This was the first regular-season game I went to this year, and I was excited for it. The Jazz offer one of the more interesting matchups for the Rockets, seeing as their primary weapons (Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson) attack the Rockets' weakest position (Center, Power Forward), while the Rockets' primary weapons (Kyle Lowry, Kevin Martin) attack the Jazz's weakest position (guards). And, you know, the Jazz totally suck and represent everything wrong in the world and should shrivel and die, so there was that. Fortunately, the game lived up to my expectations.
When I arrived at the game, I didn't know that Samuel Dalembert had been benched for whatever reason, so the announcement that Patrick Patterson is, in fact, a starting NBA center came as something as a shock, particularly when Hasheem Thabeet was very visibly dressed in a suit while Dalembert was dressed for the game. Shock continued when Greg Smith took the court in the first quarter (I tried to get a "Greg Smith" chant going in my section, but the fans would have none of it). It didn't help that Dalembert didn't look very good for most of the game (he got his first rebound early in the fourth quarter, for instance -- the dunks probably overshadow that in fans' minds, though).
But, even with the Rockets' big-men reeling from injury and disciplinary action, I never felt that the Jazz threatened the Rockets. They made some decent shots, but for the most part the Rockets seemed to keep them away from the basket while they broke down the Jazz defense pretty well. The result of that was a great performance around the arc, as the Rockets' guards destroyed the Jazz perimeter defense -- the Rockets went 10-for-19 from three point range.
The Rockets' big men got in on this, too -- while both Millsap and Jefferson performed well (less so for Jefferson on shooting, but he rebounded well against Patterson), the Rockets largely contained them. Scola actually put together a pretty decent game, too, though he still coughed up the ball too often. Nevertheless, he was the Rockets' leading rebounder and played well, and we need more of that from him.
Greg Smith's debut performance was interesting, though it also showcased the qualities that made him a D-League all-star rather than an NBA draftee. The four blocked shots were impressive (though I think most of them turned into Utah baskets, anyways). What I liked more was that he was apparently willing to actually set a screen for the Rockets' guards -- something to which most of the Rockets' bigs seem to object. It was nice seeing Martin and Lowry actually able to come off of a screen rather than get chased around by two Jazz-men. On the other hand, Smith wasn't much of a factor on the boards and fouled too often. These things are, hopefully, fixable, but it should be clear that (for right now) he doesn't seem to be so much a replacement for Jordan Hill (who rebounds well, something that is very important) as he is a complement to him.
The hero of the game was, of course, Kyle Lowry, whose 32 points on 9-of-13 shooting was spectacularly efficient. He didn't have an assist in the first quarter or so, but he finished the game with 9 as the Rockets started to make the easy shots he gave them (and as the Rockets started to just go ahead and take the open threes available). He went up against one of the worst defensive PGs in the league in Devin Harris (a player whose slide into mediocrity perplexes me), and he made the most of it. This will almost certainly be lost in the fervor over Westbrook's 40 points last night, but it should be noted that Lowry took less than half of the shots that Westbrook did. So there.
Some other stuff:
The refs were remarkably amenable to calling charging fouls last night. This did a lot to stop the Jazz's offense.
Lowry and Lee were near-automatic from three point range, but only Chandler Parsons made another three all game. After that first one went in, I was worried he'd try to do that more often, and so of course he took another two just for shits and giggles. There is zero arc on those shots. Nil.
At the same time, it was also Lowry and Lee's late three-point onslaught that finally put the Jazz away. That was pretty cool.
The bench kind of sucked outside of Lee. Most of that is probably just luck and normal variation, I'm sure. But I remember looking up at the scoreboard in the third quarter and seeing that no one on the court for the Rockets had scored yet, and that was kind of neat.