This game was there for the taking, but the Rockets refused to take it. Four First Names (4FN) or Paul Clifton Anthony George (thought I was kidding didn’t you) had just enough of his special elite toughness against bad teams to bring Clippy a much needed win.
The game ended with an Eric Gordon dribble into turnover (by 4FN) and a three point make by George for the tie. This was followed by a tough make by PG13 against Gordon for the lead, and then a Gordon basket attack (rather than pass to a three?) that was almost certainly a foul, and almost certainly wasn’t going to be called, for the loss.
Jalen Green was mostly bad tonight, looking less than springy, and taking ill-advised shots. He’s also apparently committed to freezing out Jabari Smith for a little while longer. So rather than using Smith’s strengths (shooting off the catch) we get Smith’s worst traits (trying to create offense close to the basket, which is currently nearly epically bad). Green did come to life late in the game, but if he’d played like he did in the first few games of the season this would have been a Rockets walk.
Kevin Porter Jr. is so close to a breaking out into a near all star player. Of course, so close in this context probably means 2023. January 23 if we’re lucky, or November 23 if we’re not. He notched only 13 points, but had 5 rebounds, 5 assists with only 2 turnovers. It’s the quality of the assists that impressed me - they were shrewder and more patient than usual. Porter Jr. desperately needs a consistent finishing move around the basket. It seems he’ll shoot a different shot every single time on attacking the basket. If he can’t make the shots, he needs to, he must, attack into contact.
Who looked good? Kevin Martin Jr, and Alperen Sengun. Martin scored 23pts on 9-17 shooting, with 6 rebounds, an assist and 2 blocks (one of Zubac at the basket). He was electric and the Clippers couldn’t contain him. His improved 3pt shooting has, predictably, opened up his basket attack game. At this point, playing Garrison Matthews over Martin and Tari Eason is simply a waste of minutes.
Matthews is really a 12th man type player who brings all his value through 3pt shooting and intensity. He’s not shooting well, but that doesn’t stop him from either jacking a shot from anywhere (or turning the pass over) every time he gets a pass on offense. He’s full of mistakes on both offense and defense. There’s no future there, the way he’s playing, unlike Martin and Eason.
Sengun had a great night. 14pts, 9 rebounds, 4 assists doesn’t seem like a great night, but he simply made things happen. He set picks, he set up shots, he played good defense, he worked baskets or free throws (which he made) in broken situations. He’s (surprise!) a revelation in the high post (not the low post, not the three point line). He can initiate his own basket attacks from there, or dime cutters to the basket or Golden State Pass To Moving Screen(tm) for a three point shooter, or driver, from there. He needs to do more of this - to do more of this he has to play, and the offense has to allow him to set up from the high post.
When Silas took Sengun out for the end of the game, Sengun was furious. He should have been. He was a key reason the Rockets had a lead.
This leads me to a real worry I have about Stephen Silas. First, I like him. He seems like a genuinely good person, and very smart. But there’s a kind of misplaced orthodoxy in him that’s driving me crazy. He’s the son of an NBA player and coach, of the oldest of old schools, Paul Silas. He’s surrounded himself with people he must have known well growing up around the NBA.
Silas seems ideal coach for a veteran team that needs a fresh voice, who isn’t an asshole, with some good ideas. He’ll respect the veterans, while being so pleasant and admirable, that an experienced team could very well see him as the breath of fresh air they needed. It’s easy to see why Luka Doncic would love Silas, and (allegedly) hate the (allegedly) arrogant and abrasive Rick Carlisle.
In his defense, a team that’s going to be bad almost no matter what, generally plays like its hair is on fire. Every game. That’s not nothing, with a bad team. In fact, it’s really rare. If Silas does have that “Leader of Men” quality he needs to find some other ideas about how to manage games. NBA lifers older than him seem less likely to provide that.
Tonight is a good example. There were players who were playing great, and players who weren’t. For instance, the Clippers wanted nothing, no part, of banging with Usman Garuba. But when crunch time came, Silas generally went with his Top Guys, rather than the guys who got the Rockets a lead in this game at the end. When he brought his Top Guys in, is when the Rockets offense sort of died, and they lost the game.
It’s as though he knows the “right” statistical, or player status, answer, and the wrong in game answer. I feel as though Silas, if he’d been coaching that bizarre and epic comeback against this same Clippers franchise in the playoffs, would have put Harden back in the game, because Harden, by every measure, was his best player. Best player, but Harden wasn’t the best player in that game, at that time.
Sometimes these things are a matter of feel, and I mostly sense he doesn’t have much, that he’s going off the spreadsheet every time, and it’s a worry. It’s an issue we don’t have an answer to, and it’s not just Silas. When is playing the percentages the right move, and when is it not? What are coaches for if not being able to get this decision right, in the moment?
The Rockets are a young team that must learn to win. Stephen Silas is a young NBA coach who must learn to win. Hopefully they will learn together.
PS - this game was interesting for those who remember the peak Harden Rockets. We’d get so frustrated when Harden didn’t close a game out. Little did we realize he mostly did close those games out, and the times he didn’t felt like a special betrayal. Now I just want to see a Rocket make the smart play for the win, grind out a basket or free throws, rather than attempting something special. Make the cynical play to close it down, guys. It’s ok. We’ll still love you.
PPS - At 1-7 the Rockets are in exactly zero danger of falling out of their 14.5% chance at Wemby. A win or two won’t hurt.
This poll is closed
Witches poisoned the well.
Fairies made the milk spoil.
We should have burned Hell money.
No jack o lanterns to keep the spirits away.
You can’t lay a proper curse on someone with four first names.