It feels like a bad dream from which this team can't wake up. The Houston Rockets were run off the court at home for the second straight time, losing to the Boston Celtics by a score of 111-95 that was only that close because the deep bench made a run in garbage time against the Celtics bench.
Stop me if you've heard this before: the Rockets were up big midway through the second quarter, but couldn't close out the first half. The Celtics had a 15-0 run until almost the end of the first half to take the lead, until a circus shot from Trevor Ariza brought the score back to 55-55 at the end of the half. After the Rockets spend over 15 minutes of action looking engaged on defense and fluid on offense, they gave their whole advantage away and went to the locker room deflated. Again.
Then the wheels came off. The Rockets went down by as many as 28 points in the fourth quarter, with an absolute pox of turnovers combining with truly sad defense to completely demoralize Houston;. There's no fun way to go down by that many points, but to do it while looking so checked out was particularly bad.
In general, James Harden looks like he's reverted back to 2013-14 form defensively. He's fallen asleep on backdoor cuts repeatedly the past few games, and it dynamites the Rockets defense every time. There's just no way to have a good defense when your minutes leader is singlehandedly ruining plays like this. We saw him improve last season. We know he can do better. It's just about if he can put forth the effort at this point.
Harden started off the game pretty well, knocking down a couple of perimeter jumpers in the first quarter, but once the game started going the Celtics' way, he disappeared. He was benched for basically the entire fourth quarter, and if he's getting benched, the Rockets are in deep, deep trouble.
The focus wasn't there for long stretches once again, as the Rockets finished with 22 turnovers, a season high. The Celtics' ballhawking backcourt of Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder took advantage of the lazy passing by all of the Rockets. Houston doesn't look remotely fluid moving the ball, and they seem to be making desperation jump-passes from halfway into the paint multiple times a quarter. Without an aggressive and confident Harden, no one seems to know what they're doing.
Ty Lawson isn't helping either. Sure, he had some good passes and fast break moments, but he is passing up a ton of open threes, and that's just a microcosm for how uncomfortable he seems in the offense. He was a drive-and-kick, threes-and-layups player in Denver, so we all assumed that his style would naturally mesh with And yet, it hasn't clicked. When he was mentally checked out for the Nuggets last year, we later learned that he had been struggling with alcoholism. Who knows what's going on now.
Trevor Ariza had the only respectable showing of any Rockets starter, finishing with 19 points, 9 rebounds and 3 steals, but even he had four turnovers. It was just bad news all around. It was so bad, Kevin McHale even put in K.J. McDaniels, who looked predictably rusty and out of rhythm offensively, but just as predictably full of energy and willingness.
The Rockets are now 4-7, and moving closer to the point where serious questions are going to be asked about this team's makeup and future. Even the most pessimistic Rockets fan didn't predict it would look this grim, this quickly before the season started. They play the Portland Trail Blazers next on Wednesday at home.