Say this for the Rockets - they can learn. When the Rockets played Boston recently in Houston, the Celtics deliberately controlled the pace, set up their defense and beat the Rockets pretty easily. At the game I kept vainly hoping for the Rockets to run, to attack the Celtics immediately, rather that letting them trot down the court at old man pace and set up their excellent halfcourt D. (That this was Boston's strategy was abundantly clear, as I've never, ever, seen a team "accidentally" send the ball anywhere but the inbounds line more after one of their made baskets in my life. It was comical, and of course, only called once).
Tonight the strategy was different. Despite a 9 man team the Rockets appeared determined to push the pace. They ran after misses, and they ran after makes. In the end they ran the life out of Boston's legs and won in overtime.
It didn't begin well. Houston looked sloppy, and turned the ball over several times to start the game. Boston shot 9-10 to begin the game. But Houston kept hanging around, and kept trying to push the pace, despite the glitches that can come of that strategy when Aaron Brooks' sometimes indifferent ball-handling intersects with Rajon Rondo and his thievish ways. Despite this game initially looking like a nightmare, the Rockets somehow came out on top 32-30 at the end of the 1st quarter, as their defense improved a tick, and their scoring kept up.
Boston can field an exceptionally big frontcourt, with Garnett, Perkins, Davis and Wallace. But that frontcourt has a weakness - Garnett is aging, and has never been the same since his knee injury, Perkins and Davis are beefy, and not exceptionally well-conditioned, and Wallace still looks like a flabalanche despite the season being nearly over. At the start of the contest it appeared the Boston frontcourt would simply overpower Houston on offense, and shut down any attempt to get inside when playing D. And for a while, they did.
But the pace began to tell in the first, and kept up in the 2nd quarter. Boston couldn't stop the Rockets, and the Rockets largely couldn't stop Boston. Houston lead by 4 at the half, and the two teams played even in the 3rd.
It appears that the defensive mindset of a lot of teams now against the Rockets is this - collapse everyone into the paint. This serves the dual purpose of making things hard for Scola, while also denying Brooks and Lowry their drives to the lane. The bet is that Houston won't shoot well enough to win. Tonight that bet didn't pay off, as Budinger went 6-8 from three point range, Brooks went 4-6 and Lowry went 2-3. Most of these shots were comparatively open.
As Boston's older starters could not keep pace and racked up fouls (Allen, Garnett), Rivers went to his bench in the 4th. It worked to start the quarter, as Boston scored 11 unanswered to start the 4th, and played tough D, while the Rockets seemed determined to give the ball, and the game, away. Another 4th quarter collapse appeared to be in the offing.
Then something strange happened. The Rockets hung tough, made big shots and came back. They played "fouls and 3s" and with 9 seconds left Brooks drained a tough three to tie the game at 109. The Celtics then had 9 seconds to score. The only "core" or "old" Celtic to have a good night tonight was Pierce, and it seemed obvious the inbounds play would go to him. It did. But Adelman did something interesting - he put Chuck Hayes on Pierce. With Hayes' strength, quickness and savvy perhaps Pierce wouldn't be able to pull his a patented "spin, stumble, walk 4 steps, shoot, draw foul with flailing arms" play. Pierce did most of this, but his shot was short, and Hayes didn't foul him. Overtime.
The Celtics started like they would take over the OT, and Hayes fouled out. This looked bad, but Jordan Hill came in and played very well. Budinger made a 3 on a broken play, and Scola and Hill stayed relentless on the boards. Scola made a jumper and then a tough rebound putback after a no-call. Brooks drained 2 FT to salt it away (just remember that people) and the Rockets won in Boston, in overtime. With a bunch of rookies.
Three Four Up
AB0 - 30pts, 9ast, 3stl, and 6-6FT.
Luis Scola - 27pts, 11rb, 4ast.
Chase Budinger - 24pts (9-14 FGA, 6-8 3pt), 5rb, 3ast.
Kyle Lowry - 18pts, 5rb, 5ast
Luis Scola logged 51 minutes!
Rajon Rondo steals the ball 5 times.
Tony Freaking Allen steals the ball 5 times.
Jermaine Taylor does very little in 16 minutes. Fortunately Lowry was there.