It seems odd to become conditioned to believe a certain opponent will make every last second miracle three point heave. Odd, but true.
Rockets fans are definitely conditioned to think that no matter what, if a game is close, the Portland Trailblazers will make an improbable three point shot to win or tie the game. This shot will typically be the capstone of a something like a four minute 7-10 3pt shooting barrage.
All the elements were in place, but tonight it didn’t happen. This is probably because Portland didn’t pass the ball to tonight’s Game Chat Poll winner for “Which Random Trailblazer Has A Career Scoring Night” - Gary Trent The Younger. To be fair, Anfernee (Less Than A Penny) Simon had just made an unlikely three point shot to bring the game to within one point, (before Eric Gordon just made two free throws to bring the lead back to three).
It should have been Gary Trent Jr, though, shooting 54% on 13 three point attempts (Damian Lillard could only manage 45% on 11 attempts.)
In any case, the game ended in regular time, and did not feature such a shot to close the contest, though it boasted of many such shots previously. Portland made a robust 42% from three on a Rocketsian volume of 41 attempts. In some ways Portland is “More Rockets Than the Rockets” of yore, in that they often make a high percentage of the threes they attempt. Portland was missing many key players, but that seems in keeping with a turnabout for the Rockets depleted roster on Boxing Day.
From the Rockets perspective there are bad and good things to take away from this game.
Three Good Things
The Rockets are really playing good defense, despite Portland shooting a high three point percentage (46% if Carmelo Anthony is subtracted). Portland was held 14pts under their fifth ranked scoring average for the season.
Christian Wood is the best player on the Rockets, and his usage should reflect it. He’s got a soft touch around the basket, and real three point range. He went 8-12 tonight, and the fact that no one seems able to run a pick and roll with him is a real problem that needs to be solved immediately. Wood should be averaging 30pts a game, he could have feasted more on Enes Kanter if anyone could pass him the ball.
The Rockets play with intensity and heart, and putting the bench in is usually a good sign, rather than a bad one. It’s been years since the Rockets bench was a force for good, but the wave of springy, solid, fast, 6’5” players the Rockets send in tends to overwhelm other bench units.
The Rockets offense typically looked like a goat rodeo. The Rockets have one legitimate point guard, and several shaky secondary ballhandlers. Once upon a time people thought they could make Victor Oladipo into a point guard. He’d go from a slightly undersized SG to a bigger PG. Perfect. Only it wasn’t. He’s just not a point guard. He can’t hold his dribble under intense pressure and he can’t set up an offense and make the right reads in real time.
Victor Oladipo shot 23 times. He went 2-10 from three point range. The fact that he had zero turnovers didn’t reflect the many times he took terrible shots because he attacked without a plan, or passed off to a teammate with 2 seconds left on the clock. His stats are superficially pretty good, his actual play was generally bad.
PJ Tucker is coming up big at the end of close games, but is basically invisible until then. The Rockets really do need more than two points from anyone who plays 30+ minutes a night. To be fair, Jae’Sean Tate had roughly the same game in 17 minutes. Danuel House should probably start for one of them.
Mason Jones seems to be able to score when given a chance. Perhaps it’s his two way contact status keeping him out of games, but he likely could provide needed offense without a lot of help, if asked.
Ben McLemore had a couple of off nights, and he’s not a good defender, but the Rockets defense is generally pretty tight. Maybe his 43% three point shooting could come in handy when the Rockets (as seemingly happens every game) have patches where they simply can’t score at all?
What is the offense? Seriously. We have see na fast attacking, drive, kick, motion type attack, but only when almost the whole bench is in the game. Let the lineup have any two of Wall, Oladipo, Gordon or Cousins in it, and the whole offense grinds down into painfully clunky, and frankly, dumb, low-percentage, ISO play.
The Rockets very much remain a work-in-progress. This was the first night that John Wall, Christian Wood, Victor Oladipo and Danuel House Jr. played together in a game. The Rockets bench is nailing things down for them.
Right now the defense is winning games, and we can hope the offense will join in soon. If that happens, the Rockets have a bright future. If it doesn’t, the Rockets will continue to have games where they fall behind early, only to be saved by the bench. This is a nice win, but it was basically a full-strength Rockets versus a severely undermanned Trailblazers. It shouldn’t have been this close.
Who is the Rockets best player, in your estimation?
This poll is closed
Future Rocket Luka Doncic