Apparently tonight’s Houston-Portland tilt, nationally televised on TNT, is a big deal. John Hollinger and Ric Bucher of ESPN are here, as is Sports Illustrated’s Chris Ballard. And they let me in too for another live blog. This was supposed to be Greg Oden’s debut against Yao Ming, but like many early-season Blazers matchups has lost a little of its luster with Oden sidelined. That doesn’t make it any less important, especially for a Portland team that wants to avoid a 1-4 start to the season and is playing the second game of a back-to-back.
Portland 21, Houston 18 (end first quarter): Not a lot of flow in this first quarter, but the end result is solid for the Blazers despite an Aaron Brooks three to beat the buzzer. Rick Adelman talked before the game about how the Rockets’ offense has been stagnant in the early going, and we’ve seen that. Luis Scola has eight points, but Yao Ming has been held in check and Tracy McGrady has been very quiet (a football analyst might point out they haven’t said his name a lot).
The Blazers are honoring the late Kevin Duckworth tonight, with a feature at each timeout thus far including Jerome Kersey speaking eloquently to his teammate and friend. While Duckworth was an easy target for criticism at times, he gave Portland good minutes at the middle during the team’s run in the early ’90s.
Portland 52, Houston 51 (halftime): Taut, entertaining first half. I hope you’re staying up to watch this on TNT. The Blazers’ starting lineup has struggled thus far this season, with the second unit picking up the slack. It hasn’t been that extreme tonight in terms of plus-minus, but reserves Travis Outlaw, Rudy Fernandez and Channing Frye have combined for 24 of Portland’s 52 points.
McGrady, upset by my comment earlier, came alive in the second quarter and displayed vintage athleticism on acrobatic forays to the hoop with difficult finishes. He’s got six points and four assists and Brooks, who played his college ball down the road at I-5, has 10.
Portland 74, Houston 71 (end third): Perhaps at some point, some team will open a double-figure lead in a game at the Rose Garden this season. Failing that, we’ll happily accept back-and-forth action. This has turned into the Tracy McGrady and LaMarcus Aldridge show, McGrady scoring 13 of his 19 points in the third period and Aldridge putting up eight of his 22. Aldridge has really gotten very good at creating good shots, using 26.3 percent of Portland’s possessions in the early going. He hasn’t been hitting them at a great rate, but the gambler’s fallacy is working for him tonight, as he’s 11-of-14 from the field.
With Yao Ming as invisible as a 7-6 guy can possibly be, the Rockets have run their offense through McGrady with strong results. The narrow difference in this game right now probably can be traced to the Blazers’ bench. Travis Outlaw has been very good in a reserve role and is a rebound away from a double-double.
Portland 90, Houston 90 (0:33.8, fourth): Well, the Blazers did briefly take a 10-point lead, but we’ve got another barnburner tonight. Houston has the ball and a chance to take the lead for the first time in the fourth quarter. The Rockets are finishing with Chuck Hayes at power forward for defensive purposes and Aaron Brooks at the point. Portland has Rudy Fernandez and Brandon Roy together in the backcourt, Roy playing the point, with Travis Outlaw and the starters up front. Roy has really not been on his game tonight, shooting 4-of-16 with four turnovers. No one else has stepped up as the go-to guy.
Portland 90, Houston 90 (end regulation): Ron Artest taketh away, Ron Artest giveth. A disastrous possession on offense for the Rockets saw only Artest touch the ball before taking a contested three. However, Artest stripped Brandon Roy going up at the buzzer, and thus overtime. While this is going to make it a late night on I-5 for me, I’m looking forward to five more minutes of intensity from this crowd.
Portland 101, Houston 99 (final, OT): Unable to buy a basket for 52 minutes and 58 seconds, Brandon Roy picked the right time to come alive. Roy hit two of the most improbable shots you’ll see in the final two seconds as the Blazers twice won this game (sort of). First, Roy hit on the secondary break to untie the game at put the Blazers up with 1.9 seconds remaining. Then Yao Ming topped him with a turnaround from the post plus the foul to give Houston a one-point lead with eight-tenths of a second on the clock. After a timeout, the Blazers inbounded to Roy, who immediately turned and fired from about 30 feet out on the left wing and saw his prayer splash through the net just after the buzzer, handing the hosts a 101-99 victory amid delirium in the Rose Garden stands. From an analytical perspective, hitting that shot tells us nothing about the Blazers. However, this was a team that needed this win to feel good about themselves minus Greg Oden. 2-3 feels a lot different than 1-4 this time of year.
“Hey Kevin, welcome to Portland,” says Ben Golliver of Blazer’s Edge. Really, is every game going to be like this?