After a game one where LaMarcus Aldridge torched the Rockets and propelled Portland to an improbable overtime win, most were quick to write it off as a fluke. Surely, in game two, with James Harden calming down, LaMarcus Aldridge getting back to normal form, and McHale making adjustments, the Rockets would take care of business and send the series to Portland knotted up at 1-1. A day later, Rockets fans are still scratching their heads as the team is now in a massive 2-0 hole.
LaMarcus Aldridge was absolutely unconscious, but he was not the only one involved in the Rockets loss. There is plenty of blame to go around, so let's look at the primary culprits.
In game one, Harden was pretty bad. He took a lot of difficult shots, bogged down the offense at the end of the game, and may have costed the Rockets a win. In game two, somehow he was even worse. Not only did he continue to take bad shots, but he just looked utterly lost.
He turned the ball over five times, shot 6-19 from the field, and managed the incredible feat of fouling out despite playing no defense that was discernable to the naked eye. After a late pair of free throws by Dwight Howard, Harden loafed down the court, allowing his man to escape for the wide open layup. Two plays later, with the Rockets in need of a score, Harden blatantly pushed off Wesley Matthews, earning an offensive foul and a trip to the bench, sealing the game for the Blazers.
At a certain point, you have to start worrying about Harden getting in his own mind in the playoffs. Harden had one great game in last year's opening round, but struggled overall and shot just 39% from the field against the Thunder. When teams pack the paint against him and his outside jumper is falling, he is unable to get into his rhythm and resorts to taking step-back jumpers with little chance of going in.
If the Rockets are going to have a chance in this series, James Harden is going to have to get going. Otherwise, the offense gets extremely stagnant without a dominant outside threat.
For the most part, I consider myself a supporter of Kevin McHale. More specifically, I think he has done a fairly decent job with the Rockets in taking a disjointed group with a number of strong personalities and turning them into a cohesive squad. Last night, however, I would not say that I could support the job McHale did.
LaMarcus Aldridge was doing things that no big man should be able to do, torching the excellent defense that Omer Asik was playing against him. As Rahat Huq noted last night, Aldridge destroyed two of the top five interior defenders in the NBA last night, and he made it look easy. And yet, no double team ever came for the Rockets.
I understand McHale's reluctance to double Aldridge in the post--after all, the Blazers do have a pretty good group of shooters on the perimeter--but he had to do something to get the ball out of Aldridge's hands. For a solid run, the Rockets had not answer for Aldridge's offense, and the Blazers' lead ballooned.
Moreover, his inability to counter with any meaningful offense when Howard's offense started drying up is a major indictment of McHale's gameplanning. The Rockets looked like a team without a plan on the offensive end for the entire second half, and that lack of flow has a lot to do with the Rockets' inability to make adjustments when things went south.
Finally, despite all the Rockets' problems in the second half, James Harden hit an improbable three to bring the Rockets within three out of a timeout. There were still 30 seconds left, enough time to go for a stop and get the ball back. Instead of going for the stop, Jeremy Lin fouled Lillard, sending him to the line where he would push the lead to five. Immediately, Patrick Beverley and others yelled at Lin, telling him that he didn't have to take the foul.
Lin should have thought through the situation better, but how can you not go over your plans to foul or not in the timeout before? That is an extremely simple but important thing to note, and the fact that the Rockets weren't on the same page at perhaps the most critical juncture of the season is extremely worrying.
The Rockets are not out of this series, but they are back on their heels. McHale and his coaching staff better put their heads together and make some adjustments pretty quickly, or it will be too late.