The Rockets led by 11 points with 4:30 remaining after Dwight Howard made the first two free throws of the obnoxious Hack-a-Howard routine. Yes, it’s obnoxious, but it’s also effective at times; Sunday night was one of those times. With Patrick Beverley on the pine with five fouls, Damian Lillard immediately led Portland on a 10-0 run, which quickly cut the Rockets’ lead to two.
In the end, LaMarcus Aldridge and Lillard were too much for the streaky Rockets to handle. Portland topped Houston 122-120 in overtime, which gave the Blazers home-court advantage in the series.
Houston’s style of play and youth can be blamed for the loss; these two things that will plague the Rockets all series long, and all postseason long if they are able to advance. The Rockets are all about shooting the long ball, although they don’t do it particularly well, and getting to the basket for layups and dunks.
When Houston has a lead, they constantly try to drain the clock, with James Harden usually holding the ball way outside the 3-point line, which leads to a contested three or a turnover. Jeremy Lin and Harden both committed turnovers after Howard was yanked during the Blazers’ 10-0 run due to his poor foul shooting.
Houston simply doesn’t know how to play with a lead at this point in the team’s development, which was evident in Game 1. Although that may seem overly simplistic, it is something that has plagued the Beard and company all year long. When the Rockets gets a lead, all of a sudden their style of play changes, allowing the other team to get back in the game.
With so many young players in the rotation, the Rockets are going to need to learn on the fly to recover in the series. Howard needs to hit his free throws, something he did very well after missing four straight when Portland went to Hack-a-Howard, Harden needs to come through in the clutch and Beverley needs to stay on the court to defend Lillard in crunch time.
Houston will also need to find an answer to Aldridge, who poured in 46 points on Sunday night. I expect Kevin McHale to play Howard on LA a little more in Game 2, which will be played Wednesday night in Houston. Hopefully the Rockets can learn from their collective mistakes, make a few adjustments and come away with Wednesday night’s contest.
If the Rockets fails to win on Wednesday night, all of a sudden their playoff lives will be in serious jeopardy.