We are witnessing Kyle Lowry's metamorphosis. Normally I'd hesitate to write that because I'd worry about jinxing the guy (alternative explanation: I worry about pinning myself to a bad prediction), but I'm confident that what we've seen out of Lowry in these past few games is the real deal. This isn't the third-year guard who couldn't shoot jump shots. Lowry is a real floor general, the sort of on-court floor leader the Rockets haven't seen since, maybe, John Lucas or Calvin Murphy. This is Kyle Lowry's team right now. The Rockets may have handed him the team last year, but since the last All Star break Lowry has actually claimed the team as his own.
Lowry is everywhere right now. That was obvious tonight when he raced down the court to block Jannero Pargo's fast break layup, but if you were watching the rest of the game, you saw evidence of Lowry omnipresence everywhere. He intercepted Hawks passes effortlessly, he shored up the Rockets' defensive rebounding, and (most importantly) he delivered 18 assists, tying his career record. There were maybe another six assists that should have been recorded, save for the Rockets' shooters blowing wide-open attempts.
This wasn't Lowry's perfect game. He was 0-for-6 from the field, getting his only two points tonight off of foul shots following that monstrous block. He had 6 turnovers, at least three of which were the result of Lowry overthrowing his receivers on fast break attempts. He sometimes tried to do too much, but his excellent vision and defense more than made up for it. This game wasn't important because Lowry carried the Rockets on the scoreboard, but rather because he got all of the team involved on offense.
After the brutal loss in Memphis last night, the Rockets needed Lowry's playmaking ability, and the starters took advantage of his game:
Budinger fed off of Lowry's assists all night, finally putting in a game that wasn't total crap. He moved more off the ball, giving Lowry and the Rockets' big men opportunities to find him on the perimeter and under the basket. Kevin Martin continued his excellent play, showing that worries about his shooting touch were premature. Maybe it had something to do with a 10-day training camp and only two preseason games rather than dumb supposition that he was just pissed at the team or something.
Luis Scola was obviously gassed from the back-to-back-to-back, but he still turned in a quality game, even if he bricked a few open shots and lost some rebounds. Jordan Hill set a career high with 15 rebounds, Dalembert turned in another 10, and maybe Lowry will no longer be the team's leading rebounder.
The team's defense was significantly improved. The Rockets covered the pick-and-roll much better tonight, and everyone played harder on the boards. I still don't think that the Rockets can really be a good defensive team, but they can probably be just a little below average with some effort. The Rockets are still ironing out that defense, however, so we'll see what happens.
If there's any criticism to be made of this game, it's that McHale was perhaps too unwilling to go to the bench. Lowry played 42 minutes and Martin played 40, but Williams, Parsons, Morris, and Flynn didn't play (Parsons played six seconds, but that doesn't count). But the Rockets don't have another game until the third, so I suppose it doesn't really matter. In the end, the decision to pull the starters in the third last night paid off, and the Rockets have won two out of the three games on their b-t-b-t-b, which is pretty good. So, you know, whatever. Good job, McHale!