On a night where both teams played volleyball in the Rockets' paint down the stretch, Kevin Martin and his compatriots pulled out a tremendous home win against a strong Thunder team. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden combined for 76 points, but the rest of the team was content to watch the game from the locker room. The Rockets, on the other hand, enjoyed a reasonably balanced attack with all ten players getting on the score sheet, including a very impressive 14 points from Chandler Parsons.
From the opening tip until the end of the first quarter, the Rockets controlled the game, jumping out to a 16 point lead. Samuel Dalembert grabbed every rebound in sight during his "I'm the best center in the NBA" quarter, Kevin Martin couldn't miss, and even Chandler Parsons got in on the fun.
After the first, the game was nothing more than a grind for the Rockets. After an early second quarter run knotted things up, the Thunder controlled the tempo and toyed with the Rockets, settling for lazy shots but making them anyways. The Rockets were on top most of the way, but the game appeared to be the Thunder's for the taking if they wanted it.
Fortunately enough, things finally went the Rockets way.
For once, it was the other team's turn to miss their last nine shots while the Rockets clawed back from a fourth quarter deficit to take a late lead they would not surrender. Kevin Martin hit a pair of late free throws to put the Rockets up 96-95 and the Thunder shot and missed five times before the final whistle. Word is that you could hear the collective sigh of relief coming from Houston all the way out in the Woodlands.
After the jump, I share some scattered thoughts of mine.1. Kevin Martin is Pissed Off, and I Like It
On the team's last road trip, Martin managed just 44 points on an astronomically low shooting percentage. After the loss on Wednesday night, Martin voiced his frustrations, telling Jonathan Feigen that he wanted a chance for more minutes even when he's not on his game:
If we're winning and I'm sitting, I'm happy. Tonight, we got beat, and I'm on a 10-day-contract leash. I'm not happy about that, just because we lost. If we're winning, I'll sit over there for 48 minutes.
Against the Thunder, he put anger to use and came out aggressively, scoring 32 points on a Martin-esque 18 shots. Say what you want about Martin, but tonight he scored the ball as well as any shooting guard in the league. After the game, he praised the the team for getting him the ball, saying "we ran the offense the way it should be run."
Perhaps Kevin Martin's timing is a bit off considering he had just scored in double digits for the second time in seven games, but at least Martin used his frustrations to fuel his surge rather than allowing them to get him down. Mopey Martin was no fun. Let's hope he can keep this fire going.
2. The Rockets Still Need to Learn How to Finish Games
Tonight, the Rockets did not exactly win this game because of amazing late game execution. Rather, the Rockets scores and stopped seemed to be more predicated on luck rather than brilliant play.
For the Rockets' penultimate score, Samuel Dalembert air-balled a jumper that fell into Kyle Lowry's lap for an easy lay-in. Next, after Kevin Durant missed a jumper, Kendrick Perkins stupidly bailed Kevin Martin out with a foul 20 feet from the basket to set up the winning free throws.
After these gifts from the basketball gods, the Rockets apparently forgot how to properly box-out. The Thunder got four very makeable shots on their last possession, but none fell in for the potential dagger.
As great of a win as this one was, the Rockets can't count on breaks like that every night. Obviously, Kyle Lowry put himself in a position to get that offensive rebound by waiting in the paint, but if Dalembert had put the ball on the rim, that rebound would likely have been collected by one of the enormous Thunder big men lurking. Kevin Martin made the heady play by putting the shot up after feeling contact from Kendrick Perkins, but an average center wouldn't try to guard the opposing shooting guard like that.
Finally, if you're counting on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to miss four shots on one possession in crunch time, you won't be winning many games.
3. Luis Scola Has Become a Fourth Quarter Liability
Everybody loves Luis Scola. He throws his body around for rebounds, dances with his defender, and never seems to lose his cool. He's the quintessential fan favorite.
However, with post defenders snuffing out his moves, and capable scorers working him over on the offensive end, Scola is struggling to put together four quarters of quality basketball. For that reason, McHale has elected to go with Patrick Patterson to close games out. Patterson didn't have his shot going 100% tonight, but his two-way skills and fresh legs make him a worthwhile late game sub for Scola.
This isn't to say Scola doesn't still have value, that would be a disservice to the Ice Cream Man, but the Rockets are starting to rely on him more to get them off to good starts rather than to close out tight games.