Game 3: Rockets' Battier Fills All the Gaps
This performance wasn't sexy. There wasn't even a defining moment. The Rockets' two biggest stars, Yao Ming and Ron Artest, were each held to single digits in points in the same game for the first time all year.
Despite that, Friday night's effort was effective enough to grab an 86-83 win and a 2-1 lead over Portland in the best-of-seven, first-round series. Led by defensive and surprisingly strong offensive contributions from Shane Battier, the Rockets dug down, showed tremendous grit and made big plays when it counted.
It was a microcosm of Battier's entire career.
"Whatever this team needs to win, that's what he does," general manager Daryl Morey told Hair Balls. "We need rebounding because they're the league-leading [differential] rebounding team, he's been helping shut that down. (The Rockets have out-rebounded Portland by 22 in the series.) We need defense against [Brandon] Roy, he did amazing on Roy tonight. We need points and curves to the hoop, we need shooting, we get that."
Battier has long been a player defined by intangibles, a player whose presence shows up in Morey's advanced metrics and appears to help a team win, but doesn't always show up in traditional numbers. The New York Times dubbed him the "No-Stats All-Star."
But on Friday night, Battier brought his usual intangibles while also filling out the box score.
On a night when Yao, Artest and Aaron Brooks shot a combined 8-for-26 for only 27 points, Battier shot 6-of-10, scored 16 points, knocked in two huge treys, blocked four shots, and grabbed four rebounds. Oh, and he also hit two free throws in the last 10 seconds to put the game away.
"Finally," Battier said of his offensive outburst. "It was about time I made a three in this series. It makes you feel good. Obviously I'm not real high up on the scouting report for guys to stop, but when that happens, you have to make a few shots to keep them honest. And I did."
It wasn't just the shots he made, but the timeliness of them. With five minutes left, the Rockets' once commanding 17-point lead had been whittled to four. Two possessions before, Battier had a corner three go halfway down and pop out. On the prior possession, he had a pass stolen.
The Rockets as a team, and Battier personally, had everything against them. The shot clock was winding down. Battier had a hand in his face and stood 27 feet from the basket, several steps beyond the three-point line at the top.
He fired and swished, bringing the feverish, sold-out Toyota Center crowd of 18,371 to a deafening pitch as the Rockets exhaled for the moment with a 76-69 lead.
"It felt good when it left my hand," Battier said. "I was pretty upset I missed that corner three in and out. Usually when that happens, I know I'm making the next one because I'm more focused and I knew I had to make up for the one I missed."
"Anytime he takes a three, I'm happy," Morey added. "I get mad at him when he doesn't shoot it."
But as usual, it wasn't all defined in the numbers for Battier. When a play needed to be made, he made it.
With three minutes left and the Rockets holding a 78-69 lead, his superb closeout defense forced Travis Outlaw and the Blazers into a 24-second violation. After a disastrous offensive possession with 2:10 left, Yao tipped a loose ball free and Battier tracked it down, allowing the Rockets to burn 20 more seconds.
And when Portland's Steve Blake missed a potential game-tying three with 10 seconds left, Battier secured the rebound and swished both free throws to ice the game.
"He's just very unique," Morey said. "He's like a Greg Maddux, a pitcher who just manages the game who just makes sure we have more points than them at the end. On the defensive end, he's just a coach on the floor. Yao did a good job cutting off the lane if [Roy] got past Ron, but Shane stayed in front of him great all night.
"But he's that way on the offensive end too. He saw what they were leaving open, and he got several cuts to the hoop and easy layups."
Roy, of course, can attest to the defensive side of the equation. He came into the game hot, having scored 42 points on 15-of-27 shooting in a Game 2 win. He left Friday having shot 6-of-18 with a loss.
"I think we just raised our intensity," Battier said. "I thought we were tougher. I thought on Tuesday we gave in a little too much on the screens, didn't fight through. Tonight, I thought we did a great job of fighting through every pick and roll, every possession and making him work. We never gave in."
It was a testament to internal fortitude. The Rockets only had 38 points in the second half. After vowing to significantly improve on Yao's six-shot performance in Game 2, he only had seven in Game 3 -- and made just two. Von Wafer went cold. Ron Artest had no points midway through the third quarter.
But Battier filled in the gaps, and the Rockets went home with a series lead.
"He's just a great, great, great player," forward Carl Landry said of Battier. He gets the job done, and at the end of the day, that's all that matters.
"Somebody asked me a question, about two or three weeks ago, about whether I had lost my athleticism a little. I said, 'Yeah, but you don't have to be athletic to get the job done.' Shane, every night, gets the job done."
For real-time Rockets talk, go to twitter.com/BenDuBose. Game 4 is Sunday at 8 p.m. at Toyota Center.