After the victory over Golden State, I wasn't ready to say that the Rockets were truly playing like the Rockets of yore (yore = December). But tonight was real evidence. The Houston squad poked at loose balls (heh heh) and defended its way to a victory, easily crushing the hapless Grizzlies. After a month of tough victories and hard-fought losses, this was a refreshing change.
The game actually started off close enough. The Rockets were only up by six at the half, and the Grizzlies mounted another serious challenge to Houston's lead early in the third quarter. Turns out, bench play is perhaps a lot more important than I thought. I think I greatly underestimated the difference between the two teams' respective benches - as the (
awful idiotic annoying charming) Grizzlies announcers pointed out, the Grizzlies have the worst-scoring bench in the NBA. The Rockets, however, have a remarkably balanced attack, and it showed tonight.
Lowry, Dorsey, Budinger, and Landry were all at least +15 on the night, as was Ariza (who spent a good portion of his time with the bench players). Simply put, after the Grizzlies pulled their starters in the third their bench was totally unable to keep up with the Rockets' lineups.
The cause celebre, of course, is Joey Dorsey. Dorsey, perhaps showing off for his family and fans in Memphis (or perhaps the legions of strippers in Houston and Hidalgo), put in a superb effort. Frankly, the fact that Dorsey entered the game at all came as a big surprise to me, and I wonder how these things are generally handled in the NBA. Did Adelman tell Dorsey he was going to be given the opportunity to play more minutes tonight? Was it just a spur-of-the-moment decision after Gasol started to get hot? Whatever the case, Dorsey scored a quick five points and grabbed seven rebounds in his initial minutes on the court, and Adelman certainly decided that more Dorsey was needed after that.
Lowry also made something of a surprise appearance, given that his ankle injury was supposed to last about two weeks (not that I'm complaining). I'm sure it's fun to show off against your former team - particularly one that traded you for financial relief and a late draft pick.
But, other than Landry and Scola (who else?), the Rockets didn't have a particularly great shooting night. Brooks started off slow, though he ended up leading the Rockets in scoring. What the team did do well was defend and give themselves extra opportunities to score. Everyone seemed to be much higher-energy than I've seen over the past few weeks (give credit to Dorsey, I suppose, or maybe the Rockets just decided they were tired of panicking at the end of games). They scrambled after every loose ball, aggressively double-teamed after they decided to stop Gasol, and generally made sure that the Grizzlies weren't going to get any more extra shots than the Rockets wanted to give them.
That's how you play winning basketball. And this is how you build a winning team: put winning players on the bench. It's how the Blazers are surviving all of their recent injuries, and it's how the Rockets are surviving their slightly-more-long-term wounds, as well.
Three Up, Three Down*
* I'm going to do something a little different tonight, because I'm a little tired of picking the same few players each week (though this one would obviously include a few different names from the usual Brooks/Scola/Landry crew). Instead, I'm going to just pick three different things (that might include players, however) for each category. If I like the way it turns out, maybe I'll keep doing it.**
** I'm sure all of you care very much about my personal philosophy of blogography.
Joey Dorsey: Joey's "true" NBA debut was exactly what we'd expect from his NBADL and NCAA days: efficient shooting around the glass, and incredible rebounding rates. Twelve rebounds in only eighteen minutes, and fully half of those were of the offensive variety. That's... Love-esque. If Dorsey can contribute these types of games on a regular basis, then he's going to be a valuable NBA player. Remember though, one great game does not an NBA career make.
Reserves: I know I've belabored the point enough already, but the Rockets' bench play was fantastic tonight. Houston got 46 points out of the reserves tonight (haha, Memphis, Brian Cook totally dropped a bucket on your ass!). The Rockets have to rely on their bench to make up for the "talent differential," so they win when Lowry, Bud, and Landry put in good games. They lose when that doesn't happen.
Offensive Rebounding: Tied, of course, with Joey. The Rockets are a great offensive rebounding team (small teams typically are), and they put in another good effort (enough to make the Memphis color commentator keep bitching about it all night).
Turnovers: This is gong to be true for the Rockets for the rest of the season, but they've coughed up the ball too much all year. And tonight was no exception to that. They're forcing a lot of turnovers, too, but they play pretty sloppily sometimes.
Three Point Shooting: This wasn't Brooks' best shooting night, nor was it Bud's. Not much more to say than that - it comes and goes.
David Andersen: I don't expect too much from the guy, but tonight was a pretty bad game from him. He wasn't able to buy a shot, and Adelman pulled him relatively quickly.
Also: the Rockets might not have any All-Stars, but the Dorsey-Landry frontcourt combo is All-Smiles. Yes, that was incredibly corny, but it's freaking true. You could only make it jollier if you threw Dwight Howard in there.