Sunday, April 26, 2009

Rockets-Blazers Game Four Is Yet Another Great Game

Three playoff games in one day decided by three points or less: first time that's happened since 1985. There's a reason why I watch so much hoop, folks -- and it's a simple one. It's really, really good this year.

Take this Western Conference series, for one. Despite coming on at unfortunate times for the Eastern seaboard -- and really, even I am tapped from watching the fourth game of the day here -- it's just compelling hoop, with two wildly athletic teams dueling away at each other.

Houston has lockdown defenders at several positions with Shane Battier and Ron Artest; it also has a mostly awful on the ball guy at center with Yao Ming, but he's damned useful at off-side shot blocking, and a great offensive player. Artest is fascinating by his lonesome; never has an NBA guy had bigger show muscles and less interest in rebounding, but when his jumper is falling, he's one of the forty best players in the league, and a better passer than you'd expect from a psychopath. I've discussed Luis Scola on the blog before, and he's, well, useful. (Think the Spurs would rather have him than Drew Gooden right now?)

As for Portland... you'd think that they'd find Houston to be a good matchup, since the way to beat the Blazers is to exploit the fact that they give Steve Blake starter minutes at the point, and Aaron Brooks wasn't on anyone's radar before this series. But for all of Portland's tasty athleticism and intriguing parts, they live and die by jump shots and don't do enough on defense to create easy scoring opportunities. That's why the town and team spend so much time trying to pump Greg Oden up; he's the only way they go from a 45 to 50 win team to something actually dangerous. But he's not -- what he is, unfortunately, is the second coming of Cookie Monster Stanley Roberts, at least in terms of being an Incredible Fouling Machine -- and they ain't, and I'm kicking myself for not seeing it before the playoffs started.

Tonight, both teams played great, and Portland was up four with ten minutes to play, mostly on the strength of making all of their free throws, while Houston had bricked a few. The first half was rhythm offense, while the second half was grinding half-court offense, and the road team got their lead on second chance points and a surprisingly quiet Houston crowd. It basically came down to which team had the best player -- Houston with Ming, and Portland with the criminally underrated Brandon Roy. But while Ming makes his teammates better (especially Luis Scola), mostly by commanding a constant double-team and getting them easy hoops in the half-court game, Roy does not; he's got that classic hot and cold guard game that gets him to the line and makes him look unstoppable when he's on, and like he's not getting enough help when he doesn't.

The last five minutes of this one was another great finish. Roy made huge shots; the Rockets answered with second-chance opportunities leading to Battier threes. I kept waiting for Bad Artest to show up and screw the pooch, but it didn't happen. Carl Landry made a huge jump shot and got yet another offensive board. In the final minute, it was LaMarcus Aldridge passing up the shot, Blake missing a jumper, and Joel Pryzbilla rockheading a ball into the backcourt, causing a crucial turnover. A Testy miss off a killshot corner three was pulled down by Roy. The Blazers gave it to Roy, who got blocked by Battier while committing a charge against Chuck Hayes, on the floor because Rockets' coach Rick Adelman is smart enough to switch Ming out for defense late. Brooks hit one of two, giving the Blazers another chance, but Travis Outlaw missed from forever. After another 1 for 2 free throw trip, Rudy Fernandez prolonged the suspense with a long three with 2.3 seconds left. Kyle Lowry then added even more suspense by missing the first free throw, then also the second, and Roy's full court heave was after the buzzer and short. Rockets 3, Blazers 1, and that's your first Game Four win in a playoff series for Houston since, well, forever.

I don't see the Rockets winning this in five games; Portland does have heart, and Yao was on the floor forever tonight. But I do see them closing this one out in Game Six, probably in another great game in a post-season that's been just filled with them. Just put on any game, you'll get a good one. (Oh, and ha ha, Paul Allen. I haven't forgotten our little start-up, you turd.)

1 comment:

John said...

Today the Rockets took another significant step towards realiziing their biggest dream; ending that playoffs jinx. I can truly understand just most Rockets fans might be feeling right now.

Yao was again the fundamental principle in tonights win over the Blazers. Just as when the young Blazers surround him, they left the likes Scola, Battier open to make easy jump shots.

For me Scola, has been the key to this series. He always picks up the slack when other are having a trouble nights. I'm just amazed but his athletism, hustling, and professionalism. I'm sure most Rockets will agree with me on this.

So what was your overall reaction about this game? Can expect the Rockets to pull it off in Game 5 or do we have a Game 6?

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