There is too much to say. So I made a list of things I feel like talking about.
- The State of the Series
- Brandon Roy
- Yao Ming
- Free Throw Shooting
- Joel Przybilla
- Dikembe Mutombo
- Everything else
- It would be nice to take two on the road, but one win is good enough. I don't see us losing at home against Portland. Not once. We won a game in their place by a healthy margin, and then followed that up with a close loss in which Yao Ming took a mere six shots. Coming into the series, I wrote that if we were able to snag a single win in the Rose Garden, we would be set. To expect the Rockets to win two games in a row on the road in this series would be ludicrous; the Garden is one of the hardest (if not the hardest) road venues in the Western Conference, so I will take my Game 1 win and be perfectly satisfied. The Blazers have gone 0-2 in Houston in this season, and one of those games was played as recently as April 5th. For the Rockets to come as close as they did to winning two games against the Blazers with the disadvantage, I just can't see them losing at home to the same team when they have the advantage. We were a much better home team than road team this season, and having home court advantage was going to make a difference no matter who we played. Now that we have essentially swung that advantage in our favor (3 games in Houston to 2 games in Portland), we certainly have a reason to expect a victory in this series. I'm not convinced that a young team like Portland will be able to deal with the kind of noise that arises in Toyota Center once the playoffs roll around. It's going to be nerve-racking for them, and while I don't think that it will be the biggest difference in the world, it will certainly matter. To summarize, Houston is sitting pretty. It could be prettier, but it's a fine spot to be in nonetheless.
- Sometimes, Brandon Roy is just going to get his. Brandon can certainly shoot the ball well, but over the first two games of this series, it has been his ability to get to the basket and finish that I have been most impressed with. He was assertive in the lane, and the result was a 10 for 12 night from the free throw line. While I do not necessarily agree with some of the foul calls that Roy received in his favor, he should not be discredited in any way for driving hard to the rim (though his "agh!" yell can get quite annoying sometimes). It's tough to decide if Battier and Artest really did such a bad job defending Roy. In fact, rarely do Rockets fans levy any criticism against the defensive performance of White Pills. Tonight is no different. When I saw Artest or Battier guarding Roy, they fought hard to stay with him, and on occasion, Roy made some incredible shots against good defense. So hustle is not a problem. I think that the method by which we guard Brandon could improve. We had trouble dealing with screens from Przybilla and Oden, and Roy was able to get free for a few seconds and knock down a shot. Maybe it's time for us to place even more attention on Roy, because he was the reason why Portland won. He and......ugh, I'm trying so hard not to say it!
- Yao Ming took six shots? Yup, our best player only took six shots. Weak sauce. I understand fronting, and I understand the double team and whatnot, but for Yao to only get six shots off is a travesty. At times, it didn't even seem like we were trying to get the ball to Yao. Ron Artest held his nightly Dribblethon on a few possessions when Yao was open for a pass, and Aaron Brooks started picking out teammates before the drive and left himself with some difficult passes that could have been made easier by looking for Yao. Rest assured, Yao will not be held to single-digit shots in the next to games of this series. I guarantee you that the first three to four possessions of Game 3 will go through Yao, and I sincerely hope that he shoots the ball every time he touches it. The trouble with Yao is not what happens when he receives the ball, but instead figuring out how to get it to him. Once he touches it, he can let it fly as often as he wants.
- Free throws absolutely killed us. There isn't much more to say. Luis Scola only went 2 for 6 from the charity stripe, and four other guilty parties missed at least one of their free throw attempts. We ended the night at a lowly 68%. We can't afford to shoot poorly from the line. Of all of the advantages that we have over other teams, free throw shooting may be the most subtle and overlooked. However, free throws have the potential to come back and screw us if we blow our opportunities. They go from being a big advantage to an unnecessary disadvantage. I can recall only one game in which we shot terribly from the free throw line and still managed to win on the road, and that was the Denver game. Nights such as tonight prove that Denver was just an exception to the rule.
