If you are a regular Dreamshake reader you'll know that there are some vocal Adelman critics on the board. I'm not one of them. I think Adelman is an excellent coach overall, and was the right pick for the Yao/McGrady era. But even great coaches have their flaws, and this is Rick's - he wants to have a rotation that plays 36-40 minutes a night and goes maybe 7-8 deep. He wants to ride his horses all the way. Overall I'm still in his camp, but tonight has left a bitter taste. Tonight could have been a victory, when victories are utterly crucial, but our own coach took that victory from our hands.
The Rockets have an incredibly deep bench - their second unit is arguably better than a couple of team's first units. (Let's play Dragic, Lee, Williams, Patterson and Hill against the Cavs and see!) Tonight, when allowed, this formidable bench played the NBA Marketing Department's "Team of The Future with Special Dunking Poster Boy Blake Griffin!" out of the building when allowed to do it. The trouble is, they weren't allowed to do it when it counted.
Normally I'm not a fan of +/- in one game situations, but I think it's instructive here:
Scola -1 in 36
Budinger -18 in 30
Hayes - 17 in 25
Martin +6 in 31
Lowry -12 in 35
Those are big minus numbers in a game the Rockets lost by 3.
Now the bench (remember these numbers were achieved in fewer than 20 minutes, with the exception of Lee who played 35):
Miller +8 in 18(despite being completely and utterly torched by Kaman - why no Thabeet here?)
Lee +9 in 35
Dragic +9 in 13
Hill +1 in 6
Patterson +0 in 9
Let's set the stage. The Rockets are playing their 4th game in 5 nights, a third straight on the road, and a back-to-back after playing in Portland and flying from New Orleans to Portland, Portland to Los Angeles in 3 days.
Why, oh why, weren't the minutes reversed between the starters and the bench tonight? Last night in the win against Portland the Rockets starters all logged close to 40 minutes in a game that was a blow out by the early 4th.
That seems odd. Why did Rick do that? The high minute decision is actually understandable because the Rockets managed to blow at 14pt 4th quarter lead to those same Trailblazers earlier in the year in Houston. I'm tentatively on board with that decision, though past performance is not a guarantee of future results, and Chuck Hayes didn't play in that earlier loss. In any case, I think the bench could have come in with 4-6 minutes left, not 1. Still the starters sealed the win in one of the toughest road environments in the NBA and I at least understand the decision.
Given those high minutes last night, what then should be the plan tonight, against the Clippers? LAC is not a great team, but they have some great young players. They have an athletic squad that can fly around the court, and a deep front court with Griffin, Jordan and Kaman. They can impress with their fly boy antics, but they can also be beaten. A heavy dose of the Rockets own very athletic bench is indicated tonight, you might surmise. You'd be wrong.
Here's what Adelman did instead (combined minutes in 2 nights):
Scola - 77 on a sprained knee
Budinger - 61 on very poor shooting vs LAC - split time with Lee - Terrence Williams saw 0 minutes, despite a sensible matchup against LAC's own very athletic young SF Aminu.
Hayes 59 (foul trouble limited minutes tonight versus LAC frontcourt, but 7'3" center was never utilized.)
Martin 70 (continuing to play well, but looked tired on wide open shots)
Lowry 75 (looked very tired at times, took long 3s rather than driving, yet still manned up for the Rockets frantic comeback attempt)
The team started the game lethargically and it was obvious to everyone but Rick Adelman, it seems. (Read the gamethread for comments on how flat the team looked. It was abysmal.) The first quarter offered the least energy I've ever seen the 10-11 version of the Rockets display. The starters looked tired, and they played tired.
The team missed wide open shots all night, and also FTs. Both signs of tired legs. Even so, a combination of starters and bench players closed the first quarter gap, and the bench helped take a lead in the 2nd. That's right, the Rockets stumbled into halftime, remarkably, inexplicably, up 54-49.
Both teams came through the tunnel full of energy to start the 3rd. They traded baskets for a while at a high pace, normally a Rockets strength, but not tonight. Fatigue set in with the starters. It was obvious to anyone watching, it would seem. Despite crisp passing opening LAC up like an orange early in the quarter, the energy wasn't there to keep doing it as the period wore on. A motion offense requires motion, and tired legs don't move and shoot well.
Naturally, the energetic Clippers began to close the gap on what seemed like an endless series of dunks and Kaman 2ft hooks. Then they pulled away going up by double figures by the early 4th.
Lowry and Budinger looked gassed, yet played the entire 3rd. Why Williams never came in for a clearly ineffective Budinger I'll never know. No one else really went out until 5 or so minutes left. This was clearly the bench's moment to shine, to stop the bleeding, to lower the Clippers sails and maintain the lead. Instead a sputtering Rockets side offered up a puny 15pts in the third, missing 5ft in a row at one point. They ended the quarter trailing 74-68 and the pattern continued into the 4th with piecemeal substitutions. Chris Kaman chiseled away at Brad Miller, who cemented his reputation as a statue. Fresh legs were needed and available, but hardly called upon.
As 4th wore on and looked like a Clippers rout in the making, we saw some of the bench, notably Dragic who began bringing the Rockets back with timely 3s. Slowly, surely, the Rockets clawed back into the game, tired or not. The team never gave up, and had a chance to tie on a last second Budinger three, but it was not to be. The game had been lost in the 3rd, with the Rockets valiant comeback going for naught.
Overall, though, I'm happy with the way the team is playing, if not who is playing and when. The Rockets are displaying much stouter defense overall. They're working well together. They're fighting for everything. There's basically no one on the team who looks to be elsewhere next year (I'll be shocked if Hayes goes). If this team can win about 70% of its remaining games and somehow make the playoffs, I wouldn't want them in the first round.
Tonight, however, by not using all the assets Daryl Morey has assembled for him, Rick Adelman has made the task of reaching the playoffs harder. No game this season has required the bench more, and no game has revealed Adelman's reluctance to use that bench more, either.