The Rockets, a game and a few days after head coach J.B. Bickerstaff's message to his players via the media, showed up to play early, but again, like so many times this season, lost late. The Rockets were not able to close out the Hawks despite having a 19 point lead during the game.
Below are three takeaways from an all too familiar game.
Tale of two halves
I feel like Charles Dickens could sum this one up pretty well:
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way."
That's how Dickens opens a Tale of Two Cities. Sound like a certain Texas basketball team?
The first half was the basketball that you have wanted and been asking to see out of the Rockets. The second half was the other team, which J.B Bickerstaff dubbed the "ugly Rockets." The 70 percent that the Rockets were shooting was not sustainable in the first half, but once again, the Rockets would go cold and have no energy in the second half.
Tuesday night you saw the free-flowing, ball-moving, high-flying, defense-playing (for the most part), fun Rockets in the first half. And, like many nights before in the second half, the stagnant, low-energy, no-defense-playing Rockets returned.
The Rockets bigs didn't want to leave the paint
Paul Millsap and Al Horford combined to shoot 6-10 from three. Dwight Howard and Clint Capela spent the night guarding a whole bunch of air.
With the Rockets "Twin Towers" lineup, the Hawks took advantage of the bigs' unwillingness to leave the paint. Multiple Hawks bigs three point shots came off possessions in where the Hawks would run a little bit of a pick with a guard, Howard or Capela sagged to the paint, the guard then would toss to Millsap or Horford for some really wide open looks. The Rockets were left with a long run at the Hawks bigs. At one point Howard even shouted instead of contested the shot.
Post-game, Millsap admitted as much.
"They played to the percentages," Millsap said. He thought the Rockets bigs were willing to give up the three.
A game like Tuesday makes you miss Terrence Jones, who sat out the game due to illness. Had Jones been healthy the Rockets might not have had to stay so big for so many stretches and Jones is much more comfortable covering three-point shooting bigs then Howard or Capela.
This feels like it could be a very common takeaway from a lot of games going forward, unfortunately. The good news at least for my and your emotions, the Rockets didn't fail to get off another game winning or game tying shot in the final seconds. So I guess it's progress?
This time, the shot the Rockets could not get off came with 49 seconds to play. The Rockets were tied with the Hawks at 115 and had a shot clock violation, which ultimately was the decider.
As much as the Rockets lost the game earlier by not continuing to play the way they played in the first half, they still had a chance to win the game, and not being able to get that shot off was brutal.
The Rockets took the ball out with 1:13 on the clock. Ty Lawson slowly takes the ball up the court, and with 13 seconds left on the 24-second clock. Lawson drives around a pick set by James Harden. Kent Bazemore is playing very tight defense on Harden. Lawson, with eight seconds left, tosses the ball to Harden. With five seconds left on the clock, Harden jab steps a few times and with two seconds left Harden decides to go, only to fall over, and their 24 seconds run out.
So many things wrong with this last play, and I totally understand I am being an armchair coach here. Why did Lawson bring the ball up so slowly? Why did Harden wait until two seconds on the clock to go? Why didn't you have more shooters in the lineup during the possession?
Three times in the last 1- games the Rockets have had last second, had-to-have-it type plays. All three times they have failed.