The Rockets defeated the New Orleans Pelicans on a last second shot by Jabari Smith Jr. on Friday. Two days later, they played the Pelicans again, they got down again, they attempted a comeback again. This time, the comeback fell short, as the 33-37 Pelicans fought for their play-in lives.
The Pelicans came out of the gate with more energy than the Rockets, including the Rockets second unit, which usually provides a boost, and established a 20 point lead at the half by making basically every shot, playing physical, and generally adjusting to how the Rockets played them last time. This time the Pelicans shot into the space left by the Rockets drop coverage, passed cross court without hesitation to overcome the Rockets over rotation at times, and worked the ball in to Meme Man Jonas Valanciunas so he could pass out to open shooter when the Rockets eventually decided to help Sengun underneath.
Meme Man played very physically tonight, with a plethora of elbows and other things not often seen in the NBA these days, but it was Sengun who fouled out.
That said, the physical play had to be a New Orleans tactic, as the Rockets shot a whopping 38 free throws. Strangely enough, they made 36 of them. It was odd to see the Rockets calmly draining the freebie after struggles earlier in this season.
Particularly good at getting to the line and making his shots tonight was Jalen Green, who went a cool 14-14 from the stripe, and 11-22 overall, for 40 points. He didn’t add much else, only 4 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 steal, but it was a scorers sort of night from the Rockets scorer.
Kevin Porter Jr. continues to signal that he might be experiencing a break out, rather than a good week or two, going for 25 points, 8-8 on his freethrows, and notching 5 rebounds and 4 assists against 2 turnovers.
Unfortunately the rest of the Rockets couldn’t get untracked. Jabari Smith Jr. went 2-10, with 4 rebounds and 0 assists, as stick figure Brandon Ingram generally had a great night against him. When Jabari had to move up to center when Sengun sat, or fouled out, it did not go well against Meme Man.
This is the first game in a while where the Rockets got out rebounded. It wasn’t a big margin, 39-36, but the rebound edge, especially on the offensive glass, has been crucial for good Rockets performances.
Even though this game was a loss, and showed that opponents can adapt to the Rockets, and the Rockets don’t have much in the way of answers, the team did shave ten points off the halftime lead, and made the game a contest late. Coming out stronger, working hard, finding a way to score, oddly enough with free throws, are all good signs.
The Rockets aren’t fighting for slim hopes of playoffs, and they ARE looking more like an NBA team. Not a good one, but not a disaster. In the new world of the play in, hardly any teams are just shutting it down in mid March, so these results are “real” in a way spring doledrums basketball, pre-playoffs, often weren’t. You can believe what you see a bit more I think. What we’re seeing is better, signs of spring at last.
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