Hi Rockets fans. Did anyone see this coming? How about after a brutal first half that saw the Rockets trailing by 9 after making a mini-run to narrow the gap from 14pts?
Chicago came out with a point to prove after being undressed in OKC 92-78 yesterday afternoon. The Rockets looked like a team that had just suffered a heartbreaking overtime loss at home less than 24 hours before tip-off, but to their credit, stood ready to right the ship. In a close fought first quarter the Rockets lead by 4 heading into the second.
The second quarter didn't go so well. The Rockets couldn't hit Lake Michigan from the Navy Pier. Chicago played defense featured in their "Chicago PD" NBA promo spot. With 1:40 left in the 2nd the Rockets were down 14. Game over? You'd be forgiven for thinking so, but the Rockets narrowed the gap to single digits at the half. You'd also be forgiven for thinking "This looks like a 10pt loss. No one wins in Chicago, the Bulls are angry, Rockets are looking tired."
There's been a lot (heaps, scads, oodles) of debate about the future of this team, the wisdom of management's approach, and so forth. What should not be open for debate is the level of effort this team gives every single game. With very rare exceptions this season (I can think of two) the Rockets have fought each contest to the end. Sometimes the bitter end, but that's the game. There isn't a single club this squad can't beat. Even if you don't like the direction, don't take it out on this team, they're worthy of your respect. Root for them, because management isn't reading the suggestion box anyway.
Where were we? Right. The Bulls looked to cruise to victory at home where almost no one beats them. The Bulls also hadn't lost back-to-back games in over A FULL NBA SEASON OF GAMES. (Holy...something.)
In a surprise development, the Rockets had other plans. Both teams traded buckets until halfway through the 3rd quarter, with Chicago holding its 9pt lead. Then Chicago God-Coach Tom Thibodeau (a Morey favorite from Boston btw) saw something he didn't like. Timeout. (See the foreshadowing there? These very timeouts will appear again later on, in a ghostly "Christmas Carol-esque" form.)
The Rockets subsequently went on a real run of their own, closing the gap to 2 pts on baskets by Goran Dragic, Luis Scola, and Chase Budinger.
Timeout Chicago. (FX - chains rattle off screen.) People talk about Chicago's bench, but Houston's depleted squad battled Chicago's rightly praised second unit to a standstill. The benches recorded 32pts for Chicago and 29 for Houston, and that includes Earl Boykins. (Who is a legit NBA player in small doses. (Oof.))
By the time the quarter ended Houston's bench had taken a one point lead, 71-70, off scoring from Boykins, Patrick Patterson and Chandler Parsons.
Often with big comebacks it seems that the team making up the deficit simply runs out of steam in 4th quarter, having expended so much energy simply to bring the game level. Instead the Rockets showed their mettle, with their second unit clamping down of defense and taking a 7pt lead with barely one minute gone in the 4th. Chicago Full Timeout. (And cue creepy organ music.) That's TO three, so far with 11 minutes left in the 4th.
Chase Budinger was key to this run, as he drained 3 consecutive three pointers early in the 4th. Chicago's defense lost him on several occasions and Chase made them pay. (Chandler Parsons excluded, is there a better dollar-for-dollar player in the NBA?)
The Rocket lead broadened to 12pts and Thibodeau called another timeout (the Ghost of Timeouts Past is now entering stage left) with 8 minutes left. For those of you scoring at home Chicago has a 20 second TO left at this point.
In the crucial final eight minutes we saw the NBA promo spot they decided not to air "Chicago PD - Police Brutality Gone Wild". Had many of Chicago's "defensive plays" happened on a random street corner somewhere various Chicago players would likely be arrested. Eight minutes of flat out muggings, no justice in sight and whistles quite scarce for the
Could the Rockets survive the battering? Barely. Remember all those timeouts? Here's the payoff scene- over three minutes left and there's no way to stop the clock on the comeback. The Ghost of Comebacks Future weeps into a watery, expensive, beer. Between the Bulls having to bring the ball up each time and a timely Courtney Lee bucket (after a mostly dismal night) with 0:54 left, the Rockets held on. Holding on is an entirely positive result, taken in context.
As strange as the 4th quarter personnel decisions were for Kevin McHale, I think its safe to say he won the coaching battle tonight. Go figure. (Some of those decisions - Dragic reenters the game with 3 minutes left, Scola defends Noah, Patterson is the other big, no Camby. Parsons stays out.)
In any event, this is a fantastic win, and just what we needed. Now the Rockets can rest before heading for another brutal showdown in unfriendly confines in Los Angeles
Check out the One Man Band at Blog a Bull