Monta Ellis did his best. Driven on by what might be the best crowd in the NBA, Ellis lit up the scoreboard yet again, hitting 15-20 for 44pts. For stretches in the 2nd half he went into Beast Mode, draining everything. Then Adelman did something unexpected. When GSW came back from 10 down to take a 2pt lead with a roaring throng powering them forward, Adelman called a timeout.
He took out Aaron Brooks (whose shot is there, but little else is) and brought in Courtney Lee for a very small lineup (Kyle Lowry, Lee, Kevin Martin, Shane Battier, Luis Scola). This lineup took Golden State's best punch and answered with enough timely stops and cold blooded shots to seal the victory. Monta Ellis wasn't shut down, but he was slowed. Battier drained key 3pters. Martin hit four crucial buckets and nailed 8 more FT (is that closing? it looked like it, but it's probably not macho enough, or something).
Kyle Lowry, who played a fantastic game, managed a steal that made Vladimir Radmanovic so angry he drew a flagrant foul for either punching or head-locking Kyle. From that point the life started draining out of the Oracle Arena fans and the Warriors. Add in one more frosty Battier 3pter and it was Goodnight Irene. Keith Smart indulged in "Fouls and Threes Training" at our expense once again, but to no avail. All that did was pad the stats of the NBA's best FT shooter - Kevin Martin. (Lee - please hit some FT late in the 4th, ok? I'm starting to worry about you. Maybe visit Ron Artest's Victory Shrink in LA tomorrow?)
The Rockets are now 13-15. I hate to say I told you so (no, actually I don't, like most people I love it) but I kept writing that the time to panic was at around 30 games. As 30 games approach the Rockets are coming together. They're finding their player roles, and they're coming together as a unit. Rick Adelman, oddly wakeful for December, appears to be realizing just how many cards he has to play in any situation, with one of the deepest and most flexible rosters in the NBA (even, sadly without Yao Ming). The team is now part of the Western Conference playoff conversation (Hollingers Playoff Odds have the Rockets with a 54% chance of making the post-season and it'll keep climbing with more wins.)
Don't look now, but the Houston Rockets are relevant again. Let's go for 4 in a row against the Los Angeles Griffins.
Jump for my love, and my writing.
And see Golden State of Mind for the opposing view.
- Kyle Lowry is playing like a Top 10 PG. He is. He's learned to make the open 3pter. He's not driving recklessly, but making solid passes after slicing open the defense. He's defending well, playing smart, and is a relentless pest. He stole two inbounds passes in this game. Two. Each time the Warriors were so pissed off they wacked him in the head. He's earning his contract, and at this moment, he is clearly Houston's #1 PG.
- Luis Scola is also relentless. I've never seen anything like him in the paint, except for Kevin McHale. The cleverness of his moves, and the soft shot that follows those moves, is something you're not going to see again in the NBA for quite a while. Enjoy it, appreciate it, because Luis Scola is a basketball artisan on the level of Hakeem Olajuwon. The only current player who might come close is Kevin Love, but he's not as creative in the paint, and probably never will be. Late in the game Epke Udoh, who looked like he's going to be a great player, flew miles in the air to block a Scola shot. Scola waited for his leap and shot the ball under his block. Under it. And he meant to do it. (By the way, the Warriors are going to have some amazing rebounding and shot-blocking if the stars align and Andris Biedrins and Udoh are healthy at the same moment. How you play them and David Lee, I don't know, but wow. )
- Shane Battier - What do you do when you are playing the percentages perfectly and force Monta Ellis into an array of contested 22ft shots with a hand in his face? Statistically this is one of the worst shots in basketball. You WANT the offense to take that shot. But what if they make it anyway? Tonight, if you're Shane, you drain 4-6 from the 3pt line and give the crowd the kiss of death. This was the 2nd night of a back to back, btw, so I may be wrong -and I'm happy to be so.
- EXTRA UP - Smart Basketball - the Rockets effectively stole 5pts at the half with a Lowry snowbird and beautiful Chuck Hayes (who again had a whale of a game against the Warriors) outlet pass, then a steal of an inbounds, then a smart Battier timeout that got us a 0.4 second shot make by Luis Scola. That is the Rocketball I know and love.
- Aaron Brooks - AB0 is not playing well right now. He's tentative when he should be aggressive, and is clearly not in the flow of the game. I'm saying it is rust, and I think he gets better, especially when the schedule calms enough for the team to practice.
- Terrence Williams (aka Twilly) has yet to play a minute for the Rockets. He might have been useful defending Ellis. He may be very useful later when we play GSW again, with Lee on Curry, and Williams on Ellis. If he gets into a game that is. He will, and we're going to see a flying circus the likes of which hasn't been seen in Houston since 1987 with Lee, Martin, Williams, Patterson and Hill on the court at the same time.
- The refs. I know, we won. But I'd like a consistent strike zone once in a while. I'd like to see basic rulebook stuff called, like over the back. If you're going to call very very close travels, you've got to call very very obvious over the back plays. The refs took over for a while late in the 3rd and keyed a GSW comeback with a barrage of free throws that was followed by a barrage of GSW made shots. Then they got a little more consistent, then they called weird touch flops, then they.... You see what I mean.