The Houston Rockets lost their game against the Clippers tonight 107 to 94. James Harden started despite a sore foot and the Twin Towers were trotted out again against a Clippers team that shellacked the Rockets less than a week ago. Beverley started for the Rockets again. The Rockets drastically improved their perimeter defense tonight but got caught up in a foot race and decided to abandon what worked in the first half. In response, the Rockets dropped their third game to Los Angeles in as many attempts.
The Rockets started slow again showcasing sloppy turnovers and indecisive basketball. JJ Reddick leads the NBA in 1st quarter points and put that on display to start the game. The Rockets worked hard to establish Dwight Howard early and refused to abandon that strategy. The Rockets showed some comprehensive defense early but long rebounds and second chance opportunities haunted the Rockets throughout the quarter. The Rockets three-point shooting continues to be absolutely abysmal. Dwight Howard attacked Blake Griffin's shots early and often this quarter. Chandler Parsons switched on to JJ Reddick in the first set of substitutions, consider that a lesson learned by Coach McHale. The lob passes flowed free and often with the Dwight Howard- James Harden connection kept the Rockets strong early. The defensive gambling that plagued the Rockets perimeter through six games are not present through the first quarter. The Rockets rode Harden and Howard early and coasted to close the quarter on a strong effort.
Rockets lead 26-22 at the end of the first with several highlight reel plays in the books. Houston is 11-22 from the field (50%) and 3-5 from the line (60%). Unfortunately, the Rockets are 1-8 from three point land (13%) compared to the Clippers' 2-8 (25%). The difference between tonight and the last Clippers game is perimeter defense and challenges.
The second quarter started with Francisco Garcia playing tenacious defense. I fully expect Chrive of Jaypride to offer some Garcia scowl gifs based on that. Jeremy Lin bridged the first and second quarters well. As a second unit go-to player he can really excel so long as he stays aggressive. The rapport between Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin, boggled passes notwithstanding, is akin to the chemistry on display between James Harden and Dwight Howard. The Clippers began making progress off effort and long rebounds but fortunately Patrick Beverley heated up from beyond the arc and stretched the lead to ten (29-39) at the 7:34 mark. Unfortunately some panic passes from Francisco Garcia and some heroics from JJ Reddick helped to keep the Clippers in this game. The Clippers doubled down on Howard consistently and managed to help choke the Rockets run. In response Houston clamped down defensively and attacked the Clippers' biggest contributors. The second quarter closed out with a post move by Dwight, a strong drive by Jeremy Lin, and bad Harden foul, a Harden step back three (Missed), and a strong defensive stand by Patrick Beverley against Chris Paul.
The Rockets lead into the second half 55-46. Their paltry 13% three point percentage has clawed to 31% (5-16) and they have held the clippers to 46% shooting (20-44) while leading in rebounding the ball at a +10 differential (23 to 13). Chris Paul leads all assists with 7 (Jeremy has 6 in 14 minutes). Dwight Howard and JJ Reddick lead all scorers with 16. DeAndre Jordan leads all rebounders with 8.
The second half began with the starters back to the floor and immediately the benefits of the Twin Towers rears its ugly head. Howard drives into a congested lane and is blocked by DeAndre Jordan. New jump ball idea for the NBA, do it like hockey. If the guy in the center is getting too chippy, kick him out and bring in a replacement on the team. It's interesting to see the level of amnesia the Rockets are capable of. Establishing Dwight Howard early lead to an assertive start for the Rockets at the beginning of the game. The second half began with some fairly decent defense and a willingness to take bad shots and pass up Howard's post-ups. Fortunately for Houston, the three point shot started falling midway through the quarter. Patrick Beverly completely fulfilled his role tonight with strong defense on the NBA's best point guard. Beverley picked up his fourth foul this quarter and the Rockets decided to respond by going on a track meet and playing that ever so elusive creature - transition defense. Unfortunately the Rockets began to unnerve at the end of the third quarter with shot hesitation, foul trouble, and a knee bump to Dwight Howard. The third quarter ended on a somber and ironic note. They succumbed to the confusion that fast-paced basketball creates. Make no mistake, the Rockets were out-done by a team that picked up the pace. That's not a rotational issue, that's an execution issue.
Rockets trail 73-71 at the half. The Clippers picked up their rebounding and three point shooting (Up to 32%). Total rebounding numbers closed the gap with the Rockets leading that stat by +3. The Rockets also started coughing the ball up with 15 turnovers to 13. Rockets shooting percentage dropped to 47% by the end of the third.
The fourth quarter showcased sloppy play. Even with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin on the bench the gears are slowly grinding down for both teams. Shots are not going down and bad shots are being taken. The Clippers exploited this breakdown to push their lead ahead. The Rockets abandoned Dwight Howard late in the game. Regardless of your feelings about Dwight's free-throw shooting there can be no doubt that if the Clippers are in foul trouble you go to the big man in the post. The Rockets consistently ignored their shiny new weapon in favor of ill-advised shots and bad drives. The Hack-a-thon begins with Howard and Jordan sent to the line, Rivers adjusts by removing DeAndre Jordan. McHale keeps his center in the game with five fouls. I'm happy to concede this could be a bad decision but remember how angry Rockets fans got when the Rockets missed critical rebounds late in games because he benched Asik? Can't win.
Derp Comments of the Night:
"Harden is overrated, we are playing good without him" (No sarcasm font) - Arison12
"Lin. Every time Lin does not control the ball the offense gets sluggish and awkward... It's totally obvious. PleaseFire McHale before the 2nd half. [sic]. - Kenmandu
Reflections on the game
It is abundantly clear that the Rockets are happy to abandon effective game strategies. The game started by feeding Howard the ball and attacking the rim using the pick and roll. The second half was entirely predicated on poor shot selection, a lack of screens, no ball movement, and, ultimately, awful execution. Conventional wisdom dictates that you bench someone or call a time out. You have limited time outs so you can't do that every time. You can't bench a player like James Harden or Dwight Howard if you want to win. Ultimately you are stuck because the players aren't executing.
The law of averages is an amazing thing. The Clippers have been a team that hits threes and hits shots. The Rockets have slumped in their threes but love them. Los Angeles shot 38% from deep and the Rockets shot 27%. Despite their slump, the Rockets put up 26 three-point shots and they hit 7. Let that register. That means there were at least 19 shot attempts where a 2-point shot could have been more prudent. That's a differential of 38 points if they acknowledge that their threes aren't falling.
The game got out of control in the second half. Regardless of what people want to cry about because it's hot, trendy, or new, it wasn't about rotations. It was about discipline. We're talking about NBA athletes. If they can't engage in physical activity for 40 minutes a night then they're worse off than your average behemoth plodding along on a treadmill you see at the local Gold's Gym. Get off it. The Rockets abandoned Dwight Howard in the post, stopped sharing the ball, and started running with the Clippers. They let the Clippers dictate the game to them. Even if the minutes were perfectly distributed you won't win if you don't stamp your own seal on a game. That happened here tonight.
The Rockets lost the rebounding battle 45-42. That means a lot in close games. The Rockets assist to turnover ratio was 21-18. The Clippers put up a 26:14 assist to turnover ratio. For every assist the Rockets recorded they coughed the ball up almost one time each. The Clippers, meanwhile, assisted almost twice as much as they gave the ball up. That's winning basketball. That's sharing the ball. The Rockets deviated from that in the second half.
Feel free to vent but do so with a mind towards providing some insight. Rag on the coach but offer a solution. Rag on the rotations but be serious about production. Knock a player but acknowledge their function or use, negatives and positives. Ultimately this request boils down to "don't be a moron."