The Rockets didn't win pretty.
But they won just the same.
Luis Scola put up 19 points and 9 boards while Shane Battier was probably the MVP of the night, playing huge on both ends, as the Rockets held on in the final minute to beat the Blazers 86-83.
The Rocks take a 2-1 series edge going into Game 4 on Sunday.
The most important thing to take away from this game was that the Rockets got back to their bread and butter, and that's defense. Houston held Portland to 42.1% shooting and has locked them down them pretty good now in 2 of the 3 games in this series.
Specifically what changed from Games 2 to 3 was the defense of Battier and Ron Artest on Roy. The Blazers shooting guard was held to just 6-18 shooting from the floor -- a far cry from his blistering 42-point performance on Tuesday. Battier picked up 4 blocks and a pair of steals along the way.
And it wasn't just defense where Battier shined.
For the first time in the series he showed up on the offensive end, scoring 16 points on 6-10 shooting. No shot in the entire game was bigger than his 26-foot bomb from the top of the key with 4+ minutes left in the game. Portland had cut the once-mighty 17-point third quarter Rockets lead down to 4 at that point, and Battier gave the Rockets a little breathing room and ignited the crowd in the process.
Portland's focus on defense was to contain Yao Ming, and they did that exceptionally well. Yao had 7 points -- all in the first quarter -- and was 0-3 the rest of the way. He was a strong defensive presence in the middle (13 boards and 3 blocks), but this has to be a big concern for the Rockets right now.
Rockets coach Rick Adelman completely disagrees.
"No, I don't think it matters who takes shots," said Adelman. "Everybody gets caught up in that [but] we were up 11 at halftime. It didn't matter who took shots. They were playing a certain way and we were being effective. I'm tired of that being brought up."
Scola stepped up in Yao's absence, hitting 8-15 shots for his 19-and-9 and outperforming LaMarcus Aldridge for the second time in this series. Anyone else still think taking on Jackie Butler's contract was painful?
I thought for the sure we'd see heavy minutes from Chuck Hayes, but it didn't happen (just 3 minutes for the Chuckwagon). Carl Landry was the beneficiary of the available minutes from the loss of Dikembe Mutombo and he made the Blazers pay, knocking down 5-7 shots for 10 points.
This was the first bad shooting game in the series (3-11) for Aaron Brooks, but hit some clutch free throws in the final minute (though he also missed a pair). With 2.7 seconds left and a chance to ice the game by putting Houston up 4 with a second free throw, Brooks back-ironed the freebie... but he got his own board and dribbled out the clock.
As for Artest, it was what he didn't do that helped the Rockets. He didn't stray from the offense much and didn't go crazy with the shot attempts. Just 3-8 from the floor -- 9 points, 5 boards and 4 assists.
"I didn't care if I didn't take a shot for the whole game," said Artest. "I was locked in on defense."
Von Wafer (6 points, 3-9 shooting) didn't have a great offensive game, but he threw down two massive (and memorable) dunks in the second quarter that got the crowd energized.
One thing I want to see more of is Kyle Lowry and Greg Oden on the floor at the same time. Keep an eye on this. Lowry is a magnet for drawing fouls and Oden is pure metal. Houston's backup point is aggressive in attacking the basket and knows how to draw contact while Oden, who might as well be Joey Dorsey's taller brother, is still raw and sloppy in his swipes on the defensive end. It's like a moth to the flame.
Concerns? Sure... the Rockets have to solve this Yao problem for starters. Secondly, they have to close out games better than this. Portland made some desperation threes in the end to make it very interesting, but the Rockets held a 17-point lead midway through the third and seemed to have full control of this one.
But when you add it all up -- Yao, Brooks, Wafer and Artest all relatively ineffective offensively -- and the Rockets still won, this has to equal a huge ball of discouragement for the Blazers. Houston is 4-2 against Portland this year and 3-0 at home, yet the Blazers now face elimination unless they beat the Rockets 3 of the next 4 times.
Game 4 is Sunday.