After winning the first two games of the rest, the Houston Rockets fall 110-102 to the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday.
Terry Scotts said the best way to defend James Harden is to neutralize him and force his teammates to beat you. Scotts’ defensive theory worked in two out of the first three games against the Houston Rockets. And Tuesday night, it worked again.
After winning their first two contests of the NBA’s seeding games, the Houston Rockets suffered a 110-102 defeat to the Portland Trail Blazers inside the Arena in Orlando.
Harden still led the Rockets in scoring with 23 points, but his performance was from far from the norm. He only attempted 17 shots from the field in 38 minutes.
The Trail Blazers double-team Harden from the opening tip, which prevented him from finding his offensive rhythm. On the other hand, foul trouble also made it a tough night for Harden. He ended the game with five personal fouls, all coming before the start of the fourth quarter.
“I couldn’t be as aggressive as I wanted to being in foul trouble,” Harden said after the loss. “But we had a lot of open shots that if we make those, it’s a different ballgame.”
Early in the fourth, the Rockets’ reserves nearly ignited a comeback with Harden and Russell Westbrook on the bench. Houston went on an 8-2 run to tied the game at 88 apiece, led by Jeff Green — who ended the night with 21 points.
“It was big for us knowing that James was in foul trouble,” Green said. “I think that it gave us confidence for coach to keep us in for a minute longer and for us to hold it down until out big guys came back. Whenever the chance is given, we have to make sure we maintain that success we had during that stretch.”
It took a step-back 3 by Damian Lillard for Portland to reclaim their lead midway through the fourth quarter. Lillard’s 3-point basket was just three of his 17 second-half points. He ended the night with 21 points shooting 6-for-19 from the field.
Houston shot 35.8% from behind the arc, but their most significant mishap happened at the foul line. They shot 62.5% from the charity stripe with Russell Westbrook missing seven out of a possible 12 attempts. The nine-time all-star finished the game with 15 points, marking the first time since December 5 he scored less than 20 points.
“Our biggest problem with the whole game is first of all we didn’t come out with a lot of energy,” Mike D’Antoni said. “Our defense was pretty slow to start.”
A late-game dunk by Westbrook tied the game at 100 with 4:06 left in the game. Gary Trent Jr., who had 16 in the win, hit another huge three to give Portland a 103-100 lead.
Following Lillard’s two foul shots to give the Blazers a two-point lead, Carmelo Anthony knocked down the dagger 3 to push Portland ahead by five. The former Rocket finished the game with 15 points, 11 rebounds and a block on P.J. Tucker to seal the deal for the Blazers.
“Tonight we all stepped up to the challenge,” Anthony said. “We made plays when we needed to make plays, and stops when we needed to make stops.”
Up next, the Rockets will return to action on Thursday, against the Western Conference best 51-15 Los Angeles Lakers. Tip-off is slated for 8:00 p.m. CT.
(Photo Credit: Kevin c. Cox/Getty Images.)