Following the loss to the Mavericks, I criticized the prevailing wisdom about the Rockets (can't create, so they have to be "scrappy," and so they'll fail against teams with superior "talent"). Fortunately (I guess), that wisdom probably won't be deployed following this loss.
The Rockets were the more talented team coming into this game. On paper, they were the superior defensive and offensive team. Yeah, the Kings had played well over their past few games, but anything can happen in three games. So what happened tonight?
I think many will look at the boxscore, see that Tyreke Evans had another good game, and be tempted to place this game at the feet of an emerging rookie/hopeful star. Really though, the difference in this game was Beno Udrih. He shot extraordinarily well tonight (and he's having a hot start to the season, as well), dropping 4 threes and 22 points on the Rockets. Nocioni hit some tough shots, the Kings got to line more, and Jason Thompson continued his drive towards an all-star career. The good parts of the Kings produced like they should have, and the bad parts contributed far more than they typically do.
For the Rockets, the bench was practically dead. The trio of players that they have come to rely upon - Lowry, Landry, and Budinger - did virtually nothing through three quarters, and only Lowry began to get anything going in the 4th. Just a pathetic output from what has thus far been an offensive dynamo (if I were a superstitious man, I'd blame Xiane for jinxing Landry on Wednesday. Oh, wait! I am a superstitious man. WTF, Xiane?!).
To put it simply, the defense was just bad. The Rockets failed to box out (Jason Thompson had nine [9!] offensive rebounds) for most of the game, and I don't know if that was the result of just great play by the Kings or an attempt by the Houston players to get back on the fast break prematurely. Sure, the defense generated nineteen turnovers, but a -19 rebounding deficit is no way to win a basketball game. The offensive output of Udrih, Nocioni, Udoka, etc. could also be seen as part of a general defensive collapse, though I'm inclined to put those in the "luck" category. Shit happens, after all.
This is the type of game the Rockets must win. They can play the great teams fairly even, but they have to beat the bad teams if they want to play in the postseason. And the Kings are a bad team. Now, I'm sure that statement is going to piss off some Kings fans reading this, but I really don't care. The Kings are not a good team, and this should have been a win (easy or not) for the boys in red, but their failure to play to the offensive level we've come to expect this season cost them the game. As Morey "tweeted' (Christ, I loathe that word) post-game:
Good teams don't win close [games],they avoid them. Had to build a lead in the 1st half when they had 12 TOs to survive their wild makes late.
And that's exactly it. The interaction here between luck, defense, and offense is tough to see. I can't tell you what was ultimately most to blame for tonight's loss, only that all of these played a part. Offense was not up to par, particularly against a team that came into the game ranked 25th in defensive efficiency. Defense was awful, roughly 0.1 pts/possession worse than the Rockets' average. And the Kings just hit all of their shots. But, had any of those things changed, I think the Rockets could have pulled this one out. That's not the point, however. As Morey says, a good team makes sure that they don't need that one thing to turn around for them: they make sure that they're in a position to win.
Just a bad game all around. Regroup, adjust, and come back strong.
Shane Battier - Took over in the 4th quarter, and we haven't seen this type of scoring output out of the NSAS since the Mother's Day Miracle. 23 pts on 11 shots.
Luis Scola - It's tough to write good things about anyone on the frontcourt, given the rebounding deficit, but Scola turned in a pretty good performance: 20 pts and 9 rebounds. For a while he was just abusing people in the post, too.
Trevor Ariza - Went cold after the first half (that has seemed to happen a lot, actually), but 28 pts, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and 5 steals is a wonderful contribution. As the steal numbers suggest, he was super active in the passing lanes. And he garnered more comparisons to a "young, healthy" T-Mac from the Kings' announcers (totally unwarranted, if you ask me, though it's a nice sentiment).
The Bench Troika - Let's just throw Lowry/Landry/Bud in here together. Not a pretty game for any of them. Whatever; it's bound to happen sometimes. Let's pray it never happens all at once like that ever again.
Everyone - BOX. OUT. I was watching the Hornets game before this, and Emeka Okafor gave a nice preview of the rebounding strategy I'd see used against the Kings: lightly place your arm near the opposing player, as if to say, "Please don't try to force your way past me or anything, my delicate sensibilities might not be able to handle it!")
Fate - I know Durga was just punishing me for hubris when I kept calling Udrih a "shit player" and he kept raining threes.