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Rockets tumble out of IST to Dallas 121-115

It Was The Group of Death, After All

Houston Rockets v Dallas Mavericks
31/9/6
Photo by Tim Heitman/Getty Images

Damn.

I wanted the Rockets to escape the In Season Tournament Group of Death and head on to Las Vegas. I’d even checked flights, hotels, ticket prices, wondering what sort of specious justifications I could give for going, when really, it wouldn’t be a good plan.

“It’s the first one! Think about that, won’t you? We can say we were there when the Rockets played in the very first In Season Tournament. Right now it doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but you know, it’ll be like saying you were at the first Olympics or something.”

Somehow the In Season Tournament has gone from something the perma-sneerers of the NBA commentariart naturally enough, sneered at, to something most NBA fans are into. I REALLY wanted to see the Rockets advance. When it was announced, it was cool to laugh at the NBA Tournament, now it’s cool to like it. People are fickle and have the memories of gnats, generally. If I can offer one bit of wisdom to TDS readers, it would be that.

The IST, to those who celebrate, has definitely brought intensity to a time in the NBA season when less serious NBA fans often weren’t aware the NBA was actually, you know, occurring. Most “Casuals” check in around Christmas. We’re getting intense games in November. I’m sure there’s a point of diminishing returns with this kind of thing, but it turns out if you give insanely competitive young men something to compete over, they’ll compete hard.

Tonight, despite Dallas being eliminated from the IST, both teams played hard. If there’s anything Dallas loves more than bleached hair, performative piety and cosmetic surgery, it’s denying something to Houston. Twisted, sad, and true.*

Tonight we got to see Dallas’ star, Luka Doncic, all grown up into the Possibly Whiniest Player in the NBA. It’d be great if he was awful, but he’s not. He’s really good, and he seems to have bought into the Dallas mindset all the way.

He had a great game. It’d would have been a great game without giving him free throws for dribbling into players with his shoulder and then wincing back “in pain” after contact he initiated, but Scottie “Fiasco” Foster was involved, so credit “The Bitchin’ Balkan” for a cunning plan. Luka went for 41, despite real efforts to stop him by the Rockets. It’s a shame he’s so unlikable, given his talent. (That sort of moralizing stuff is a lot of fun to write! We’ve missed out on so much!)

Dallas’ other star, Kyrie “The Poisoner” Irving played a pretty mediocre game against the Rockets, but he played Fiasco Foster very well, indeed. Late in the game Houston challenged a clear flop by Irving, one Irving himself laughed at, and all but twirled his mustache over. Nope, Fiasco muttered something about “touched his arm”, as if that would cause Irving to plummet to the floor. (One day he won’t be so lucky. Kyrie will flop, and plummet over edge of the earth to certain death.) He scored 27, but on 8-22 shooting, largely because the Rockets defended his actual basketball playing pretty well.

If I sound bitter about Scottie Foster; it’s only because I am. He’s ruined a lot of fun for a lot of people, and offers no compensating moments of even minimal competence. He turns most games he refs into an unwatchable fiasco, with himself in the starring role, rather than NBA players. How an organization like the NBA allows a relatively unimportant employee like Foster to show clear and vindictive bias against an important player (Chris Paul) for years and years, and generally ruin major games, is a horrifying sign of sheerest arrogance, or deeply worrying, or both.

Anyhow, the Rockets continued their road woes, and Dallas, particularly Luka, did enough to win, if you look past the smokescreen (and very late cover) Foster provided.

The Rockets started out slowly. Perhaps their time off had dulled them, perhaps Dallas was fired up, perhaps the lack of a proper In Season Tournament Court was the cause of it. In any case, the Rockets scuffled, but one thing is always true of this team. They battle. The fight pretty much every possession, and defend every possession. Even when the team isn’t playing its best, that’ll keep it in a lot of games, and so it proved tonight. It just wasn’t enough in the end, as Dallas’ stars made shots, and Houston’s, Alperen Sengun aside, didn’t.

Sengun had a good night, despite struggling at times with the big and athletic Dereck Lively Deux. Sengun went 31/9/6 on 10-19 shooting. He shot 14FT, proving that he gave Dallas’ bigs trouble as well, and went 11-14, and made all his FTs late.

Jabari Smith had another good game - 16pts on 7-11 shooting, 2-5 3pt, 9rbs, 2ast, 1 blk. His True Shooting Percentage now leads the Rockets at 61%, but his usage is the lowest amongst the starters. It might be time to shed the “Jabari, nooo!” narrative, and think of ways to get Jabari more looks, as he’s cashing them in at a good clip. His November TS% is over 66%. His defense has also improved, and his reads are looking more sound by the game. Jabari is showing why he was a top three pick, in his second season.

Having not-so-good games were Jalen Green, Dillon Brooks and Fred Van Vleet. Jalen actually played good defense, but he was tentative shooting, and when he did shoot, he missed close in. His three point shooting is better these days, and he went 2-6, which looks meh, but these numbers are granular. 2-5 looks great, which was his last outing. It’s a worry that he’s not finishing at the rim, nor is he getting calls at the rim. What’s not a worry is that he IS getting to the rim.

Right now Fred VanVleet is a maestro of assists and defense, and of little else. 12ast to 0 turnovers is impressive, and that’s in line with his rate for the season. Unfortunately so is 1-7 from 3pt range. His defense is good, and while it might not be in context for the offense, Fred almost always generates a good look off forays into the paint, and I’d like to see more of those. Hopefully the shooting will come around, as he’s really been great otherwise. The Rockets really do need that extra bit of scoring, though.

Dillon Brooks had a tough shooting night early, but improved late, going 7-13. His 3pt shooting has been less good lately, at 1-4.

Tari Eason was great off the bench, and probably ought to feature more in games that Jalen Green isn’t offering scoring, as Tari just Makes Good Things Happen, especially on defense.

Aaron Holiday had a good game overall, but he’s a player I think should be used sparingly. So far I just don’t think he’s the guy to close a game with, but he’s played well enough to get another chance at it.

The Rockets really do need to see the return of Amen, and we can hope to see Cam Whitmore at some point, as these are two talents that might turn the bench from a unit that will turn a game into a rockfight, but generally can’t score, into a real powerhouse. Some nights the team needs a scoring spark off the bench, and there just isn’t one.

Note - Ime, Tari is a real guy on this team. He’s important to the future. Stop treating him like a one way “energy” guy. You NEED to run some real stuff on offense for him, instead of just making him a garbage man. There’s more there than that.

That’s all for tonight. Once we get past the shitshow of the Fiasco Foster, we see Dallas played well enough to win. I think the Rockets might take this same game in February, but right now they’re new to being decent, and haven’t yet grasped winning on the road. They’ll have to do that to make any noise this season, but again, the Rockets are on schedule, it’s our own ambitions that have outpaced the team. The improvements are showing up, little by little, in both the team and in individuals.

Poll

Sentimentometering

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    Stratospheric
    (6 votes)
  • 50%
    Undaunted
    (41 votes)
  • 27%
    Slightly Daunted
    (22 votes)
  • 2%
    Daunted
    (2 votes)
  • 12%
    Nasty Outbreak of Metroplex
    (10 votes)
81 votes total Vote Now

*Not that much of a joke. I don’t like Dallas. It comes of experience, not ignorance.