At the start of the first quarter, the Rockets ran out to an early double-digit lead, and my belief that Houston would be able to just walk to a victory seemed safe -- Lowry, Scola, and Dalembert seemed to easily dominate the Kings, after all, and there was little reason to suspect that the Rockets' bench would falter against that of the Kings.
But that illusion vanished as soon as Dragic, Hill, Patterson, and Budinger took the court in the middle of the first half. The Kings' bench (as well as Tyreke Evans) raced out on the fast break, destroyed the Rockets' defense, and seemed to make every perimeter shot they took. Patterson's shot was off, Dragic turned the ball over and ran a terrible pick-and-roll, and Hill was a total non-factor. Only Budinger contributed anything of note (Patterson's two rebounds were better than nothing, though). Kevin McHale threw his starters back on the court, but the Rockets limped into the second half with only a two-point lead.
McHale apparently decided that he would rather tire his starting lineup than lose a game that the Rockets simply must win if they plan on having any shot at making the postseason, and I think that was probably the best move. This game was eminently winnable, and if the team gives up losses to the league's bottom-feeders, they don't have a snowball's chance, as it were.
So Kyle Lowry played a little more than 41 minutes tonight, a necessity given that Dragic proved horrifically ineffective and Flynn is best suited as a human victory cigar. Even he didn't manage to get the bench going much more, though Patterson and even Dragic managed to get some points in the second half. Still, this was yet another star-level game from Lowry: 25 points (on just 15 shots), 7 rebounds, 9 assists, 2 steals, and only 2 turnovers. Maybe his extensive minutes (and, as always, very tough play) will hurt the Rockets tomorrow against Portland, but it ensured a much-needed victory.
(Watching the postgame interview with McHale, someone asked if the Rockets were "too reliant on Kyle's dominance right now." McHale shrugged and said "...yeah...")
Samuel Dalembert posted his best game of the season, grabbing 16 rebounds (seven on the offensive end) and four blocks. Those numbers are impressive in themselves, but they went along with 21 points on only 11 shots, a spectacularly efficient effort from a guy who hasn't been known for it over most of his career. He easily handled DeMarcus Cousins, which didn't surprise me in the slightest, but the degree of Cousins' defeat was a little shocking: 4 points on 7 shots, just 4 rebounds,
Scola has worried me a lot through the start of the season. He posted his first very good rebounding game of the season (11 rebounds), got his points (21, the same as Sammy), passed well and even played pretty good defense tonight. His rebounding has been what really worried me so far, but his efficiency (23 shots tonight) has taken a big dip in the last two seasons. Still, Scola is the Rockets' go-to option in the post, and he played well tonight.
Chandler "The Chancellor" Parsons continues to impress: good offense (when he drives to the hoop; his jump shot isn't there yet), good rebounding for a small forward, and almost preternatural defense (Battier-like). He is becoming a do-everything forward after having taken away Chase Budinger's starting position so early in the season, and all the signs are there for him to become even better. I'm continuously impressed by Parsons' ability to drive into the paint, and if he can just develop a jump shot in the next year or two, he'll be an extraordinarily valuable player. Horry-like.
Martin's offensive night wasn't the best, but he still contributed with good passing and some decent defense against the hapless King offense. Pretty good rebounding and passing, as well. And, down the stretch, he hit some big threes to pull the Rockets ahead. You know, it's the sum of the parts; same with Scola.
So the starters rocked house, but the bench pretty much sucked. Budinger actually played a fairly decent game, I thought, but the bench as a whole failed to reach double-digits in points, rebounds, assists, whatever. Dragic really struggled in the half-court tonight, seemingly unable to run any play that worked or make his own shots. Hill was even worse, grabbing only one rebound and playing poor enough defense to get him yanked in only 11 minutes. He blew a wide-open dunk-to-be off a Kyle Lowry would-be assist. Hill seems incapable of stringing together decent games right now.
Overall, a mixed game from the Rockets, but one that resulted in a resounding win because of the Kings' own problems and McHale's willingness to sacrifice possibility tomorrow for an assured win tonight. A good move from the coach, even if it's one we may pay for tomorrow.
Oh, and Bill Worrell and Clyde Drexler need to check with their media people. Isaiah Thomas (rookie Kings guard) is not son of the other Isaiah Thomas (hall of fame general manager).