Here are some of those questions -
What do the Rockets do about a very athletic all-around player like Andre Igoudala? In previous years, suffer, mainly.
What do the Rockets do about two very quick scoring guards in Jarue Holiday and Lou Williams? In previous years, get lit up.
What to do about fast-moving, smash-mouth, man-mountain Thaddeus Young? Not that much. Still.
Yet tonight the Rockets prevailed in a close game, winning 93-87. They beat a team that has given them fits due to previously bad matchups. They won a tight game in the 4th quarter by making tough plays, clutch shots and getting stops.
For those of you out there, and you know who you are, who only see the negative, here's another data point, where does it fit on your chart of woe?
Tonight the Rockets closed out a team that until its recent road encounters with the Western Conference (death to most Eastern Conference teams yet again) was in the top 3 of the East.
Make no mistake, Doug Collins is a good coach, and has inspired Philly to play to the level of its talent. For years I looked at the 76er roster and wondered why they weren't better overall, despite giving Houston trouble. Collins doesn't mind winning ugly, and he has the team to do it. It's only the innate offensive brilliance of Lou Williams and company who prevent many 76ers games from looking like complete rock fights.
So Philly, who had lost 4 in a row before tonight looked to get well against a team they've recently dominated. With their new-found defense and deep bench the 76ers came ready with their questions. The Rockets answered the questions above thusly:
Andre Igoudala meet Chandler Parsons. Tonight you'll be shooting 4-12, with 4 rb, 4ast, (and a whopping) 5 steals, (Three of those steals were simply great plays. Two were simply assaults on Rockets ball handlers.) All Iguodala's numbers (save steals) were below season averages.
With defense from Kyle Lowry, Goran Dragic and Courtney Lee the Sixers' Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams combined to go 9-23. Williams got a lot of bailout calls, and I'm honestly beginning to wonder if the Rockets are simply getting an entirely different whistle from the rest of the NBA. Most of Williams 11 FT attempts came from butterfly kiss touches that saved Sweet Lou from the consequences of his ill-advised shots. Rockets players simply aren't getting those calls. I hope after the ASG the refs will consider whatever point they're trying to make proven, because I honestly couldn't see the difference between what was routinely happening to Martin and Lowry and the calls that gave Williams 11 FT attempts.
Thaddeus Young (who frightens AK more than bird flu) went 6-13, but also fouled out in 32 minutes of action.
Well, Xiane, you incurable optimist, that all looks great, so why was this game close?
1 - Philly plays great D overall. They stole the ball 10 times. 10!
2 - Nikola Vucevic went for 18 in 28 minutes on 8-12 shooting, mostly 1 foot put backs.
Why did #2 happen? Because the Rockets went small much of the night. There are costs to that, but there are also compensations. The compensation was the Rockets small lineup held Philly to 87 points and won the game, despite some easy put back baskets from a rookie center I fancied for the Rockets way back at the draft.
Call me crazy but I think wins matter more than idealized notion of how a game should look, of what players should be seen doing. However this game looked, the Rockets won it.
They enter the All Star Break at 20-14. This is good enough for 6th in the West and is only 2 games from 4th. Should the Clippers ever get around to playing the same number of games as everyone else the Rockets might move to 5th on that alone.
See the opposition at Liberty Ballers
- Luis Scola - Don't blame him for not being a center at 6'9". He never asked for this. I think we're learning that Luis is such a high-effort player that at his age he needs rest. His offense is high effort, he runs on breaks, he fights for every board. I'd love it if McHale would give him the odd day off like Greg Popovich does with his best players. But Greg Popovich is pretty clearly the best coach in the NBA right now, and there's only one of him. 19pts, 10rbs, 8-16 shooting, including playing center.
- Kyle Lowry - the most criminally ignored player in the NBA. Closed out the Sixers tonight in the 4th. Stats don't show how big he came up in the 4th when he carried the Rockets to victory.
- Chandler Parsons - Houston's answer to Tayshaun Prince, but with hopes of a better offensive game. If he ever learns the 3pter he's the second coming of Robert Horry, with the ability to defend 2s to 4s and better passing and handles. 12pts on 5-8 shooting, 3 rbs and 1 assist in 26 minutes. This is a second round pick, folks.
- Courtney Lee (the other half of shutting down Iggy and Philly. Not a big statistical night, but good D.
- Samuel Dalembert - not a bad performance, really, but if the man would just keep his hands up and be 7ft tall sometimes, rather than getting out of position because he wants a damn block so much it would be nice. This is nothing new for Dalembert, and it's basically what's stopped him from being one of the best defensive centers in the NBA his whole career. It's too late to imagine it'll change now. All the inevitable terrible drive to the hoop once per game would be another aspect of his game to excise.
- Kyle Lowry is not an All-Star.
- Patrick Patterson, who may be one of the most reliable scorers in close in the NBA just now, got whistled 4 times in 26 minutes for playing basketball the way it was meant to be played. (Seriously, it's simply hard to find the fouls, I went back and looked.) NBA refs, he's not a rookie, enough with the rookie whistle, I beg you.