All Star reserves were announced before the game. Kyle Lowry didn't make it, but he deserves a spot. Our illustrious commentators speculated that he would want to come out and play great against one of the guards who took his spot: Steve Nash. And that kind of happened at the start of the game -- Lowry shot well enough, after all, but the Rockets' starters largely sputtered and died on offense as the game wore on.
Steve Nash is an all-star, and he deserves it. Anyone watching this game can see the massive difference between the Nash Suns and the Sebastien Telfair Suns. Yes, his defense is bad, but he's still one of the most efficient players in the NBA and a brilliant passer at the age of 38.
So I guess Lowry vs. Nash could be the all-important "storyline" coming into this game, but it was instead a story of another sort: that of the Master vs. the Student: Nash against Goran Dragic. And,
like Vader slaying Obi-Won (wait, that's predictable) like Sauron betraying the Elves, the student was the victor tonight.
Dragic pulled off an excellent game, 11 points (on 9 shots, which is kind of meh) with 11 assists (very good), 2 steals, and just 2 turnovers. Altogether very solid. The 11 assists are the key -- he kept finding the open man (usually a wide-open Patterson) and kept the ball moving for the second unit. Yes, there is a reason they are the Dragon Army (NOTE: McHale's Navy is stupid. It's what Basketbawful calls the Rockets. C'mon) and not Patterson's Bears or something. Dragon is absolutely Nash's student -- you can see it in the clever passes, after all -- and his ferociousness on the break, combined with his smart decisions (like a mid-air touch pass to Budinger at the rim) is proof of his lineage.
Goran Dragic played very well, but Nash put together something a little better. 14 points on perfect shooting and 13 assists (with 4 turnovers) is a great game, though one that will perhaps go unnoticed because of the loss. The difference, of course, was that the guys around Nash (Marcin Gortat excepted) just aren't as good as the guys around Dragic.
Dragic may have been the bench leader, but the bench as a whole was just wonderful. All were great. But the best performer (after Dragic) was certainly Patrick Patterson. Patterson played like the Rockets' power forward of the future, knocking down everything he was given, rebounding well, and just rarely making a mistake. We talked about this in the OALABII post -- Patterson plays very intelligent basketball. The game-icing rebound (I like thinking of it that way) was a clever little tip from Patterson (against Gortat) towards Lowry. Oh, and he scored 14 points (on 8 shots, half of which must have been wide-open jumpers he found). So, you know, P-Squared was great.
Dragic-Patterson reminds me of the '09 bench one-two of Lowry-Landry. That was pretty cool back in the day, too.
Yes, the Rockets' bench outplayed the Suns' organization. They came in and destroyed the Suns twice: first after the Rockets' starters got behind early, and then after the starters gave up the lead at the end of the 3rd Quarter. So, naturally, we should wonder about the starters. What's up with them, right?
None of the starters looked particularly great tonight. Lowry looked alright, I guess, though he didn't seem to find anyone open throughout the game, nor did he rebound, which was weird. But he did manage to take a few game-saving charges at the end of the game, so that's good. I'd say all was forgiven for that, but the game might not have needed saving had he been better.
But it's not like the other starters covered for his mediocre game. Scola followed up a quality game last night with a more normal (for this year) game in which he 16 points by shooting 17 times. What's weird is that this may actually qualify as a pretty decent game for Scola this year, because while his efficiency was terrible, his rebounding was about average and he didn't turn the ball over, and that's a little better than average for him. This isn't the Scola we came to love.
Samuel Dalembert made a few bad decisions with the ball (tough fadeaways, iffy post moves) but at least rebounded well in limited time. What offense the Rockets had in the game's early minutes seemed to come off of second-chance points generated by Dalembert's rebounding, so it's tough to criticize him too much, I guess. Parsons, too, continued to play good defense and he moved the ball well (5 assists), but he shot poorly (his only points coming off of a flukey 3-pointer in the game's early minutes) and didn't rebound well while hanging around the outside of the offense. Maybe he's tired or bored or something.
Kevin Martin was largely a non-factor. Many in the thread said he disappeared, but if you were watching him you saw something a little more complicated. It seemed to me that the things Martin thrives on -- namely screens set by the forwards off the ball -- weren't being done. He'd go into the paint, run around a bit, and come out with his man still very much on him. In the past, this would proceed a little differently: he'd go into the paint (or along the baseline) lose his man, get the ball, and knock down an open shot or drive back to the basket. Anyways, we need more Martin. The Rockets won't be able to win many games if all of the starters turn in mediocre-to-bad performances.
Well, they won't win many against better teams. The Suns aren't one of those teams, but nevertheless they made it a very close one throughout. Nash, Gortat, and even Channing Frye did everything they could to take this game back, but the Suns' bench gave nothing. They scored a total of 13 points compared to the Rockets' bench's 57 (on 42 FGA). "Lack of depth" doesn't quite capture it, does it?