Talk about a role reversal. A frustrating, sickening role reversal.
For two home games, we were clutch. We made big shots. We grabbed offensive rebounds. We made defensive stops late. And most importantly, we were composed.
Tonight, Portland was clutch. Portland made big shots, grabbed offensive rebounds, stopped us on defense, and most importantly, were composed and level-headed on offense. They found Brandon Roy when we couldn't find Yao Ming. And worst of all, Rockets fans had to sit through this display in the form of a Blazer 15-0 run.
Paging Twittering Rick Adelman. Mr. Rick Adelman.
But then there was hope. Portland started missing shots; they looked like the road Blazers. Ron Artest made a three pointer, Luis Scola made a layup, and suddenly, it was a five point game. Yet, as soon as hope was giveth, hope was suddenly snatched away. Our bad habits awoke from their temporary slumber, in the form of The Aaron Brooks show. Brooks must've forgotten about his midgetness and took his game into the paint against Joel Przybilla and Greg Oden. End result: Joel eats Aaron's lunch, takes his ball away, and shoves him into his locker.
It's unfair of me to blame the loss on squarely Aaron, so I won't. But I'm going to start this recap with him, because I felt he did an awful job running the offense.
I like an aggressive Aaron Brooks as much as anyone. When he is taking shots in rhythm, he can put up some impressive stats (see Game 1). But tonight, Brooks was fidgety. He was awkward. And worst of all, he couldn't simply turn on the burners to get himself going, because Steve Blake was playing some phenomenal defense. The only three pointer that Brooks made was a pull-up on a fast break, which is ironic, because the most difficult shot that Aaron took appeared to be the most fluid and in-rhythm attempt that he had all night from behind the arc. When defenders take away Aaron's ability to drive, he suddenly puts all of his marbles into his three-point shot and begins to force the action.
Brooks should never be our primary scoring option, and someone needed to tell him that. He is a point guard, and for some reason, every time he touched the ball, he was looking to score rather than to distribute. His focus was not on the offense but on himself. I won't go as far as to say that Aaron was selfish, but he didn't have to put the offense on his shoulders, as they are not big enough to do so. By the time the buzzer sounded, Brooks was 6 for 20 from the field and had seven more shot attempts than the next Rocket. Ugh.
Back to our coach for a second. Someone needs to educate Rick Adelman on how to use his timeouts. As of now, Rick's strategy is as follows: He sets his alarm for a specific point deficit, that being ten or more, and when the Rockets finally trail by double-digits to the opponent, he wakes up and calls a timeout. Earth to Ricky! Why not call your boys to the bench and get them settled down before they are losing by four to five buckets? In the case of tonight's fourth quarter implosion, why not call a time out when the run is at eight to nothing, or ten to nothing? Do we have to be down by eleven points before you stop the run at 15-0? Is that some superstitious rule or something? We still had the game in hand if we were only down by three or five. But to let us trail by even more than that before trying to fix what isn't working is a terrible blueprint. Rick, something needs to change.
I wish we could have seen a complete game from Luis Scola. I was hoping for thirty points, and thirty points was a reasonable expectation at one point. He was DOMINANT in the first quarter and practically carried us to a seven point deficit heading into halftime. In fact, he had seventeen of our forty-three points, which is an enormous number for a third or fourth scoring option. But as soon as the second half began, Luis found himself in foul trouble and couldn't stay on the floor. It was a monumental blow to the Rockets' offensive execution in the second half, as we were left without a capable post player opposite Yao Ming. Carl Landry had one of his poorest games of the season, and couldn't stay on the floor either. Chuck Hayes played eight minutes without scoring a basket. While we don't expect much from Chuck offensively, it is absolutely devastating for our offense not to get any production from our power forward position.
The power forward spot has been our primary advantage on the offensive side of the ball all series long. We've been able to offset Yao Ming's struggles for the most part, and tonight had the makings of a big second half from Yao. Scola began making so many open shots that the Blazers began leaving Yao in single coverage. Unfortunately, they didn't have to do that for long, as Scola never had a chance to do much in half number two. While I realize that he was in foul trouble, Adelman was a little quick in yanking him off the court so often. But whatever the case, Yao was not able to be anything more than ordinary. He made his open jumpers and had a nice hook shot or two, but we were not able to get him the ball when it mattered, and there was no question that Luis Scola's absence severely affected that.
However, it would have been nice to see a little more aggressiveness from Yao. Most of his shots were fadeaways, turnarounds, or long jumpers. This resulted in a single trip to the free throw line. I said this in the Game 4 recap and I'll say it again: I'll take five shots and five trips to the free throw line from Yao over 10 shots and only one trip or two. He needs to get to the line, and for that to happen, he's got to go back to putting his shoulder into the defender. He has gotten lazy with his post moves, and it surprises me to say that. But he must get to the line more.
On the topic of fouls and officiating, I'd like to quickly address it and move on.
I thought the referees did a good job tonight. The Rockets were aggressive, but at times, we were out of control and reckless. Brandon Roy and Joel Przybilla took two legitimate charges - there should not be any arguments about that. During that 15-0 run by Portland, we committed some silly fouls that we shouldn't have, and Portland was able to go to the line and get some free points. My only complaint with the referees was with a few calls on Shane Battier, the most annoying being when Shane was called for a hold while trying to fight through a moving screen by Przybilla. But that was one bad call, and in every game, at least one call will be bad. To be clear, the officiating was by no means a concern of mine. Anyone shouting at the foul discrepancy should stop while they're ahead, because there is no use. I also wish that Rockets color commentator Clyde Drexler would put a lid on it sometimes when he is on a "that was a foul" rant. Seriously. How about thinking of something more productive to say, such as, "The Rockets need to find some composure and stop comitting dumb fouls."
