The Rockets played a wire-to-wire game against the Chicago Bulls this evening, and for that they should be proud. Chicago -- currently in first place in the Central Division -- sports an enviable starting lineup that generates concerns for both NBA defenses and offenses alike. So, to carry an 89-83 lead into the fourth against a well-coached and talented team like the Bulls perhaps speaks greater volumes than the actual 114-105 final product would otherwise indicate.
With about 3:00 left in the final quarter, the game had been tied at 100-95 for several minutes. That was when fortunes seemed to be blown in the direction of Chicago, maybe by a strong gust coming off of the shores of Lake Michigan, or maybe as Rockets fans will tell you tomorrow around the water cooler, by a questionable offensive charge call on James Harden, or an inability to grab a defensive rebound away from Chicago's monstrous front-line or maybe by some ill-advised three-point attempts by Josh Smith.
The truth is Chicago hit some big shots, and Houston lost their offensive rhythm. It's as simple as that.
Smith, for what it's worth, looked great otherwise. He turned the ball over too many (four) times, but he seemed comfortable coming off the bench. Smoove finished with 21 points and 6 rebounds in his 26 minutes of play.
The first half was largely defined by Chicago's domination in the paint. Pau Gasol had an ungodly 18 points in the first quarter and finished the half with 20 points and seven rebounds. Despite his efforts down low, Chicago didn't have any defensive answers for the Rockets to that point and James led Houston to a 62-62 tie heading into the half. Donatas Motiejunas emerged in the third quarter -- he had 8 points and an offensive rebound– giving the rockets a small 6 point cushion as they headed into the fourth, but it wouldn't be enough to stave off the winds of fortune.
Over the course of the game the Rockets took 5 free throws, one of them coming from a technical foul on Tom Thibodeau. Chicago took thirty. The disparity is no doubt alarming, but given the closely contested nature of the game Houston should be proud of this effort.
Harden looked his usual self with 20 points and Howard had a more-than-respectable 12 points and 14 rebounds so the takeaway should be this: If the Rockets had been able to get to the line at their usual pace, the game would have been an easy Houston win.
The Rockets look to bounce back this Wednesday in Cleveland.