers went on a 23 - 8 run to finish the half.
The second half produced many of the same problems: while the Rockets were struggling to score, Portland was starting to pull away. Eric Gordon received his fifth foul in the 3rd quarter, while Lillard and Nurcic had over 20 points each entering the fourth. The Rockets would add some spark in the fourth with role players like Gary Clark, getting 11 points and kicking off a 13-2 run to get the Rockets as close as 95-79 with 4 minutes left in the 4th quarter.
Capela added to his double-double, and he finished with 14 points and 14 rebounds defensively, adding three blocks. However, the Blazers would not break as they closed out any hope for a comeback, going on a 9 –6 run to end the game. The Houston Rockets dropped their fourth game in a row: their third at home. While the defense stepped up enough to put them in a position to win, the offense couldn’t take advantage, shooting 32 percent from the field and 23 percent from three. All stats via NBA.com.