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Game 63 Recap: Rockets defeat Wizards 96-88, return to the land of the winning

On the whole, this wasn't the most interesting game. Scola dominated, Hill continued to show off what made him a lottery pick, and Lowry and Ariza made their returns. Instead of focusing on the "whats" of the game, I'd like to look at some of the implications (or, at least, what I was thinking).

Earlier today I posted a link to the Crawfish Boxes' story on the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, hosted by Daryl Morey, Mark Cuban, and MIT. Contained within that article and the comments section is a short debate between the TCB faithful (including yours truly) about the existence of "clutch-ness." In case you haven't figured this out by now, I come down fairly firmly on the "nerd" side of the statistics debate in sports, and so my position shouldn't really surprise you.

But that's not really the point right now. Here's what is important: clutch-ness is overrated. Good teams blow out teams like the Wizards. If you want to win lots of games, you can't rely on any magical ability to come through in the clutch. And after seeing the NBA's "WHERE CLUTCH HAPPENS" eight or nine times during the broadcast, I began to think about this in relation to the game (btw: why was Clutch the Bear not in that commercial???)

Anyways, the Rockets built an 18-point lead in the third quarter, and they rode that to victory. If you rearrange some of the scoring events, the Rockets would have the same outcome, but we'd be talking all about how the Rockets "came back" because of their "clutch play" or "iron will" or some shit. In reality, the Rockets are simply a better team than the Wizards, and they were able to overcome some late difficulties by playing really well earlier.

I guess that's not particularly insightful or anything (gee, the Rockets won because they scored more points than their opponents), but I suppose it's de-mystifying.

The other not-so-revelatory info you might take from the game is this: size ain't shit. As we were all reminded by ak2themax, xiane, and a few commenters in the preview section, Blatche and McGee are big guys. Since this is basically what was said at the beginning of the season (the Rockets are smaller than their opponents), I was a little surprised, particularly because I thought we had dispelled these notions around the time Carl Landry was kicking the league's ass up and down the court.

Going by the numbers, Scola is one of the best defensive rebounders in the game. He's 6ft 9in and has no lift whatsoever. He does that by (ugh) out-hustling and generally being more skilled than his opponents. Kyle Lowry rebounds like a spry Jason Kidd - that's mostly strength and tenaciousness.

The fact is that size helps, yeah, but it's not the end of the discussion. The Rockets aren't rebounding particularly well as of late, but tonight was an exception. And they did it against two big guys (who aren't that great of rebounders, anyways, I might add). So take that, comparatively-short-people-haters.

Three Up:

Luis Scola: Freed of competition from Carl and the Kraken (I guess; I doubt Joey ever really scared Scola when it came to minutes), Scola continues to prove that he's one of the more underrated contributors in the league. 23 points on 16 shots, 10 rebounds. Not the best night for him, and he gave up the ball seven (!!!) times, but, hey, they won, and so I won't complain.

Jordan Hill: So, it turns out he can play. I doubt Walsh is losing any sleep over this, since he got what he wanted, but as Xiane is so quick to point out, it's a real wonder why the dude didn't get any PT while in New York.

The Undead: So, it turns out that Ariza and Lowry are kinda critical to the Rockets' gameplan. Neither had a great game, boxscore-wise, but after their absence I'm starting to notice the little things they do more and more. A lot of things swung the Rockets' way tonight, and much of that was Lowry and Ariza's doing. None of that will show up on the official stats sheet, but the Rockets know whom to love.

Three Down:

Speed and Trixie: Neither had a bad game, but Brooks and Martin didn't quite live up to expectations tonight. Threes weren't falling, and the shots they took weren't really the best. Martin had a good run in the third though, possibly carrying the team for a while.

Hilton Armstrong: You suck, I always knew you sucked, and frankly I'm a little glad you're not playing anymore. At the same time, I wish you were any good. There, now I feel better.

Al Thornton: Thornton's relatively good play (relative to his first two seasons) as of late has been quite worrysome to me. It called into question everything I thought I knew about him. So it was refreshing to see him throw bad passes out of bounds and generally suck up until he started hitting some lucky jumpers. Hooray for me.