New season, same old questions. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let's keep in mind that it's opening night. Both the positives and the negatives provide little food for thought in the long term.
Tonight was eerily reminiscent to many games we saw last season. When the Rockets can control the pace and keep the tempo alive and active, they look incredibly potent. The backcourt duo of Aaron Brooks and Kevin Martin excelled in the first half. They set each other up for open shots and capitalized on those opportunities, though there's nothing difficult about getting Brooks going against Steve Blake and Derek Fisher.
In the fourth quarter, the Rockets found their pace again. They made transition plays, they took quick, open shots and they finally discovered a comfortable Luis Scola.
We interrupt this recap to assert that Luis will never again miss as many open layups as he did tonight. It took him a while to get going, but once he found a groove, you knew he was going to, as Stuart Smalley would so elegantly say, "put the ball into the basket."
But when the Rockets were slowed down - by a lineup headlined by lightening rod Shannon Brown, of all people - they looked lost. Suddenly, there were only jump shots. Lots of jump shots. Brooks, Lee and Scola started to rush things. The offense didn't get set. There were no more back door cuts, no more set plays for shooters like Chase Budinger. The Rockets didn't even utilize Yao much in the second half while he was on the floor. It turned ugly, and fast-- I mean slow.
We can't blame this loss on Yao's minute limit. Why? Because nothing will change. Rules are rules. Let's package those thoughts and save them for January and February, if not later. The minute limit will exist, and it will continue to exist, whether we like it or not.
If there's one primary worry, it's the preposterous amount of turnovers. Twenty, to be exact. The Rockets, despite all of the pretty plays that they often ran, had some real stinkers, too. Indecisiveness became a problem, as many players began rushing passes while in the lane or while trying to move the ball around the perimeter. Even Shane Battier got lazy with his passes, and they resulted in turnovers. In an offense as free-flowing as Adelman's, there are bound to be turnovers and forced passes. But not this many.
And then, as always, we can ask the question: who will take the last shot at the end? If Yao's minutes are up, we can't depend on the big man. I think the Rockets did a nice job getting the ball to Scola inside those last ten seconds, but it's such a crapshoot. The "free-flowing, pass-first" aspect of the offense becomes somewhat of an oxymoron, simply because players like Scola, if depended upon to score the ball with a ticking clock, may not think to make an extra pass. In this instance, after Scola took the pass from Brooks at the end, he had an open man on the perimeter. He could have chosen to send the ball outside for the open three. But it's a split-second decision, and if anyone was hot at the time, it was Scola. No beef with the execution, here.
As for the final play, well, I'm not quite sure what was going on. This wasn't a case of not having a star player. It was a two-second play and the Rockets are full of shooters. It confuses me why they chose to give the ball to the smallest player on the floor under the basket. I normally trust Adelman on the out of bounds plays, but that was a head-scratching call.
Be happy with this performance, though. When the Rockets looked good, they looked good. The offense was effective. The defense handled Kobe Bryant nicely. Trying to steal a win in the Staples Center immediately following a ring ceremony is a tough task, and I think the Rockets handled it as best as they could.
Thankfully, the remaining questions are questions that the Rockets anticipated. Nobody surprised in a bad way. Brad Miller proved his worth as an offensive weapon, Courtney Lee showed that he could be explosive off the bench, and Chuck Hayes looked much more comfortable at the four when guarding Pau Gasol. Save a dynamite performance from Shannon Brown, the Rockets were certainly capable of winning this game.
Before I leave you, I have to ask: how much better would the Rockets have fared had Kyle Lowry been available? Would Shannon Brown have had such an easy time finding open shots? I think not.
1. Fewer turnovers, please.
2. Frontcourt play must step up if pace slows down, especially without Yao.
3. Backcourt looks like its already in mid-season form. Free-throw shooting will be a huge advantage.
4. Chase Budinger looked really good. As did Yao. Good on offense and defense, despite pedestrian numbers.
5. No Jordan Hill / Patterson / Jeffries = no surprise. In Game 1, there is usually a tight rotation.
Next Game: Wednesday at Golden State Warriors.