Little's 'Energy, Will And Tenacity' Carries Portland To First Road Win Of The Season

by Casey Holdahl
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HOUSTON -- The Portland Trail Blazers were down 19-15 to the Rockets, a team with one win this season, with 4:48 to play in the first quarter of Friday night’s contest when Nassir Little checked into the game. When Little checked out roughly 10 minutes later, Portland had a lead, one they would never give up.

Thanks in large part to the play of Little, who posted a career high in rebounds, easily exceeded his average in points, had a few assists, a couple steals and one absolute ridiculous poster dunk, the Trail Blazers were able to secure a 104-92 victory versus the Rockets in front of a crowd of 15,468 Friday night at the Toyota Center in Houston despite an uneven performance.

“I just felt like (Little’s) first half was incredible,” said Trail Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups. “His energy, his will and tenacity was incredible. I just tell him all the time: You can make mistakes when you play that hard, because most of the time you’re going to make up for it. I’m living with that. When you not playing hard, you just kind of getting through it and you make mistakes, I got no patience for that. We really rode his energy tonight.”

The Trail Blazers are now 6-7 overall and have secured their first road win of the season on their seventh try. Portland has taken six of the last seven games versus the Rockets, the lone team in the NBA to win a road game this season.

Though it seemed as if Portland might remain among the teams that had yet to taste victory away from home in the first quarter of Friday night’s contest. The Blazers were consistently bested on the boards by a young, energetic Rockets roster, missed a number of open looks, especially from three, to find themselves in an early eight-point hole.

But the game turned when Little, along with the likes of Anfernee Simons and Larry Nance Jr., entered the game a little more than midway through the quarter. A few minutes later, Little would finish a layup off a Damian Lillard assist and then converted a three to spark what would end up being a 13-2 run to end the quarter.

“We got off to a little bit of a tough start,” said Billups. “We were getting good looks, couldn’t make them, we started trading baskets with a young team in their building, it can be very dangerous. And I thought his energy when he came in, it was just infections and then it turned into some shotmaking for him. He was incredible in the first half, in the game actually.”

The spark provided by Little would really catch in the second quarter, with Portland going up by as many as 14 points despite shooting just 39 percent from the field and 2-of-11 from three.

“I think I come in every time, every single game, I bring the same thing,” said Little. “I may not score a lot every game but I’m gonna play hard, I’m gonna play defense and I’m going to try my best to do whatever I need to do in order to give us some kind of lift. Came out tonight, rebounded well, hit some shots so I think I did a good job of giving us a boost tonight.”

The Blazers would take a 10-point lead into the intermission, though the Rockets managed to cut that advantage in half by time Little checked in midway through the third quarter. But once again, his presence sparked a run -- Portland would outscore Houston 18-9 in the final six minutes of the third -- while also producing the highlight of the year thus far for the Trail Blazers, a devastating one-handed jam over rookie Alperen Sengun that impressed even the most ardent Houston supporter.

“I kind of went to the side a little bit but I was like, if they call a charge, they call a charge,” said Little. “It is what it is. I was like, I’m gonna dunk it if you pass it to me in that area. That’s what I did.”

Portland would take a 13-point lead into the fourth, and while they were never able to completely shake the Rockets, they managed to do just enough at just the right time to come away with the 12-point victory to end their streak of futility on the road.

“We’ve been thinking about it, for sure,” said Little. “We need to win on that road, it’s going to be key. It’s 41 (home games) and 41 (road games) so you can’t just win at home all the time if you want to be as good as you want to be. So now that we got that first one, I think we’ll kind of take a step back, take a deep breathe and just go out there and hoop from now on, just continue to keep going.”

Lillard led all scorers with 20 points to go with seven assists, five rebounds and a block in 38 minutes. CJ McCollum finished with 17 points, eight rebounds, five assists and two steals in 39 minutes.

Little went 6-of-10 for 13 points to go with a career-high 14 rebounds for the double-double, though he also tallied two assists, two rebounds and a steal in 27 minutes. Jusuf Nurkic also logged a double-double with 12 points -- he went 10-of-10 from the free throw line -- and 10 rebounds to go with three steals and a block in 29 minutes.

Four Rockets finished in double figured led by 18 points from Kevin Porter Jr.

With a road win under their belt, the Trail Blazers now head to Denver to finish up a four-game trip versus the Nuggets Sunday night at Ball Arena. Tipoff is scheduled for 5 p.m.


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