It takes a lot out of you to watch a Rockets game, similar to how it has taken a lot to be a Rockets fan this season. So often, this team finds themselves on the cusp of looking not just good, but even great. And then the other 30-35 minutes of the game happen.
I think there must be something about afternoon games that makes for lackluster beginnings, and I think the Rockets are particularly prone to this. Houston just looked sluggish in the early going. James Harden wasn't getting any shots. Paul George put up 16 in the first quarter. More than anything else, there was just a lot of standing around on defense. Luckily, that last part was true for both sides, so the Rockets ended the 1st quarter with a manageable 6 point deficit.
Those problems, mostly, consisted throughout the 2nd. The Rockets might have spent more time standing straight up on defense than any other professional sports team in history during a 12-minute span. It was frustrating for a lot of reasons, but I would argue that it was mostly frustrating because the game managed to stay relatively close. The Pacers weren't out there playing like world-beaters. They were just out there playing not poorly. There was no speed, no fire, no urgency to the Rockets play in the first half, and it led to a 10 point lead for Indiana at halftime.
This must have been stressed to Houston at halftime. With the starters back in, the Rockets picked up 3 quick fouls on three straight possessions to start the third, which I think is fine, and arguably good. Fouls mean you're trying, for better or for worse. And, with the effort, came the speed.
J.B. Bickerstaff did at least one thing right today: going small in the third after getting down by 16. You wonder, though, if he just stumbled into it because nothing else was working. With Harden running point, K.J. McDaniels, Corey Brewer, and Trevor Ariza covering the wings, and Capela at center, the Rockets didn't just look good. They looked fun. Sure, Ariza and Brew did their jobs, namely Ariza finally started hitting a few shots, but really it was the play of KJ that got the Rockets going. He only scored 2 points. He had no assists, no steals or rebounds. 1 foul. Yet, KJ McDaniels ended the game with a +18. There was palpable life in the Houston Rockets, and you could even tangibly see it when the entire bench, coaches included, was standing up during the Rockets massive 3rd quarter comeback. It didn't hurt, either, that Harden took over offensively, scoring most of his 34 in the third.
Then, JBB did at least one thing wrong: he broke up the band mid-run. I understand wanting to rest players. It only makes sense. But, taking out KJ, and probably even more so taking out Clint Capela with around 9 left in the fourth was the wrong move, and it cost him. After the Rockets had rallied back to a lead, the lineup change led to a game of back and forth, and the Rockets have been nothing if not unreliable in close 4th quarter games this season.
The Rockets lost 101-104 in Indiana today. Down 3 with 6 seconds to go, they ended up having 3 separate chances to run an inbounds play to try and tie the game. They barely got the pass in on the third try. It takes a lot out of you, as a fan, to watch that happen. Harden should be able to run through a coherent play in order to at least get a look in the final seconds. And, if Patrick Beverley isn't contributing, he shouldn't be subbed back in mid way through the 4th quarter. And, if one lineup is playing well, that lineup should stick around.
These things all seem simple, but as fans we should understand that they are not. It's just that the Houston Rockets make them all look so damn complicated.
The Rockets play the Cavs, in Cleveland, on Tuesday.