After game two, Rockets fans were pissed. The series seemed headed for a Portland victory after the Blazers took a pair of games in Houston, and some were even starting to call for Kevin McHale's head as he idly watched LaMarcus Aldridge explode for over 40 points in each game. The biggest criticism of McHale was that he failed to make adjustments while what the Rockets were doing clearly was not working. In game three, with the season on the line, McHale delivered, changing up the starting lineup as well as the rotation, giving the Rockets their first win of the postseason.
The first, and most important change, was the insertion of Omer Asik into the starting lineup. Portland had torched the Rockets with their pair of big men in the first two games, and by countering with Asik, McHale resolved a dilemma that had been plaguing the Rockets all series. No longer did he have to choose between letting Aldridge go against a wholly overmatched Terrence Jones or allow Brook Lopez an unimpeded run to the basket on offensive rebounds, as both Howard and Asik are capable of matching up with each of those players.
The results were crucial to the Rockets' win. With Howard or Asik on him at all times, LaMarcus Aldridge was not able to get into the same rhythm he did in the previous games, and the Rockets limited him to 8-22 shooting and 23 points. Moreover, Robin Lopez was not nearly as effective either, and the Blazers went away from playing him in the second half, instead opting for smaller lineups that play more into the Rockets' hands.
There are not too many instances where the Twin Towers lineup works, but against the Blazers last night, it disrupted their momentum and swung the game in the Rockets favor.
The other big change was removing veteran Francisco Garcia from the rotation in favor of Troy Daniels. The first change was backed up by logic and reason, but this one just took balls of steel. Until the end of February, Troy Daniels was just a D-League player with a reputation for firing away and hitting threes. After signing a contract with the Rockets, Daniels appeared in five games, hitting 48% of his threes and showing his worth with a 22 point outing in the regular season finale.
Still, he understandably did not look to figure prominently in the Rockets' playoff plans. He sat on the bench for games one and two, watching Francisco Garcia play extremely ineffectively, and when the time came for the Rockets to bring on another wing at the end of the first quarter, it was his name being called. He announced his presence with a quick three pointer, and hit another three at the beginning of the fourth to push the Rockets ahead by six.
There were growing pains on the defensive end, but for the most part, Daniels looked the part of an NBA player in his limited minutes off the bench. And when called upon with 3:40 left in overtime after Chandler Parsons fouled out, he answered in the biggest way possible, hitting the biggest shot of his life and the Rockets' most important shot of the season.
Perhaps you could say that McHale had little to lose making those changes, but each of them paid off in big ways. Now, the Blazers will make their changes, and it will be up to the Rockets to stick with them. One more win and homecourt advantage is back in the Rockets' hands.