After winning just their 3rd game in their last 12 contests with the Rockets, Rudy Gay and his new Kings squad delivered Houston their worst loss of the season on Sunday. Tonight, Houston responded by handily defeating a depleted Bulls squad that could not find consistent ways to score points and turned the ball over 17 times on their way to their 15th loss of the season.
Also, Kevin McHale was back on the bench for the first night since he left Kelvin Sampson at the helm when his 86 year old mother passed away on December 10th
Neither team was blistering out of the gate on the first few possessions, which consisted of Houston going to Howard (missed FG and a TO on entry pass). Once both teams started to run a bit Harden started to make his presence felt in vintages fashion, finishing on physical layups and hitting threes.
Terrence Jones was showing off his passing ability, going 2 for 2 on lob attempts to Dwight. It wasn't just alley-oops that Chicago couldn't stop, it was dunking in general. By halftime, I was concerned that the whole backboard was going to give out and glass shatter NBA Jam-style
the Rockets held Chicago to 16 first quarter points and 29% shooting, holding Luol Deng to 1 of 4 shooting and 4 points. A lot of that was the Rockets being where they were supposed to be on defense and closing out on shots but a lot of that was poor shot selection by Chicago. This Bulls team really is missing their Nate Robinson spark plug off the bench. When Deng can't get things going, the sacrifices Tom Thibodeau makes for elite level defense start to become all too apparent. Losing Derrick Rose for the season is awful and you can never plan for that kind of stuff to happen, but you have to have someone on the bench who can create their own shot more consistently.
Patrick Beverley was blowing by this banged up Chicago backcourt, getting right to the rim for a series of wide open looks at the bucket that had him leading Houston in scoring halfway through the second quarter and being the first to double digits on the night. Not long after that, Parsons, Harden, and Harden joined him over the 10 point mark and the offense started to create a little more separation from the Bulls, pushing the lead to double digits late in the half.
The Houston bench, again, came out flat and did not produce what they needed offensively as the Bulls started to arrive at the Toyota Center. Harden, Parsons, Howard, and Beverley accounted for 51 of the Rockets 57 first half points - a staggering 89% of the offense; and they did so on 65% shooting collectively (32 out of 44 first half attempts). The bench, collectively, took all of 7 first half shots and hit only 28.5% of them. I know injuries are hurting our depth in a number of ways in terms of games missed (we're only a handful away from our total number of player games missed from last season, 50), but Casspi, Cisco, Brooks, and Greg have to get something going offensively when the starters are getting a breather through the second quarter. Greg Smith played for 4 and a half minutes in the first half and all he accumulated were 3 fouls...I rest my case.
Despite poor first half for the bench, Houston's starters finished the half leading 57 to 46 on a sizzling 55% shooting, following an impressive end of quarter play by Beverley, who shot a perfectly timed 3-pointer to raise the lead to 11 at the break.
The third quarter started with Carlos Boozer being the only Bull who came out on a mission, causing turnovers, getting rebounds, and scoring points early on and keeping their side of the scoreboard moving. Then, DJ Augustine and Jimmy Butler started hitting shots, cutting the lead well into single digits. But after this brief diversification in scoring prowess, the Bull struggled while the Rockets bench finally got it going with Omri getting to the free throw line, Francisco making moves towards the rim, and Greg Smith got a put back dunk. Defensively the Rockets also looked great in the third, generating turnovers and forcing mediocre Chicago shots. This helped fueled a 15-1 run to close out the third quarter, inflating the lead to 17 points going into the final period.
The fourth quarter saw much of the same, as the bench maintained the distance between them and Chicago. Much of the time, however, the Bulls could not buy a basket. Even after they were able to grab offensive rebounds, they seemed to continually clang shots off the rim. Dunleavy made a very valient effort, being one of the only Bulls that could hit shots and/or generate a turnover. Chicago's offense simply ran out of gas. Luol and Boozer can give you a good night of scoring, but they cannot sustain an offense the entire 48 minutes.
Dwight Howard - finished with 23 points, 9 rebounds, 1 steal, and 1 block. Most impressively, Howard went 11 of 14 (78.5%) from the field, only turned the ball over twice (funny how that can be a compliment sometimes), and avoided foul trouble throughout the contest. His defense was quite
Terrence Jones - Although his shooting percentage was the worst (2 for 8, 29%), he played his most versatile game of basketball this season despite reportedly having flu-like symptoms with 5 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, and a steal. He and James Harden tied for highest assist total in a game where Terrence Jones decided to focus on getting others involved. As always, would love more scoring and rebounding in 26 minutes, but that is a passing performance that I would like see again. Two successful lob attempts may be a Houston Rocket record for the season.
James Harden - 19 points on 13 shots to go along with 6 assists, 4 boards, and 3 steals. Unfortunately, 7 of the Rockets turnovers can be attributed to him, but he seemed to have little trouble carving through this defense to get to the rim at will. He had a huge impact on the game, leading the team in +/- at +22.
A comforting win following a laughable performance in Sacramento, now we have to start stringing them together to separate ourselves in the toughest division of the toughest conference in the NBA. Every night, someone on the bench is going to need to step up and score to supplement the starters. Tonight, it took a little while for them to show up, but the third quarter was a great response to a lackluster first half from the second unit.
Once Jeremy Lin is fully healthy and the Asik situation resolved we should have more depth to deal with stretches where bench players can seem to get it going. Still a nice outing and although I appreciated our defense at times I still think Chicago's lack of offense drove many of those droughts moreso than our defense.
Now, we get to be Indiana's follow-up to LeBron and company, should be fun.
Please, go check Blog a Bull - they run a great blog and have a ton of really smart things to say about tonight's game