Stop the presses! Stop the recipes! The Rockets won a close game!
This was a fun night at the Toyota Center. Not simply because the Rockets won, although that is huge, but because the Rockets appeared to have an identity tonight. Despite lacking the scoring punch of Aaron Brooks, or the height of Yao Ming, the Rockets found another player to step up tonight. Guess who, haters?
That's right! It's Shane Battier! Let's see what happened to the 09-10 NBA scoring champ (and one of my favorite NBA players) Kevin Durant tonight, shall we?
18pts on 7-18 Shooting, 2 Rebounds, 3 Assists - 38 minutes
18pts on 7-11 Shooting, 6 Rebounds, 1 Assist, 1 Steal, 1 Block - 36 minutes
So, not only did Battier contribute more than Durant overall, he also shut the scoring champ down, and please, do not be so foolish as to say it didn't happen that way. I was there. I saw it. Durant didn't get very many looks, and basically checked out of the game. He played bad D and Battier took advantage of it, finally hitting his open threes, and then driving successfully when his defender played too tight to guard the corner 3. Between taking about 12 points away, and contributing 18, Battier was key to a close win tonight.
So, what's not to like? Well, this game shouldn't have gotten as close as it did in the end. Many will say the Rockets lack a "closer" and perhaps that's true. I'd say they simply missed open looks towards the end, and let the Thunder back into the ball game. I'd like to see a dominant game at some point, no collapses, no swoons, no cold spells, no stupid runs of play where the Rockets give away the ball several possessions in a row. That said, this was the closest I've seen the Rockets come to being the team I expected. The team D was good, only Russell Westbrook broke 20pts for the Thunder, and the Rockets outrebounded their opponents 44-36. Kevin Martin somehow matched Westbrook's scoring, despite no one on the Thunder noticing anything amiss.
Now time for Ten Big Bullet Points (The Lazy Man's Friend (tm) )
- Kyle Lowry - perhaps he's not an evil, fat, talentless clown after all. Perhaps, just maybe, he's the guy we signed to a rich deal over the summer. Perhaps he's just now getting it together after his injury, and yes, putting on some weight. Tonight he went 14pts 5/12 shooting, 6 rebounds, 8 assists to 1 turnover, 1 steal, and 2 blocks. Against a lesser PG than Westbrook, Lowry might get a triple double one night. Anyhow, he's almost there in terms of his conditioning, and his 3pter has continued to look better as his fitness and leg strength have improved.
- 3 point shooting. Good, at last. Rockets shoot nearly 60% from 3. That won't happen every night, but it might happen more than you think, as the ball movement was generally good, and the Rockets can probably drain open threes at a similar pace all season. Again, I stress, open threes.
- Good passing overall, with 26 team assists on 38 made FGs. Better ball security, with 11 turnovers total. Taking away Scola getting rolled in the lane (see below) and its 6. That's acceptable.
- Please, more freedom for Jordan Hill 12pts, 7rbs in 16 minutes! Yay! Please, Jordan Hill, improve your free throw shooting, on 3 occasions the Thunder fouled Hill rather than face yet another thunderous dunk, and it paid off for them. 40% FT shooting will not suffice. Also, 5 fouls in 16 minutes? I'll grant that 2 were completely spurious, but the other three weren't. Boo.
- Less Chuck Hayes at center. Please. Brad Miller is playing well. Hill is playing well. Both players can score. Both are tall enough to be considered normal NBA center size.
- Finally, we've seen some interesting and effective lineups with Hill and Miller on the floor at the same time.
- For the love of God, Rockets, quit passing up shots with a dying shot clock. I'm looking at you, Miller and you, Kevin Martin. Miller - you are 7 feet tall, are you expecting Nick Collison to block your 3pt shot? Martin - do you really think Chuck Hayes at the elbow is a better option that whatever you'd put up? When you're open, shoot it. When you aren't as open as you'd like, but time is short, shoot it anyway - that's what shooters do, and non-shooters shouldn't do.
- Rockets, when you drive the lane, put the ball up. I know the refs were absolutely adamant about not giving the Rockets a single call underneath the basket tonight, but still.
- Dear Coach - sometimes your players are tired. When this happens they need to rest. This can be done via timeouts, especially right before TV timeouts, or by using your bench. I know we needed the win, and needed the starters quite a bit, but when they're gassed, they aren't helping anymore.
- Only 33 minutes for Luis Scola, and a comparatively quiet night with 13pts, 6 rbs, 2ast, 1stl, 1blk. Scola was charged with 5 turnovers tonight, part of that was where he was getting the ball. Not deep in the post, so he was driving the basket, or backing into the post. When he did that, Westbrook Maynor and Harden simply came over and mugged him, causing turnovers. I think 2 of the TOs weren't fouls, but again, the Rockets couldn't buy a call underneath tonight. OKC is good at D, but not THAT good - once they realized they could mug the Rockets with absolutely no repercussions inside they did it all night.