An 86-83 Heartbreaker Puts the Houston Rockets Ahead Two Games to One

Bleacher ReportAnalyst IApril 25, 2009

HOUSTON - APRIL 24:  Guard Brandon Roy #7 of the Portland Trail Blazers dribbles the ball past Shane Battier #31 of the Houston Rockets in Game Three of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2009 NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center on April 24, 2009 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

The Houston Rockets managed to defend their home court in Game Three, and have taken a one-game lead over the Portland Trail Blazers in the best-of-seven first round series.

The heartbreaking loss was sealed when Blazers point guard Steve Blake forced a three-point shot with more than 10 seconds left that missed horribly.

But under no circumstances should anyone blame Steve Blake for losing Portland the game.

This was not solely his fault, but the team's in general.

Nate McMillan elected to play a severely-struggling Travis Outlaw over known defenders Nicholas Batum and Rudy Fernandez in the closing minutes.

Brandon Roy committed rookie mistakes, such as trying to do way to much with the ball in midair when no Rockets players were contesting the shot, and committing stupid fouls that eventually caused him to foul out.

LaMarcus Aldridge did not cut to the hoop on two pick-and-roll plays, and thus passes made to him by Steve Blake were thrown away.

Travis Outlaw was caught watching the game instead of focusing on covering his man, Shane Battier, who was able to make too many backdoor plays.

While in the paint, Joel Przybilla bumped a driving Kyle Lowry out of the court and picked up an unnecessary foul call.

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Let's face it folks. Portland did not play anything close to winning basketball tonight. Yet the fact that they only lost by three points is astounding.

I have stated again and again that in order for the Blazers to assure themselves of a victory, they need to get Yao Ming into foul trouble early, as he has no true center to back him up with Dikembe Mutumbo out with a self-proclaimed career-ending injury.

Instead of seeing players like Brandon Roy or Steve Blake driving to the hoop to make Yao foul them, I saw a Blazers team that looked much like the same Blazers team that got their rear ends handed to them in Game One.

Portland was settling for jump shot attempts, and the worst part was that they weren't falling.

Even when Yao Ming was out of the game, the Blazers looked afraid to take the ball to the hoop.

LaMarcus Aldridge tried to establish himself in the paint throughout the game, but when he would be passed the ball, he would dribble way to long instead of making a move immediately to the basket. This allowed Houston to double-team him, and led to either a turnover, or a forced (and missed) fade-away jumper by Aldridge.

Where is the Blazers team that we have seen all throughout the regular season? Where is the Blazers team that won 54 regular season games? Where is the Blazers team that was Co-Champions of the Northwest Division?

Throughout this series, including Game Two, I have seen a Blazers team that looks like the team last year that barely managed to achieve a .500 record.

Portland needs to win Game Four to assure themselves of home court advantage the rest of the playoffs.

How should Portland go about this?

1): The Blazers need to take the ball straight at Yao Ming their very first possession, and make him foul them. The Blazers cannot keep settling for jump shots, and need to show Houston right out of the gates that they are going to set the tempo of the game, that they are going to be the more aggressive team, that they are not going to be pushed around.

2): LaMarcus Aldridge needs to stop dribbling the ball so much, and make a move as soon as he gets the ball. Right now he is getting into foul trouble because he is backing down Luis Scola, Scola is flopping, and the officials are buying it.

If Aldridge makes a move to the basket as soon as he gets the ball, not only will it protect him, but it will also allow him to play a more crucial factor in the game. This will create opportunities for other players as Houston will be concentrating too much on Aldridge.

3): Nate McMillan needs to stop using the "twin towers" game plan. The team has not practiced this enough, and right now it is hurting the Blazers more than helping them. The only sure-fire ways to take Yao out of the game are to get him into foul trouble, or to run him to death.

4): McMillan also needs to make a tough decision on Travis Outlaw. The longest-tenured Blazer is struggling the most this postseason. As of late, "Mister Fourth Quarter" is causing more harm than good. Right now, drastic times call for drastic measures.

McMillan should do to Outlaw what he has done with Frye and Rodriguez, which is to bench them and only use them if other players are in foul trouble.

5): The Blazers need to play much better defense. Letting Luis Scola waltz to the rim for an easy layup is pathetic. Even if the Rockets are hitting their shots, the Blazers need to make them work for them by contesting each and every shot.

The Blazers have made many mistakes this series, but they learn quickly. The Blazers only lost this game by three points when they only played well one quarter. Every game so far has been a learning experience for the Blazers.

They have nothing to lose now and everything to gain because they are guaranteed another home playoff game.

Right now, I can see a Blazers team that now knows what they must do to win this series, and I seriously doubt that after losing a close game, even though they played so pitiful, that they will make the same mistakes again.

Prediction: The Blazers finally tighten their loose screws and win Game Four in Houston, Game Five in Portland, and clinch the franchise's first second-round playoff appearance since 2000 by winning game Six in Houston. Portland wins series four games to two.

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