Here are my thoughts on last night’s NBA on TNT doubleheader!
Hello and welcome to another edition of Thursday Night Thoughts (TNT) on Friday! In this space I will give my takes on both games of the NBA’s premiere weekly broadcast. If you have any of your own thoughts on last night’s slate, feel free to add them in the comments section!
Houston Rockets 104, Portland Trail Blazers 101
The first game of the doubleheader saw an injury-ravaged Portland Trail Blazers squad head to Houston to take on a Rockets team that is in the beginning stages of a new era.
Things didn’t start out pretty for the home side, as the Blazers jumped out to a 30-10 lead nine minutes into the game. Portland shot 60 percent from the field during that span, while the Rockets were lethargic on offense, mostly settling for jump shots.
However, Houston kicked things into gear from that point, fielding a 30-point turnaround that saw them ahead 61-51 with 9:17 left in the third quarter. Houston flipped the switch by simply deciding to attack the paint and push the pace against their undermanned opponents. It just so happens that the Blazers are 29th in the league in opponent fastbreak points, and – according to Synergy – 25th in opponent transition points per possession.
The tempo stabilized in the second half. Both teams were hot from three-point range in the third quarter; Portland with 5-of-8 from beyond while Houston was 7-for-14. Then in the fourth, Houston’s offense stagnated again, but Portland couldn’t capitalize on the opportunities. Ultimately, the Rockets made just enough shots down the stretch to hang on for the victory.
Houston got great production out of their new Big 3: Victor Oladipo (25 points, seven rebounds, five assists), Christian Wood (22 points, 12 rebounds), and John Wall (20 points, six assists, five rebounds). However, the rest of the team went a collective 13-of-39 (33.3 percent) from the field.
I think this team has the firepower to be more dominant in games, but they fall into offensive lulls for sizable stretches. It’s that inconsistency that lead them to “only” score 107 points in their win over the Washington Wizards, a notoriously bad defensive team. The inconsistency reared its head again tonight. For that reason, they narrowly prevailed over a Portland team that has most of its rotation out due to injury and lost another starter mid-game.
That said, I’ll chalk it up to chemistry problems. There’s a lot of new faces on this team that are still figuring each other out, and even through those struggles they mostly play well together. We’ll see if they can iron out their issues as the season progresses. On this night, though, they overcame those problems to earn their fourth consecutive victory.
On the other side, Damian Lillard paced Portland with 30 points and nine assists. Gary Trent Jr. – filling in for CJ McCollum at the starting shooting guard spot – backed him up with 23 points, including seven three-point baskets. Anfernee Simons had 14 points (with four three-pointers) off the bench, Enes Kanter had a 13-point, 13-rebound double-double, and Derrick Jones Jr. hobbled his way to 11 points, seven boards, and three blocks.
Despite these efforts, Portland simply looked like a team that is missing a lot of its key players. Dame and Trent certainly had big games, but there just wasn’t enough firepower behind them. The depth they possessed entering the season is really being stretched right now.
It’s good that they’re still competitive in these games. However, this Blazers team is really feeling the absences of McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic, Robert Covington, and Zach Collins. Unfortunately, the road won’t be getting any easier as the season marches on.
Phoenix Suns 114, Golden State Warriors 93
The nightcap of the doubleheader saw two Pacific Division foes face off in the Valley of the Sun. Both the Warriors and Suns played on Wednesday, so it would be a matter of whose minds were sharper and whose legs were fresher after a less than 24-hour layover between games. It ended up being the homestanding Phoenix Suns.
I’m not going to lie, this game was pretty ugly. Phoenix essentially cruised to this victory. They shot decently in the first quarter (56.0 percent from the field), went cold in the second (31.8 percent), then bounced back and shot well in the third (56.2 percent) and fourth (44.0 percent). Meanwhile, Golden State struggled to score for the entire game. They finished with a quarterly field goal percentage split of .385/.364/.417/.370.
The Suns trailed in this game for only a minute and 25 seconds early in the second quarter, and they were only down by one point in that stretch. It was 58-57 Suns with 8:14 left in the third, and then they went on a 56-29 run to erase all hope of a Warriors comeback.
Phoenix had a balanced scoring effort, with seven players in double-figures. Mikal Bridges led the way with 20 points, five assists, two steals, and a block. Jae Crowder (nine rebounds) and Abdel Nader (off the bench; five rebounds) had 16 points each. Chris Paul (four assists, two steals) and Cameron Johnson (five rebounds) had 13 apiece. Deandre Ayton (13 rebounds, four assists) and Frank Kaminsky (off the bench; 13 rebounds, eight assists) both had 12.
Phoenix really needed this win after a stinging loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night. This victory snaps a three-game losing skid. I could tell in the OKC game that they had the ability to win games, even with Devin Booker out due to a hamstring injury.
However, the Suns weren’t bringing the effort for the full 48 minutes. They seemed less inclined to lock in on the defensive end when their shots weren’t falling. Phoenix almost fell into that trap again tonight in the second quarter. Fortunately, they caught themselves this time and stayed vigilant enough in the second half to secure the win.
Golden State, after snagging two home wins over a Minnesota Timberwolves team that didn’t have Karl-Anthony Towns nor D’Angelo Russell available, had the difficulty raised with a road tilt against a playoff-caliber team as their second game of a back-to-back.
Stephen Curry paced his squad with 27 points, including five three-pointers and four assists. Andrew Wiggins chipped in 16 points and five rebounds. Eric Paschall had 12 points off the bench. That was it. This triumvirate combined for 55 points on 22-of-41 (53.7 percent) shooting. The rest of the Warriors scored 38 points on 16-of-58 shooting. 27.6 percent.
Such is the life of the 2021 Golden State Warriors, who now sit at 10-9. This loss kept them from having their first three-game winning streak of the season. However, they also haven’t had a three-game losing streak yet, either. It’s ebbs and flows. This is a young, athletic team with potential. They still have a lot to figure out.
This isn’t the same band of high-IQ veteran role players that helped Stephen, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green win three titles. At the same time, this is still the same Steve Kerr-helmed system that earned those championships. This roster is still adjusting. In the process, though, there will likely be plenty more ugly losses like this. Brace yourselves, Warriors fans.