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Houston Hardenless, Hang On to Handle Hampered Spurs

Two teams with extensive health issues, but Houston grinds out the win at home.

Tonight Lin was the difference.
Tonight Lin was the difference.
Andrew Richardson-USA TODAY Spor

For the first time since Timmay Duncan joined the San Antonio Spurs (which is before some of you were born) the Houston Rockets have taken a season series from The Men in Black.  That's a long long time to wait, and the Rockets, remember, only posted 2 losing seasons in the last 20.  That is a measure of how comparatively strong San Antonio has been with Tim Duncan holding down the middle.  Hats off to them, and may they never win another season series with Houston again.  We may be actually seeing the long-predicted cracks in the stone wall of Spurs dominance.

Tonights contest, well, it occurred and the Rockets won, and that gives us the season series, and a much needed win after the painful demoralizing and ugly, contemptible games against Memphis.  (It's fun to say "Grit and Grind!",  it's also fun to say "Root Canal!" - they are equally pleasant to experience. People complain about the Rockets style?  Really?)  So that is all to the good.

On the other hand, the Houston Rockets should have won this going away.  Miss 21 FTs against the Spurs and you'll be lucky to scamper off with the win. Rather, the Spurs will no doubt find some fluky guy to star, and will make things uncomfortable.  That's just what they did, but Jeremy Lin and Dwight Howard sealed a win anyway in a somewhat tiresome game that I hope will not come to be the pattern for Rockets contests.  I hope opponents will choose to play basketball, but I fear they will do something else instead.

Tonight the team started horribly.  It's difficult to really capture just how futile and horrible the Rockets offense looked in the first quarter, and most of the first half.  San Antonio, missing Kawhi Leonard, apparently decided the Grizzlies had the right idea when it comes to playing the Rockets.  San Antonio decided to "walk in Memphis" and beat the game with an ugly stick, as slowly as possible, whenever possible.

It might have worked, too, if not for a very fine outing from Jeremy Lin and an explosive second half from Dwight Howard. San Antonio also chose to widen a nascent Houston lead with Hack-A-Howard.  (Greg Popovich's testicles retracted from employing this tactic earlier in the year, so I guess he had "nothing to lose" so to speak.)

With James Harden out with a sore thumb (and Greg Smith out, and Omer Asik out, and Francisco Garcia out,  so let's hear no whining from you, Spurs) we got to see how things might look if this was solely Dwight Howard's team, with Jeremy Lin accompanying him.  The answer, it could be worse.

The second half saw some life out of the Rockets, and they temporarily held the ugly stick at bay, putting up a more Rockets-like 33 in the third quarter after mustering an anemic 39 in the first half.  By the end of the quarter the lead had shifted the Rockets way, and despite things like The Best Night Boris Diaw Will Have In What Little NBA Time Remains To Him happening the Rockets would never relinquish the lead.

That is largely due to key baskets, key passes, and icy free throws from Jeremy Lin.  Dwight Howard lead the charge back, and made enough FT to make H-a-H look like the simpering eunuch-wannabe tactic it is.  I've said it once, I'll say it again, its a give up move - the NBA equivalent of rolling over to expose the belly.  It hasn't worked overall, and it sends a signal to an opposing team that they can't really play basketball with Houston and expect to win.

Time for Bullet Points, The Lazy Man's Friend (tm),

  • I bow to few in my love of Terrence Jones, but Terrence, Bill Worrell is right, you need more sand in your pants.  Getting worked in the blocks by Boris Diaw is not good.  Zach Randolph is one thing, but Boris is entirely another.  This needs to be fixed, and soon - at least get the rebound if you can't defend the shot. That said, 21 pts on 9-13 shooting, 9rbs and another blocked 3 (the JJ Watt of the NBA) is far from a disaster and the future is very bright.
  • This brings us to Donatas Motiejunas.  He's looked worlds better lately.  He looks like he belongs.  Tonight he could,  in fact, hamper Diaw in the paint.  Being legitimately 7ft tall is meaningful.  Diaw, like Jones, is 6'8"-6;9".  Donatas is 7ft, and he's filling out with muscle after his rookie season.  Add in decent 1-1 defensive technique, and DMo seems like the answer to players that give Jones trouble down low.  That is easier said than done with exactly 3 legit big men available right now.
  • Jeremy Lin bounced back strongly tonight from a general run of mediocre form.  He logged 44 minutes (and was still effective at the end - Hack A Howard produces lots of time to rest) 18pts/8asts (though 5-13 shooting) but a clean 7-7 from the line down the stretch.
  • Dwight Howard is a superstar and the best center in the NBA.  Anyone saying anything else is just wrong.  The offensive rebound and put back he got late 4th to seal the win was sheer star power. Nobody at the position right now can make that play, if they're quick enough (Davis) they aren't strong enough, and if strong enough (Hibbert) they aren't quick enough.  23pts, 16rbs.
  • Portland is getting The Full Grizzly tonight at home, as Memphis leads them 95-75 with 4:30 left.  I'm going to go ahead and say that even miracle shooting Portland doesn't win this one.
  • Oh yeah, Ginobilli got hurt when his bald spot caught fire on a dunk.  Oh well.

On to Dallas and whatever BS the next NBA icon coach pulls on us in lieu of basketball.