The Rockets traveled to Sacramento to put on some of the last few exhibition games that the city would see before they relocate to Seattle. It's insane that the Maloofs ruined basketball in the city but it's great that Seattle will see a team again. I'm conflicted as to how I feel about that. Sadly, the good guys followed up some great basketball by dropping this one to the Kings on the backs of some strong effort, some lapses in play, and some late game heroics by the whistle. I'm not going to lay this one at the feet of the refs solely because I consistently refuse to but you can read my fourth quarter notes as to how I feel about it.
Admittedly I was between the premier of The Walking Dead and this game. The way this thing ended, I really wish I was in danger of being eaten alive by zombies. I guess it's fitting that they'll be shipped up to Seattle next season (most likely) to provide some restitution for the Zombie Sonics and create the Zombie Kings. Rockets lose 117-111. Mind you, this was on a night when the Rockets were in prime position to provide separation in the playoff hunt (Suck it, alliteration!). A win tonight would have put Houston three games ahead of Portland and four and a half games in front of the Lakers with games coming up against the Warriors and the Clippers before the break. That, my friends would have been valuable separation.
Houston spent most of the first playing school ground basketball and the Kings were happy to oblige. Demarcus Cousins was showcasing the mid range game early on and the Rockets were doing a good job of crashing the boards and keeping it competitive in the early going. Defense was fast and loose and that resulted in a bunch of easy looks for both teams. Houston got off to a much slower start than they have been on a night they really needed to excel. The quarter ended with the Rockets keeping it close with the Kings. There is no world in the last near decade or so where that statement is ok to read. Especially since the Kings own the Maloofs. The Rockets ended the quarter with five turnovers, on pace for their league leading pace for the stat. The Kings can't possibly continue to shoot nearly 60%. Rockets trail the Kings, 25-28.
I'm never not amazed by how bad some of these games get after the initial tip off. I'm sitting here bewildered at how lethargic each team is. The breaks don't seem to have urgency, the defenses seem confused and not that well-orchestrated, but maybe that's the benefit of adjustments at the break? The Kings got away with a fair amount of over the back rebounding in this quarter and it's not entirely clear whether or not it was poor positioning by the Rockets or flat-out effort by the Kings. The Rockets had me worried coming out of the timeout around the five minute mark but, and pay close attention here, Jeremy Lin made the jaw-dropping play of the half. He split two defenders, dribbled past a big, and then beat the rim like it owed him money with a powerful dunk. All of this, mind, was prompted by a steal he made. Good on you, Mr. Lin. Houston seemed to have gotten inspired by the play of their point guard because the subsequent drives to end the half all showed tenacity and fire. That was something that desperately needed to happen. Houston rallied towards the end of the half with some great transition basketball, great passing, and smart basketball (Though Cole Aldrich needs to understand that a Center playing matador defense is not smart). Rockets trail 53-57 going in to the half.
The play started sloppy and slow. Houston and Sacramento seem to be consciously making adjustments and it shows in some tentative play. The first blood of the quarter was drawn by a three in the corner by Patrick Patterson on an assist from Jeremy Lin. Feel free to call me knee jerk or what have you but I'm liking that this game is showcasing a lot of the evolution of Jeremy Lin as a point guard. In New York he was a shooting guard with ball-handling duties. In Houston, Jeremy's job is to keep the dribble alive and orchestrate the offense. What this quarter has shown is Jeremy keeping his dribble, working the lane, and making the smart pass. It's something pretty to watch because it's resulting in open shots for guys like James Harden and Patrick Patterson and they're converting on the feed. That was missing earlier in the year and Jeremy's decision making was suspect before. The Kings continued the quarter shooting lights out but the bright spot on the quarter was the defense of Jeremy Lin and the execution of this Houston offense. Houston put on a clinic tonight about executing plays within your offense. Sacramento rode some hot shooting and tough basketball but unfortunately one type of basketball gets you winning, the other eventually turns cold. Fortunately, the Rockets found their identity in the last week or so and it shows in how the games are played. My favorite mental image of the quarter has to be when Chuck Hayes looked like a little Hakeem Olajuwon against Cole Aldridge. Cole, you suck. Rockets lead despite their inability to rebound, 86-84.
The quarter began with Patrick Beverly showcasing some slick passing and defense. It's really a thing of beauty to see what he contributes now that we have a legitimate point guard to back up Jeremy Lin. The rotation of the backcourt is solved; at least for this game with a Beverly/DelFINEo back court. The Rockets set the tone early by attacking the basket and abusing DeMarcus Cousins's foul situation. The Rockets bench really needs to be commended for coming in and stewarding the game and even expanding the lead while Harden and Lin got some rest. Parson's hard fall shortly into the fourth is call for concern because of the way he came down on his shoulder. We'll keep an eye on that going forward. Lin picked up his fifth foul which prompted Patrick Beverly as the point guard for the quarter. The Sacramento defense really picked up at around the seven-minute mark and brought the score to 97-94. Sacramento caught fire at the right time to give the Rockets a real game. Harden went for the three point play and looks to have hurt his wrist or ankle, we'll be watching that for the next couple of days, as well. Jeremy Lin fouled out with 2:40 to go in the game because defending Isaiah Thomas is a no-no in a close game. Rockets close the game with no whistles while they drove and whistles when they dared to guard John Salmons launching a three. 117-111, boned.
MVP: #27 Dick Bavetta. His foul calls on Jeremy Lin and James Harden's "foul" on Salmons with three free throws just did a fantastic job of stacking the deck at the end. I'm not one to blame the refs but by taking Jeremy Lin away and granting three fouls on a highly suspect whistle to John Salmons to make it a two possession game, no favors were done to the concept of sport.
Saddest stat of the night: Chuck Hayes 16.4 minutes per game. The shortest starting center in NBA History deserves more love than that.
Where Were You?: Chandler Parsons. 5 points, 2 rebounds, 5 assists. I hope your shoulder is ok because you disappeared and I cannot fawn over a Rockets player until you come back. Yes, that's right. I'm #TeamParsons.
Game Ball: I'm tied here between Jeremy Lin and James Harden. Lin was the lifeblood of the team until he fouled out but it's hard to argue against 30 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists. You know what? You two can split the ball. Jeremy had the momentum play of the game, Harden helped to make it a game.