For a team that boasts such a lethal bench, Portland, aside from one game, hasn't gotten much production from its reserves. Travis Outlaw has been shut down, and I've been very pleased with that. Rudy Fernandez has been let loose a few times, but he would start for any other team in the league. Oden has yet to be anything more than a ferocious post-fronter, and Rodriguez hasn't even been noticable. But let's face it; the Rockets would love for the Blazers to have to rely on their bench to score. Instead, the opposite has been the case, and LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy have outplayed the opposition.
I'm not sure what to do with Aldridge sometimes. You say to yourself, "Sure, let him spot up from just inside the three point line. That's a horrible shot for a 6'11 guy," and then he makes four of them in a row. He had been restricting himself to jump shots all series long, but he finally brought his assertiveness to the table in Game 5. That's the last thing the Rockets wanted to happen - a lengthy ahtlete jumping and driving all throughout the lane. LaMarcus was two fouls away from having a pair of arena-shaking slam dunks. He really picked up his game tonight.
As for Roy, I still believe that we are defending him well. Maybe I think too highly of him, but 8-20 for 25 points is fine by me. If only we could take advantage of his momentary dry spells. He missed three shots in a row at one point in the third quarter, and all we got was a single bucket from Yao. But the most impressive part of Roy's game is his ability to score late in quarters. He is quickly becoming one of the most clutch players in the league, and unlike Yao, his team is able to get him the ball whenever he wants it.
Two statistics stand out more than any others: three point shooting and turnovers. We went 3-15 from behind the arc tonight, a stark contrast to our 9-16 outing in Game 4. Even more astounding was the fact that Shane Battier only took one shot from three point country. He was obviously a focus of the Blazer defense after his back to back high scoring outputs. As for everyone else, mainly Aaron Brooks (1 for 8 from three), we rushed our outside shots and weren't able to get any good kick-out passes.
While I'm thinking about it, when was the last time we got the ball to Yao and he kicked it out for a three point shot? Has anyone else witnessed that yet? It was one of Yao's biggest improvements this season, his newfound ability to pass the ball out of the double-team for a three. My only answer to this dilemma is that Portland has made an effort to double Yao before the post entry pass and not after he has received it. This way, the Blazers can still account for everyone on the perimeter. If we want to improve our three point percentage in Game 6, we can start by working the kick-out pass that we have effectively used all season long.
To return to the key statistics, we turned the ball over like it was covered in grease. Portland had ten steals, and most of them came in the first half, when Ron Artest was trying to lazily force the ball every which way. Luis Scola also had a tough time keeping possession of the ball and had four turnovers of his own. Brooks also had some silly turnovers while trying to dribble one on five. We only had nine TO's in Game 5, but tonight we had 16, one less than our assist count. Yikes.
Finally, we've been missing a key component of our offense, and it's Ron-Ron himself. Artest is known for his bad shot selection, but every once in a while he gets hot and starts making shots left and right. Unfortunately, he has yet to find a groove in this series, and we have had to look elsewhere for perimeter production. Von Wafer won't score 21 points again like he did in Game 2, and Battier is no lock for 15 either, so Ron will have to step it up a notch in Game 6. I'm still appreciative of all that he does on defense, and he has had some great assist numbers in the series thus far, but he needs to start scoring. Our second-best scoring option should not be scoring 9, 10, and 12 points. He hasn't even reached the 20 point plateau yet. And remember Ron, when I say that I want you to score, that doesn't mean you take every available shot. We just need you to make the open ones.
Jump for the rest of the recap...
One Up (nobody else was really all that outstanding):
Luis Scola - I can't fault him for much at all. He was a force offensively and really kept us in it for a while. He has been the key to our offense all series long, and without his production, we may not be so lucky to have lead going into Game 6. Continue your solid play, Luis.
Von Wafer -- Surprised? Von shot 4-9 tonight, which is fine. But the growing concern with Von in my court is that he can not and will not rebound. He rarely boxes out his opponent, and he rarely runs in from the three point line to help grab a board. Because of this, the Blazers were able to keep some plays alive. This has been happening all season long too - Von will leave his man alone and look to go spot up on offense, leaving a more aggressive guard or wing player to run in and tip the ball to a teammate. Wafer must fix this. But I doubt that will happen this season.
Aaron Brooks -- See earlier paragraphs.
Carl Landry -- Dave wrote, "Carl Landry walked around like he was on Ritalin™ the whole game." That just about sums it up.
Stats of the Night:
Free Throws: Rockets 8/10 - Blazers 16/23
Rebounds: Rockets 36 - Blazers 37
Turnovers: Rockets 16 - Blazers 11
Fouls: Rockets 24 - Blazers 12
Free Throw Statistic: Not since June 8th, 2008 has a playoff team taken 10 free throws or less.
Insane Quote of the Night:
From Clyde Drexler:
When he is aggressive and driving to the basket, Aaron Brooks is the best scoring point guard in this league.
Here is a list my friend Jonathan and I came up with:
- Chris Paul
- Deron Williams
- Chauncey Billups
- Devin Harris
- Tony Parker
- Steve Nash
- Monta Ellis
- Mo Williams
- Baron Davis
- Gilbert Arenas
- Andre Miller
- Jameer Nelson
- Derrick Rose
If you deleted all of those guys from the league, Clyde, then yes, you would be correct....*sigh*
Next Game: Thursday @ Toyota Center. This is a must-win game, and that should be obvious. It will be a real gut check to see if we are ready to take the next step. Go Rockets!
Check out what Blazer's Edge has to say about Game 5.