In a true clash of civilizations, the Rockets high octane offense clashed with Memphis' superb defense in a titanic battle between division rivals both headed to the play-offs. The Grizzlies came into the Toyota Center and snapped a 13 game losing streak stretching back to 2006 by forcing the Rockets to show the worst of themselves, all at once.
Somehow, the Rockets managed to get keep it close and force the game to come down to the last possession. Harden got the ball at the top of the key against Tony Allen one-on-one. As Harden starts to turn the corner on a drive, he uses a sharp step-back dribble (a move familiar to many as a ‘push-off') to create space against one of the best on-ball defenders in the league. The move forces Allen to the ground and everything just seemed to freeze in place on the court for the next .5 seconds as everyone realized what was about to happen at the same time. Harden just needs to sink this easy jumper and we're into overtime. Piece of cake, right?
It felt like Daryl Morey's god-like statistical powers were all channeled at that moment to punish Harden for even fathoming taking a mid-range jumper.
Truth be told, it was the best shot we could have asked for at the time. The whole game was like a heavyweight boxing match in the paint and the previous two offensive possessions ended with James Harden trying to get a foul call going towards the basket. Being at home, we probably did not think it necessary to try for the 3 pointer to win it. That shot attempt was the logical result of how the game was going.
Should Harden have hit it? Yes.
Could we have used Jermaine O'Neal's hand on that play? Yes.
Should we lambast him for missing it? Absolutely not.
Harden and Lin Carried the Rockets Offensively
These numbers are their combined statistics on the night. They are slightly sickening (in an ever so slightly good but ultimately very bad way). If I could figure out how to put the spoiler on these numbers so you could properly brace yourself, I would.
47 points (12-37 fgs, 32%. 16-20 fts, 7-15 3pt fgs, 46%), 12 rebounds, 11 assists, 2 steals, 12 turnovers
Rest of the team:
31 points (11-37 fgs, 29%. 5-8 fts, 4-17 3pt fgs, 23%), 39 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals, 8 turnovers
No other Rocket scored in double digits other than Harden and Lin. They strapped the rest of the team on their back on another night without Chandler Parsons and got this team in the position to turn this ugly game into a W. The Rocket's lackluster bench effort offensively and Memphis' smothering defense should have been the headlines to what looked to be turning into a blow-out loss. Instead, because of Lin and Harden's effort we are talking about those flaws in a tough, close loss.
I hesitate giving them the backcourt duo too much credit, however, because those 12 turnovers and 32% shooting percentage do not look good in the least.
The First Half
looked ugly, very ugly.
It was an illustrative microcosm of all of the flaws in the Rocket's game. Harden gets cold shooting the ball (3-11 shooting at the half), we gift teams extra possessions by allowing offensive rebounds (1/3 of Memphis' total first half rebounds at the time) and turning the ball over (10 turnovers, 7 first half steals by the Grizzlies), and our bench did not its 3 point stroke going (Lin, Delfino, Motie, and Garcia combined for 2-10 from distance).
Randolph and Gasol were punishing Greg Smith and Omer Asik. It appeared as though no one could box out Memphis' front court early in the first quarter. Houston ended up gaining the rebounding edge by halftime (both in defensive and offensive boards) which helped this game from coming off the rails more than it did.
Memphis did a great job of being patient on offense and spreading the ball around. Six Grizzlies scored 5+ points and none scored in double figures. Gasol and Randolph led the charge, combining for 14 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks in a low scoring first half of basketball.
The Rockets shot 30% in the first half and only had 8 assists.
James Harden hit a much needed 3 before the half ended putting the lead at 13 instead of 16 at the break.
Harden began to catch fire and get himself rolling in the third quarter where he racked up 14 of his 30 total points in the game. Omer Asik also saw himself getting back into the game as he started catching some passes, throwing down dunks, and rebounding the ball.
Memphis kept giving the Rockets a steady diet of a spread offense that saw Gasol and Randolph lead their scoring effort. Five Grizzlies scored in double figures by the game's end (six if you want to give Prince's 9 points some credit).
Marc Gasol was an absolute beast and showed why he could easily be considered an elite center in a league with not very many good centers. He finished with 15 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, 3 blocks. He fills the stat sheet unlike any other center in the league. He frustrated the Rockets in every facet of the game
Its not just that he and the rest of the Memphis players play hard. Its that they ALWAYS play hard. There were very few fouls that occurred in this game that would not be considered ‘hard fouls'. Memphis loves to hit teams in the mouth and come after them and tonight was no different.
To the Rocket's credit, they did hold a team to 82 points or less for only the 7th game this season. Memphis had to fight for their basket pretty hard too, but they got far more easy buckets than the Rockets did tonight.
We were lucky to even have a shot at winning this one, much less be within two points on the final possession.
The Rockets missed Chandler Parsons very badly tonight. His absence against strong competition really does show. We need another guy who can facilitate and create his own shot because with only Lin and Harden, things can get rough pretty quickly at times.
It was a good pre-playoff test for the Rockets. We played a very good team, withstood some adversity, and got back into a game we had no business being a part of. It was not a test we passed with flying colors, but I don't think we got an F either. We need to close those games out at home, but was still entertaining watching them fight to get back into it. Would have been nice to grab that 6th spot from Golden State too had we won, however short-lived it would have lasted.
Other Game Notes:
- I think Chandler Parsons is actively trying to see how attractive he can still be despite wearing the most ridiculous clothes imaginable. Tonight, while still out with a calf strain, he was sporting a polka-dotted button up, pants that I think could easily fit the definition of ‘capris', and a pair of sock-less shoes. Tonight it was the only thing more comical than our shooting percentage tonight.
- Terrence Jones had a bit of a coming out party tonight. Thomas Robinson was stuck with a ‘DNP-CD' as Jones gobbled up 28 minutes of playing time tonight. Over the past 5 games, Jones has logged 20+ minutes in 4 of them. Tonight, he led the team in rebounding (12 total, 5 offensive), scored 7 points, blocked a couple of shots, and had a very clutch put-back dunk in the waning minutes in the fourth quarter. His athleticism is breathtaking at times. He may not be able to box out many big 4s in this league, but he can jump over pretty much all of them to grab a board. I'm excited to see him get more action before the playoffs start, he is very fun to watch.
- Rockets had a nice stretch to close out the game despite the loss. They did not allow Memphis to score a field goal for the final 5:30 of the game. The whistles did, however, put them on the line 11 times during that stretch. They did miss more than they would have liked, but in the end, it was enough to seal the deal. The Rockets did get a 7-0 run to get the game close before Memphis put it away.
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