On Monday night in South Philly, the official attendance number for the Rockets-76ers game was 12,896 out of a possible 20,000 or so. In real life, the arena was barely half full. The whole game had the feel of a first-round NCAA Tournament matchup, with the tiny lower seed trying their damnedest (bless their little hearts) to hang with the big boys before sputtering and rolling over at the end.
An early season, weeknight, cross-conference game like last night's is going to be populated largely with die-hards, so the game didn't have the mausoleum atmosphere I was anticipating. Sixers superfan Big Daddy was there doing his free-throw distraction bit, seen here a few years back on a TNT broadcast (skip to 0:24 for the good stuff):
That is downright hypnotic. If you zoomed in the right way, you could convince me that I was looking at some sexy underboob. And then you could zoom out and I would vomit. Aaaaanyway....
If you watched the game last night, or read our official recap here, then you know the Rockets didn't have their best game, despite the fact that they came out with the win. From where I was sitting (section 121, row 1), it was even more obvious that the Rockets were sleepwalking through most of this game, with the exception of Trevor Ariza. He came out hot, hitting his first four three point attempts, although there was no one remotely close to him on any of those attempts. NBA.com's player tracking confirms it: 12 of A3za's 13 shot attempts were uncontested (no defender within 3.5 feet).
Terrence Jones, in particular, looked awful. He had no feel around the basket, and the shot chart bears that out:
That's an ugly line, and though one might want to chalk that up to Nerlens Noel's rim protection, Nerlens was trying to lock down Dwight Howard all night. T-Jones got open looks from up close and bricked them.
Regarding Nerlens: we already knew his hands are freakishly large.
Freakishly large, like I said. Even so, seeing it in person - GOOD LORD. If I was a Sixers fan, I'd be leading a grassroots online movement to nickname him Truckasaurus. And he put those monsters to use in his ridiculous rejection of James Harden, which brought the little house down.
Everyone I looked at in the arena had the same face on - like smelling a really ripe gym bag, then trying to get everyone around you to smell it. "Oh holy crap, that's gross. Do you smell how gross that is? Super gross, right?"
Overall, it's not hard to see why the Rockets sleepwalked through this game. First night of a road back-to-back (the second game being the much tougher one), fourth game in a row against subpar competition. But what's mystifying to me is that even with all those mitigating factors, Harden played 38 minutes and Dwight played 36. I understand that Beverley and Tarik Black were out, thinning the bench considerably, but one has to believe that the end-of-bench reserves would have played with a lot more heart. And if you're not going to play those guys (especially Clint Capela, who was active last night for the first time all season, if I'm not mistaken) against the Sixers, who are you going to play them against? I hate to say it, but don't you think Popovich would have rested his starters a little more?
The strangest part was how Coach McHale rotated his players. The first half ended with a lineup of Harden, JET, Troy Daniels, Big Papa, and Motiejunas. Who exactly is going to defend in that lineup? D-Mo is not a skilled enough post player, scoring or passing, to draw enough attention to give all of those perimeter players the space they need to shoot or drive. The whole game seemed bizarrely coached.
Still, it's encouraging to see that the talent on the Rockets is good enough to carry them through nights when they play down to the level of their opponents. Even though Houston was turnover-happy and lazy on transition defense, they still passed well - 84 percent of their field goals were assisted, according to NBA.com. Compare that to the Sixers - 57 percent - and you have the picture of a team that's sharing the ball well, which is not something you might have said about the Rockets last year.
So, for the people who watched the game on TV - what do you think? Did any of this escape your attention? Would you like to see more of this kind of article? Leave some feedback in the comments.