- Joel Przybilla has just been added to my 'hate' list. You thought Mehmet Okur was bad? Andrei Kirilenko? Matt Harpring? Anderson Varejao? Nope, none of them compare to the Vanilla Gorilla himself, the newly crowed "King of the Floppers." Apparently, Przybilla isn't as strong or as powerful as some claim him to be. From the looks of it, a light shove to his back sends him flying into the air like he's just been electrocuted, flailing arms and all. For example, Kyle Lowry puts his palm on Przybilla's back and gives him a little shove without extending his arms at all during a rebound. To this, Joel suddenly flies into the air like a bat, falls onto the floor, and just for kicks, rolls around like he just flew off a motorcycle. Then he sits up and holds his hands in the air as if he feels cheated with not being rewarded for his acting job. Then, late in the third quarter, Joel is boxing out Yao Ming when a ball flies in his vicinity. Yao gives him a light shove, as do all big bodies during a box out, and Joel hits the deck as if we're back in the Cold War preparing for the bomb to strike. I watched the replay a hundred times: the arm movement that Yao made wasn't even close to being enough to knock anyone down to the ground, and especially not a big guy like Joel. Vanilla Gorilla, you have just been added to my hate list for being a huge sissy. If you want to attract foul calls, do it the right way by taking a charge. Your teammate Brandon Roy tried it, and although he was in the circle, I give him props for doing it the right way. You, on the other hand, are a joke.
- 1...2...3... The officiating was horrendous, laughable, and reminded me of those cheap pick up league rent-a-refs. But it was that way for both teams. Right from the start, the referees made this their game. They took away the playoff atmosphere and turned it into a regular season game. They didn't leave room for intensity or hustle or heart. And even worse, on many occasions, they missed easy calls that cost both teams valuable possessions. I will say that on four or five instances, Joey Crawford, Ed Malloy, and Derrick Stafford made calls against the Rockets that were tough decisions to make and could have gone either way. But what angered me the most about this officiating crew was that they factored the fans' reaction to calls into future decisions. I know that "make-up" calls exist, but give me a break. Crawford called a reach-in on Batum in the first quarter, and the crowd went nuts (and rightfully so). So as a result, Yao gets called for a bogus bump on Przybilla, and then Aaron Brooks becomes victim to one of the worst calls I've ever seen (he dove for a ball, is bumped by Blake while Blake is shuffling to get to the ball, and then Brooks is called for the foul). How about you just hold the whistle? There should have been at least 10 less fouls than were actually assessed in this game. How about that call on Kyle Lowry at the end for "tripping" Rudy Fernandez? Players get their feet mixed up - it's part of the game. Since when do petty fouls such as that get called with under a minute left in a playoff game. Absolutely ridiculous. Horrible, horrible officiating. It's not why we lost, but I can't deny that it was a factor.
- Make no mistake - losing Dikembe Mutombo is a big deal. It was a difficult sight to see Deke roll over in pain after injuring his knee while trying to keep up with Greg Oden. It was even more frustrating to see him called for a foul when he simply fell to the ground (I couldn't resist). But really, Deke's loss creates a big gap in our center depth and will make it more difficult to match up with Oden, Przybilla, Aldridge, and Frye. However, I'm confident that we can get the job done with the remaining guys we have. It will just be more difficult, especially since our spiritual leader on the court is now gone. Update: Dikembe is calling it a career.
Ron Artest - His stats lie. Take off about 4 of those three point misses, as they came either from half court at the end of a quarter or on a last-second shot before the shot clock ran out. Otherwise, Ron had a pretty solid game and carried us in the beginning. He lost some steam on offense during the second half and took some bad shots, but we all kind of expect that by now.
Von Wafer -- Excellent game for Von tonight. He was attacking, he was efficient, he shot his free throws well, and he single-handedly kept us in the game in the third quarter. Big ups to Von for showing up tonight.
Kyle Lowry -- The Bulldog drew four fouls by himself in about a seven minute span. This ended up putting Oden and Przybilla in foul trouble late in the game, and even if we lost, the attitude that Lowry brought to the court was exactly what we needed at the time. He played as well as he could have, and he also hit a big three pointer in the fourth.
Carl Landry -- We simply need more from him than 5 minutes and 4 points.
Shane Battier -- Same goes for Battman. 2 shots won't cut it.
Yao Ming -- I've already explained it, really.
Stats of the Night:
Terrible free throws.
Portland had 7 blocks to our 1 block.
Portland out-rebounded us 36-35
We only had 12 assists on offense
We only forced 5 turnovers
Foul count: Houston 28, Portland 26
Yao Ming: 6 shots
Brandon Roy: 15-27 from the field.
Next Game: Friday vs. Portland. Should be a good one.