Coming into tonight's game, the Houston Rocket faithful had been served a performance against the Jazz that seemed like a microcosm of the season as a whole. Beautiful, fast-paced offense paired with a surprisingly effective defensive effort for stretches; then, a collapse into the doldrums and inconsistencies that plague all young teams. The game turned into a nail-biter late, for all the wrong reasons, but we somehow managed to survive.
Tonight, even against an injury plagued Cavaliers team in the midst of tanking, the stakes were high and predictions a dominating performance by the Rockets felt as jinx-worthy as any given Houston's execution in the recent past.
But, on this day, they showed up.
And not just for a quarter or two.
The contest started off giving everyone who had that ‘trap game' feeling tonight more credibility as the Rockets came out doing well offensively but turning the ball over and the Cavaliers (read: Shaun Livingston) were knocking down mid-range jumpers. They were hanging around early on, even taking the lead at one point.
But then the Rockets did something that we don't often get to witness. They took back the lead, built on it, and finished the game like we all knew they should. It was one of the most relieving 2 hours I've had in a long time.
In the spirit of a happy TDS atmosphere tonight (and to make up for my awful recap last time) I'm bringing back 3-up, 3-down!
1. Rockets Frontcourt
These are numbers showed how well these matchups went for Cleveland in the starting frontcourt:
Cavs (Zeller, Gee, Thompson) - 21 points on 7/18 shooting, 15 reobunds, 3 assists, 4 turnovers, 1 block
Rockets (Asik, Parsons, Dmo) - 36 points on 15/24 shooting, 19 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 turnovers, 2 blocks
Take out Alonzo Gee from that equation (11 points of those points) and it starts to get a little PG-13.
Omer Asik absolutely dominated the paint, sucking up glass like he normally does and making driving Cavaliers think twice before shooting which resulted in a LOT of rebounds once Cleveland's shooting stroke waned after the first quarter. We crushed them 54-32 in the rebounding department. The difference of 22 was almost double the number of rebounds the Cavs had total in the first half.
Omer took Tyler Zeller to school, flunked him, and re-enrolled him just so he could flunk him again. Then Omer felt so bad for him that he tipped a loose ball into his own goal to force the refs to put up Tyler's only FG of the night. Zeller ended with 2 points, 5 rebounds, 3 turnovers, and my vote for worst defender in the game for biting on Asik's pump-fakes. MORE THAN ONCE!
Greg Smith also deserves a huge bench shout-out. He was absolutely phenomenal. He lead the team in rebounding with 13 in twenty five minutes of play and also defended very well without fouling for key stretches of that game that helped get our runs going.
While Chandler and Motie's shooting was still a bit shaky, they were able to slash to the basket and get some quality looks at the rim and passes out to teammates to keep the offense moving.
Very quality effort on the defensive end from the frontcourt tonight - they deserve a lot of praise for being the cogs in the middle of the floor that forced the Cavs into more jumpshots than they would like, which lead to a very stagnated offense after the first quarter that saw their shots sink
Let's put it this way, their leading scorer was Livingston in the first half with 14 points. In the second half, not only did he not score another point, but he ended up being their leading scorer on the night.
Bravo, boys. Bravo.
2. The Bench
Greg Smith gets to double dip tonight. Consider it a reward for leading the team in both rebounds and topping the +/- chart at +31 tonight.
The rest of the bench played very well. Most notably, Patrick Beverley was just a joy to watch on the floor. While his shooting woes continued as he could not hit a few open shots, he was still putting the ball in the basket and forcing his way into every play. He finished with 11 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal, and a great block that forced a turnover as he hustled around a screener to get a hand on the ball and left .1 secs on the shot clock.
Thomas Robinson rounded out the night with a solid performance despite some silly turnovers (dead ball turnovers, however). Once garbage time started his scoring really took off, but he was putting a body on people all night as well as getting his hand on the ball to force steals and netting some blocks as well.
Even James Anderson and Aaron Brooks got into the action, putting on a show as the Rockets paraded to victory in the 4th. Brooks heard ovations pretty much every time he touched the ball; great sight to see.
3. This is the first time I've used the words Harden or Lin
Usually our analysis starts and ends with this backcourt tandem, but tonight they didn't shock and awe as much as we usually see them do.
Personally, I liked watching a game where everyone gets into the action and love being able to rest those two guys whenever we can in the 4th with the playoffs around the corner.
Harden consistently produced and put up his usual looking stat line (20 points, 1 board, 2 assists, 2 steals), full of free throws and great three point shooting but it never seemed as though the team was desperate to feed him the ball. Although the ball got sticky a few times when he touched it, he seemed to get his points very much in the flow of the offense which is a welcome sight for everyone.
Biggest eyesore of the night was the 22 turnovers for our bunch.
McHale in a recent interview said that this team always frustrates him, but that some games they just make him mad.
Some of the turnovers that happened in this game...just made me mad. They always have frustrating turnovers. Sure, Chandler and Harden wont connect on those pocket passes all the time. Omer is going to drop at least 3 or 4 passes a game. I get that. I accept that.
But some of these silly passing turnovers while bringing the ball up the court or re-setting the offense where the ball seemingly just gets bobbled to the other team have got to be cleaned up. I wasn't exactly yelling at my screen as I watched them play. But if I had to point to one thing that consistently frustrated me throughout the night, it was good ole faithful.
We can always count on this group to play against themselves for stretches. We're just lucky they are so good most nights they overcome it.
2. Jeremy Lin
He is in the ‘3-down' section for two reasons:
First, he had the worst performance of any Rocket statistically (4pts, 6 assists, 3 turnovers, 20 minutes) so relatively he was an easy target on a night where everyone seemed to be getting something going.
Second, he's in the ‘3-down' section because, in what amounts to a very happy night for Rockets fans, we will still have to listen to more of this ridiculous "McHale hates Lin" trope fed by cursory looks at his minute per game.
Lin had his minutes limited because of both the blowout and the great play of Beverley early on, but when he was on the floor he was buzzing around with the ball and making the offense hum. His shot was way off tonight though (2/7 shooting) which limited his contributions on the scoreboard, which was enough of a performance to land him here.
But make no mistake, Lin was doing good things for us most of the night.
3. Im grabbing at straws here...
Tim Ohlbrecht didn't play, I guess.
Anything else I think I could highlight would be far too nit-picky in my mind. I'll live with pretty much everything else I saw out there tonight.
Seriously, a much needed sight for weary Rockets fan eyes tonight. We didn't just win, we did it comfortably. We played defense. We rebounded. We played as a team.
We also played....the Cavs.
It's great to see a game like this, but its only one stepping stone to the play-offs. We took care of business against a team we usually play down to. Now we need to prove we can keep playing up against the likes of Indiana, Memphis, San Antonio, and the Clippers.
We have a tough stretch coming up, the starters are going to relish the rest they got tonight.
Here's to a cheerful TDS discussion free of the word ‘McFail'