Let's be clear: Cleveland played a great game. They made their shots, and they dominated the paint, something that they failed to do in Houston a month ago. So, no, what I'm about to say should not nullify the Cavaliers' performance.
But if you look at the numbers, you'll find an exhausted Rockets team trying to run with the best that the Eastern Conference has to offer. We were at a disadvantage coming into the game, and it wasn't just because it was a back-to-back. If we had taken care of business in New Jersey the night before, we could have rested our starters and come into Cleveland fresh. Instead, the Rockets had to play Trevor Ariza 43 minutes and were forced to use everything in the tank to avoid a catastrophic loss to the Nets. By 4:00 PM today, nobody but the subs were fresh. And it killed us.
Here's a good indicator of how gassed Houston was: the Rockets only grabbed five offensive rebounds. You can't credit that to a size disadvantage, because we lead the league in offensive rebounding and we're always at a size disadvantage. It was stamina, or a lack thereof, that prevented us from doing what we do best.
The Rockets only shot 33%, and while you could credit that to tiredness if you so feel, the brunt of it was due to bad ball movement. Only 18 of our baskets were assisted, and aside from Aaron Brooks, nobody could get into a rhythm. Cleveland out-shot the Rockets 93-76; you simply don't see that happen to this team - ever.
Houston actually got off to a good start in the first half, coming within three of the Cavs at halftime, but a barrage of Cleveland three-pointers to begin the third quarter put the Rockets down by twelve before they could blink. It was LeBron James' best game against the Rockets in a long time, but it wasn't because of bad defense by Shane Battier. James only got to the free throw line twice - it was his jump shooting that propelled him to his 29 point effort. Playing it by the numbers, Shane gave him the jumpers, and they went in. It's better than allowing James to take 12 to 15 free throw attempts and end up with 35 to 40 points, something that he does on a regular basis.
If there was one reason why I thought benching Tracy McGrady (though some people contend that he benched himself) was going to hurt the Rockets, it was because Trevor Ariza would be forced to play that much more. The last thing that you want to do is give a slumping shooter 40 minutes of playing time per night. And while I like Jermaine Taylor as much as anyone, I'd rather have McGrady in there for eight minutes and save Ariza for the second half.
That's all I've got. Now that the Rockets have gotten past their four straight back-to-backs, things should ease up a little. I'm just impressed that we managed to go 5-3 over such a tough stretch, with our only losses coming on the road to three of the NBA's premier clubs. No complaints, here.