The Houston Rockets did not play a good game of basketball tonight. The Rockets starting backcourt shot 5 for 27 and the team shot a combined 37.6% from the field. The Rockets started slow and looked miserably uninterested throughout the first three quarters where they yielded a consistent 10+ point deficit. The Lakers came out of the gates gunning and shots were falling. The Lakers played better defense, shot the ball at higher clip from the paint and perimeter, and out-rebounded the Rockets. And yet the Houston Rockets walked away with a win and six straight wins at home after a scoring surge in the fourth quarter to overtake what had once been a 17 point margin. I will try to elucidate what happened and I will start with one man: Dwight Howard.
In the GameThread tonight I mentioned Andrew Sharp's article following the Laker's fourth quarter blow up against the Magic. Tonight, Laker's fans were treated to more of the same. Dwight Howard kept the Rockets in this game during the fourth quarter run that put Houston up over the top with his performance at the free throw line. With Dwight hitting one or zero points at the line late in the fourth quarter during every Laker's possession, the Rockets were able to use Greg Smith, Toney Douglas and a late flash from James Harden to swing the game's momentum in their favor.
In case you missed the game, I'll start from the beginning. The Houston Rockets could not hit their shots tonight.
Kobe Bryant stepped into his big boy pants early on in the first half where he had 21 of his 39 points. Kobe looked aggressive and dominant. The Houston Rockets looked bored. The Rockets starters failed to do much of anything early on and Kelvin Sampson called on the bench to try to answer L.A.'s roar. The bench answered. Toney Douglas finished with a team high 22 points and Greg Smith set his career high at 21. Carlos Delfino also added 15 points off the bench. The only thing the Rockets did well in the first half was grab offensive rebounds but they missed the majority of the second chance points that followed.
During the start of the second half there seemed to be more of the same lackluster effort from the starters. Houston's defense was better, but the starters were still struggling to score. Late in the third quarter Chandler Parsons was the catalyst for a 9-0 run that put the Rockets deficit back in the single digits. Houston outscored Los Angeles 28-24 in the third despite an additional 10 points for Kobe. Greg Smith followed his enthusiastic first half performance with more of the same: hustle. Regardless of the ten point lead at the end of the third, the game still felt winnable. The Lakers had blown a late lead against Orlando on Sunday and even though the Lakers had lead for the entire game up to this point they weren't exactly playing well outside of Kobe Bryant.
The Lakers started the fourth with Kobe and Howard on the bench. They didn't need either until about the six minute mark where the Rockets had managed to cut the lead to seven points. Kelvin Sampson was wise to leave the bench players in through the end of the game as the starters were simply not getting it done. A Carlos Delfino steal and dish to Toney Douglas in transition followed by a Toney Douglas steal to Greg Smith cut the lead to four. Kobe Bryant was able to kick things back up in the fourth where he earned his remaining eight points. And then Kelvin Sampson resorted to "Hack-a-Dwight". Dwight Howard shot 8-16 at the free throw line and most of those misses came in the fourth quarter. Harden was able to find little ways to contribute down the stretch (drawing fouls, rebounding, making plays). Kobe Bryant hit his final three points from deep and after a miss from Toney Douglas the Lakers had an opportunity to tie the game (or win) with eight seconds remaining. In a peculiar turn of events, tonight's MVP Greg Smith ended up guarding Kobe at the arc where he missed his fade away three point attempt for the win. The Rockets won the game after scoring 34 to the Laker's 22 in the fourth.
1) Greg Smith
What a performance from the 21 year old forward/center. At the beginning of the season if you had asked me which Rockets power forward would be carrying Houston's offense on his back for a fourth quarter comeback win against the Lakers I'm not sure Greg Smith would have been in my top five. Smith was an animal and scored his career high 22 points on 7-8 shooting from the field and 7-8 shooting at the line. When Dwight Howard turned his body towards a cutting James Harden during the climax of the game, Harden chucked the ball to Smith who earned two free throws at the line. Smith had 9 rebounds (4 offensive) 2 blocks in 24 minutes. Kelvin Sampson commented that Smith is, "country ox strong" following tonight's win. After watching Dwight Howard try and fail to back down Greg late in the first I'd have to agree.
2) Toney Douglas
Houston's back up point guard was clutch for the Rockets tonight. In the first quarter when the Rockets couldn't buy a basket Douglas came in and delivered from range, with offensive rebounding, and in the post. He hit some big shots from deep in the second half and finished the game over Jeremy Lin.
3) Dwight Howard
Can I put the other team's player in Three Up? When Kobe wasn't putting up shots, the Laker's offense ran through Dwight and it was to their detriment. Dwight had some choice blocks and when he was on the floor the Rockets were noticeably more timid but on offense he was mediocre at best. Before the Rockets decided to employ hack-a-Dwight the best center in the league barely had ten points. Dwight's inability to convert at the free throw line and take over offensively was crucial in Houston's win.
1) The starters were horrible. Jeremy Lin and Patrick Patterson struggled with foul trouble early on and neither recovered. James Harden couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. Omer Asik and Chandler Parsons weren't horrible but there was a reason they rode the bench towards the end of the game.
2) The Rockets really struggled to shoot the ball from anywhere on the court. The Rockets finished with 37.6% shooting from the field and only 20% from deep (where they had 34 attempts). There were so many shots that flirted with the basket but backed out but there were equally as many off target attempts.
3) For the second game in a row the Rockets fielded an atrocious defense. Houston could not slow the Lakers and even with Kobe Bryant and Dwight on the bench the Rockets were allowing far too many points. The Rockets got lucky tonight with some fourth quarter magic but if the Rockets can't learn to play any team defense our record is likely to dip back below .500 soon.
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