The Houston Rockets brought their A-game tonight in what I can only describe as an eye opening display of talent. Unfortunately, the Heat brought a similar game - the kind of game that won them a ring - and LeBron James' second half performance gave the Heat a three point lead when the clock stopped ticking.
Tonight's game was, without a doubt, not only the best game Houston has played but the best game in the NBA so far this season. After a horrible start, the Houston Rockets sprung to life and gave the championship Heat one hell of a ride. Ultimately, it was LeBron James (just six points in the first half), finishing with 38 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists, who won the game as he has done many times before. The Houston Rockets looked about as good during the last three quarters of tonight's game as any team I've been lucky enough to watch this season. One could argue that this was a gimme win for the Rockets who had an eight point lead at one point in the fourth quarter and brutally failed to produce buckets during the final few minutes. I think the Rockets played well above themselves and in the end showed their age when it came down to slowing Miami's resurgence. James Harden (22 points, 5 assists) had a great game, but tried to out-LeBron Lebron with the final few possessions of the night. Jeremy Lin (9 points, 6 assists) played decent, but air balled an open three pointer in the clutch by about five feet. Omer Asik was Houston's best player tonight. The Turkish Delight had a career high 19 points, 14 rebounds, and hit 11 of his 14 free throws. For the life of me, I can't figure out why Asik wasn't in during Dwyane Wade's free throws at the end of the game to grab that rebound that Chris Bosh somehow was able to pick off amongst a sea of white. The big three were dominant tonight. Chris Bosh (24 points, 10 rebounds) hardly missed and grabbed way too many 50/50 rebounds. Dwyane Wade had 19 points but had more of an impact as a playmaker where he dropped 9 dimes.
The First Half:
The Rockets started out flat in the first quarter. Miami scored 20 points to Houston's two without breaking a sweat or forcing the issue. Miami was able to move the ball with little resistance and Chris Bosh, who had 16 points in the first half, meandered around the mid range draining almost every look he was given. The Heat dared Houston to shoot from outside and the Rockets took the bait. When Erik Spoelstra pulled all of the starters (except LeBron), James Harden went haywire and lead the charge on an 11-0 run that put the Rockets right back in the conversation. The Rockets really struggled in the first half with basic half court offense and the high pick and roll routinely lead to a turnover for the Rockets. Where Houston excelled was on the defensive end - when the Rockets were able to make a stop or force a turnover, the fast break offense was fluid. Between James Harden drawing fouls and Omer Asik's surprising performance in the post, the Rockets managed to get back into the game.
Omer Asik was a monster tonight. Most of Omer's 19 points came at the line but he excelled at getting there. Aside from one particularly ungraceful fall in the low post, Asik was weaving masterfully off the pick and was forcing the Heat to attack him at the rim.
The bench did not score once in the first half and I'd be more disturbed by this if they hadn't been such regular contributors in the second half.
The Second Half:
The stellar defense that began late in the first quarter carried over well into the fourth. The Rockets had the rim on lock down and only rarely was penetration a real issue. I really cannot stress enough how stifling the Houston defense was for the majority of the second half from the paint on out to the arc. The Heat, however, were not consistently stopping Houston from cutting deep inside the paint. Harden briefly heated up from the perimeter in the third and Jeremy Lin showed a delightful ability to draw contact off the pump fake - I wish he'd do that more often. Lin also had one play where he forced a steal and discharged a brilliant needle pass to a cutting Chandler Parsons who finished with a beastly slam dunk. The Rockets did not commit a single turnover in the third quarter. Things were looking up for the home town team.
Chandler Parsons was the second best Rocket on the floor tonight. Parsons finished with 25 points and had two welcomed steals. Chandler likes to play the Heat and I think it's a good sign that the second year forward brings his a-game when it counts.
Carlos Delfino (8 points, 3 assists) gave the Rockets their first lead with two consecutive clutch shots in the third. Patrick Patterson, as promised, posted up former team-mate Shane Battier on a couple of posessions and was even able to get to the line for the first time this season. I was very pleased to see Patterson focus on his rebounding; he finished with 9 (4 offensive).
The ever-surprising Marcus Morris had a monster game and drilled two huge three pointers with LeBron James in his grill. Morris was tasked with guarding LeBron for long stints during the third and fourth quarter and for the most part he kept the King in check (as much as you could expect). I'm liking Morris more and more as a potential starting small forward in this league and if he can continue to prove he's capable of scoring in the NBA the way he did at Kansas I think he'll get there. Morris' first three pointer came in the third quarter and was likely the biggest shot he has ever taken. At that point the Rockets were up 101 to 93.
There were a number of things that lead to the Heat getting back in the game. There were some calls that I'm not going to bother reliving that really ruined the momentum Houston was trying to generate late in the game. Chris Bosh somehow out-rebounded three Houston Rockets off of his own teammate's free throw. LeBron James hit a three pointer from the scorer's table. James Harden took two consecutive shots late in the fourth that I'm sure made even his mother cringe. The bottom line was LeBron brought his hall of fame level pedigree and the Rockets tripped on their own feet when it counted. With just a few seconds left on the clock and the Heat up by three, Harden tried to isolate on LeBron James for a supremely contested three pointer and when the buzzer buzzed the Rocket's sulked off the court undoubtedly thinking to themselves how great tonight could have been.
We're a young team and to even compete so vivaciously with the team that will likely win another ring this year while their superstars played at the top of their games is commendable. The Rockets have a long journey towards championship contention but tonight we saw what it looks like when it all fits together - and it's a thing of beauty.