As coach Terry Stotts noted Friday night as he met with the media following the Trail Blazers 119-117 overtime victory over Houston at the Rose Garden, they make it interesting.
They never make it easy, though.
But with first Nicolas Batum, then Damian Lillard leading the way, the Blazers got it done while beating the Rockets in overtime for the second time in two weeks.
One thing that has been evident with our team so far this year is that we compete to the end, Stotts said. For a long stretch of the game, it wasnt the way we wanted it. But when it mattered, we played pretty well.
Batum matched his career high with 35 points on torrid 13-for-19 shooting, including 5 of 8 from 3-point range. Portlands small forward got in a zone in a third quarter in which he bombed in 14 points on 5-for-6 gunnery.
I make one shot, two shots, three shots, and I start to feel it a little bit, Batum said Batum. So I just keep shooting.
Then it was Lillards time to shine. The rookie point guard, who finished with a season-high 27 points, scored 11 in the fourth quarter, then another five in overtime as the Blazers (4-5) got by the Rockets (4-5) barely, again.
Neither team seems destined for the playoff picture this season, which made the victory sweeter for the Blazers and made the loss sting a little more for the Rockets.
Were probably going to be in the same range (in the standings) with them toward the end of the season, said Lillard, who was 9 for 18 from the field but 6 for 10 after intermission. And theyre in the Western Conference like us, so its important that we win these games.
Houston led through most of the first three quarters. The Rockets were in front by 16 (56-40) late in the first half and were on top 72-57 midway through the third quarter when Batum spearheaded the Blazer charge.
Batum just had a phenomenal third quarter, said James Harden, who led Houston with 29 points. He was making tough shots with a hand in his face.
Portland closed the quarter on a 14-2 run to get within 79-78 entering the fourth period. It was back and forth from there, with Lillard catching fire late, scoring 11 points in the final 6:09 of the quarter.
The Blazers had the last shot in regulation, but Lillards long 3-point attempt at the buzzer was off.
Harden converted a three-point play to give Houston a 114-111 jump in overtime, but Lillard bombed in a three to tie the count with 3:22 left.
Omer Asiks two free throws put the Rockets in front at 116-114 before Lillard working the switch off the pick-and-roll again popped in a long 2-pointer over 6-9 forward Chandler Parsons to tie it at 116-116 with 2:55 to go.
LaMarcus Aldridge who equalled his season high with 29 points made 1 of 2 foul shots to give Portland a 117-116 lead with 1:21 remaining. Then the all-star power forward sank a turnaround 10-footer to make it 119-116 with 37 ticks left.
Neither team scored again until the final seconds, when Harden wound up with the ball after a scramble near midcourt. Then Portlands Wesley Matthews made the smart play of the season, intentionally fouling Harden with 1.4 seconds left, preventing the No. 2 scorer in the NBA from attempting a game-tying 3-pointer.
Harden made the first free throw, then intentionally missed the second. The rebound was tapped away from the basket, though, and the game was Portlands.
Its good for us, winning tonight, said Aldridge, who was 11 for 19 from the field and 7 for 9 from the line while grabbing six rebounds. Were a young team, were trying to learn how to close out games ... this was big for us.
Batum said his performance reminded him of the way he regularly played for the French national team the past two years. Besides his scoring barrage, the 6-9 forward had six rebounds, a career-high five blocked shots including sensational swats from behind against Harden late in the game and of Asik in overtime and four assists in 47 minutes.
Thats my game, he said, peering at the stat sheet. I dont only score, I play defense. The thing is, sometimes I have bad shooting nights but I do something else rebounds, assists. I contribute in many ways. Thats what I try to do every night.
If I could just avoid this one (seven turnovers), I do everything good tonight.
Nic was great, Lillard said. Its not the first time Ive seen him get hot like that. Ive seen it in practice and Ive seen it games, also.
Tonight it lasted a long time. Usually when people get hot, its in a short spurt, but he was hot for a few quarters. We really needed him.
Said Stotts: The shots werent easy, but Nic made them look easy.
Lillard had a quiet first half, but things changed midway through the fourth quarter.
I was getting open looks at the end of the game, he said. Nic got hot and he carried us, and L.A. was hot also. He made a lot of shots. The defense ended up having to suck in on them. I started to get looks and I just got going.
Damian had ice in his veins, Aldridge said. He made big shots. When he made that first one tough one (in the fourth quarter), it got him going.
NOTES: Portlands next action is Sunday night against Chicago at the Rose Garden. ... The Blazers took an extra session to win 95-85 at Houston on Nov. 3 ... Three Blazers scored at least 27 points in a game for the first time since Nov. 14, 1997, when Isaiah Rider had 35, Brian Grant 34 and Arvydas Sabonis 31. ... Portland shot a season-high .512 from the field Friday night. ... Houston coach Kevin McHale missed his fifth game as he dealt with a family matter. Assistant coach Kelvin Sampson has taken over on an interim basis until McHales return. ... The Blazers were outscored 50-32 in points in the paint. ... Houston finished with a 24-11 advantage in fast-break points, but the Rockets had a 17-1 edge in the first half. The differential was 24-1 four minutes into the second half. From that point on for the final 25 minutes of the game the Blazers outscored the visitors 8-0 in that category. ... Houstons bench outscored its Portland counterparts 27-10. Rookie center Meyers Leonard came off the bench for eight points and eight rebounds in 27 minutes for the Blazers. ... Asik fouled out with 16 points and 16 rebounds. Parsons had 19 points and 11 rebounds and Jeremy Lin 11 points, 11 assists and six rebounds for Houston. ... Stotts, asked by a reporter what is driving Portlands typical big third quarter so far this season: Probably our poor first halves.