The 109-94 score doesn't really show how out of hand this game was for the good guys. They were down by thirty at one point in the third quarter (or maybe it was the second; maybe it was both). That's not winning basketball. Most people in the comments thread lost interest in this particular route pretty quickly, so they missed a few important things from the game. Fortunately for them, I'm here to bring y'all up to speed.
You might be quick to say that nothing good came out of this game, but that's where you're wrong. Apparently, the Rockets saw my article yesterday, understood the implications of having one of the worst free throw-drawing offenses in league history, and realized that they needed to get to the line much more often. Or maybe Kevin Martin and Terrence Williams just woke up in the middle of the second quarter and realized that they're spectacularly athletic guards who can get to the rim most of the time. They did just that, and they put up their first game since the season opener in which they actually got to the line more than their opponents, shooting 27 free throws to OKC's 25. That obviously comes with some caveats, but we've got to take these victories as they come. Baby steps, people.
And, beyond all that, some Rockets had a pretty decent game. Dragic looked pretty competent, putting up 10 points and 11 assists while committing zero turnovers (he left that to the Rockets' big men). Martin's scoring was down, but he was efficient, got to the line more, and (ASTOUNDINGLY) was the Rockets' leading rebounder amongst the starters.
The bench as a whole looked excellent by comparison. Everyone on the bench either tied or exceeded Hill and Scola's rebounding totals for the game, and every one of the bench players was on the court for less time. Terrence Williams emerged as something of a leader in his time off the bench, leading the charge to the basket even before Martin got in on the act. Williams has a long way to go, but tonight was a noble effort when he could have given up and played more easily. Instead, he distributed the ball and attacked the rim, helping to bring the Rockets back from their horrendous deficit to something a little more respectable.
Still, there was a lot of bad in this game. A lot. The defense is really terrible, certainly not much better than it was on Wednesday against the Clippers, though I suppose little improvement could be expected in such short time. The Rockets just aren't rotating on defense. Before anything else, this seems to be the biggest issue. The help defenders aren't there, because everyone is just watching the ball and not coming to help. While this has the advantage of giving us highlights of Chase Budinger being beat off the dribble by Kevin Durant, it's not a good way to run an NBA defense.
There were maybe ten possessions where I said to myself, "That was a good defensive stand." Keep in mind, I don't mean these were "Wow" plays -- just plays where I thought, "Okay, that's a possession that the Rockets shouldn't be ashamed of." Most were just the result of the Rockets acting like the legitimate NBA team we know they can be, playing help defense and rotating appropriately. One came from appropriate rotation finishing with Dalembert getting one of his two blocked shots of the game (actually, it finished with James Harden then committing a loose ball foul and jawing with the refs and Dalembert because he looked a little foolish or something; the similarity to Wednesday night's episode with Blake Griffin blowing an alley-oop dunk and then calling for a foul was a little amusing. For all their pop culture charm, both Harden and Griffin seem to be kinda whiny and dickish). The Rockets actually had six blocked shots tonight, which might be a testament to improved defense, I guess.
The defense in general sucks hard, but there are some disturbing other trends. Hill couldn't collect a rebound for most of the night. He finally got on the board with two during the fourth quarter. Scola grabbed two throughout the night and had a terrible night shooting. Luis seems totally exhausted in these last few games, and I think McHale needs to give him a night off. Patterson's jumper seems to be coming back some, and it's not like Luis has been a force on the boards this year (or last year; a disturbing trend in itself). The wing defense is still terrible, but we all knew that.
Goran Dragic: Dragon held down the fort competently, driving into the paint some and distributing well. It's hard to replace Lowry this year, but he did the best that could be expected.
Kevin Martin/Terrence Williams: Both got into the lane more, which hopefully will be a more permanent change going forward. Both were efficient, and both made some good plays as leaders of the offense. Both are your Rockets' leading scorers for the night.
The Not Ready for Starting Time Players: Jeff Adrien came out looking like someone other than the last guy on the bench, Chandler Parsons continues to be nothing less than Horry-like in his do-everything-ness, Flynn looked like an actual NBA player, Patterson's jumper looked better while he tried to actually get to the basket, and Dalembert is putting up excellent per-minute numbers that should (I hope) mean he moves ahead of Hill as the starting center.
Luis Scola: It pains me to say it, but I really worry that Scola is declining heavily. He still has all of his post moves, and on most nights they fall, but the real issue is that he's just not rebounding the ball like he used to. Two rebounds in 28 minutes is, like, what shooting guards put up.
Jordan Hill: Against the Hawks he had 15 rebounds. Since then he's had eight total. To be fair, he had a decent enough night shooting (including a -- HOLY SHIT -- completed jump shot), but he needs to rebound to help the Rockets win some games. Of course, it would help if the team defense would help generate some missed shots for him to actually grab.
Kevin McHale: The Rockets are a really bad defensive team, and that won't be solved by just practice and scheming, but they're also screwing up really basic stuff. At some point, that comes down to coaching. Yes, I understand all the limitations McHale had coming into this season, and so this is in no way a call for him to get shitcanned, but this is at least partly on him.