Houston came into the game one of the hottest teams in the league, facing a Cleveland team that was tied for the fewest wins in the NBA. Even with Chris Paul sitting out to rest, this seemed like a completely winnable game for the Rockets. So, what exactly went wrong?
This was evident the entire game: the Rockets looked completely helpless on the boards. Houston grabbed only 30 total rebounds the entire match, 10 below their season average of 40, and 19 fewer than the Cavs. To make matters worse, Houston gave up 20 offensive rebounds, 9 of those to Tristan Thompson (20 TRB) alone, leading to 23 second-chance points. Houston (50 percent from the field) might have shot slightly better than Cleveland (48.9 percent from the field), but the Cavaliers took 16 more shots than Houston, and that was easily the difference in the game.
It wouldn’t be responsible to say that turnovers caused Houston to lose the game, but keeping them down could have made a big difference, especially considering how they happened. The Rockets had four turnovers on their first four possessions of the game, six in the first four minutes. This led to 8 of the Cavaliers’ first 10 points and caused Houston to begin the game playing from behind. Houston may have had only 2 more turnovers than its season average of 16, but the Cavaliers scored 17 points off of said turnovers. Combine that with 23 Cavalier second-chance points, and the Rockets allowed 40 easily-avoided points.
Forcing One Rocket to Beat Them at a Time
James Harden poured in 40 points and 13 assists while Eric Gordon had his game of the season with 28 points on 8-of-16 shooting, but there wasn’t much more to report from the rest of the roster. Clint Capela (12 points) was the only other Rocket to register double-digit scoring, and even then, he was limited to only four field goal attempts. The Cavaliers’ defense kept the Rockets’ offense at bay by allowing only one player at a time to beat them. Harden dropped 24 in the first half, but the rest of Houston dropped only 58 points. Gordon scored 14 in the third quarter, but Harden had only five points that quarter. Harden scored 11 in the 4th, but the rest of the team scored only 14. Harden did have 13 assists in the game, but if he wasn’t creating for the rest of the team, it was a stranglehold on the Rockets’ offense.
Capela Eliminated from the Offense
Clint Capela came into the match averaging 19.3 points a game for the month of November, and Cleveland got the memo. With Chris Paul out, the Cavaliers took advantage of the Rockets’ light roster and left it up to James Harden to beat them. On the pick-and-roll, the Cavaliers’ bigs covered Capela, not allowing the alley-oop pass and forcing Harden to drive into the paint. Even when Capela got deep into the paint, he was fronted or swarmed, never able to get a clean catch down low. The Rockets’ big man took only four field goal attempts, making all four of them.
This is becoming sort of a common theme for Houston now. The Rockets shot only 19-of-28, leaving 9 free points at the stripe. Houston is currently sitting at 20th in the league in free-throw shooting percentage, making only 74 percent per game. To add insult to injury, Harden was called for back-to-back lane violations after he made each free-throw- something you’ll probably never see again in NBA history.
James Harden called for two straight free throw lane violations pic.twitter.com/UFDOHePncZ— Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) November 25, 2018
Lack of Chris Paul
While it seemed like a good choice to sit Paul on the second night of a back-to-back at the time, was it actually a good choice, or was it a just a case of the Rockets underestimating their opponent? Yes, the Rockets had won five of six coming into the game, possibly six straight if a call goes their way in Detroit, but at 9-8, was it a good idea for Houston to sit Chris Paul in a game that was 100% winnable with him on the court? The Rockets are already low enough at the play-making position. Gordon did have 28 points, but he registered zero assists. Harden might have had 13 assists, but handling the ball 100% of the time- don’t quote me on that- led to nine turnovers. On top of that, they left the third scoring option up to Gordon who has been in the worst slump of his Rockets’ career. Fortunately for them, it did work out for Gordon, but then Capela was no where to be found on offense. Yes, in the grand scheme of things we probably won’t register this solitary loss, but it would be a whole lot nicer to be 10-8 right now.