In the slugfest that no one expected, the Rockets come up short in an overtime loss to the Golden State Lucky Pieces of…Warriors. What? That’s their new name.
Hmmmmm, whiskey is a fine thing. It has many qualities that I admire. It gets better with age, it sits in barrels which allows me to yell this within an almost correct context, it isn’t coached by Mark Jackson, and the brands I drink do not originate in California. All of these things combined make it a wonderful companion for the journey we will and have taken tonight. Because it was brutal.
I’m sure it was a fun game to watch from a third party perspective. Maybe Klay Thompson’s weak ass goatee is considered cute in some circles. Maybe Mark Jackson’s faux old school chest pounding is endearing to some. But the only thing those traits do to me is create a distaste for all things Golden State that I imagine will burn until the Andromeda Galaxy collides with our Milky Way Galaxy to create Milkdromeda Galaxy.
So like 3.75 billion years.
Almost done seething. The actual point I wanted to make in the intro is the Rockets and Warriors could play ten more times this year, and not a single game would be like this one. This is the outlier. Rockets didn’t play well, Warriors hit a number of lucky shots and with the help of the refs were able to just barely escape with a win on their home floor. If someone would like to pretend that the Warriors are a true threat to a healthy Rockets squad in a seven game series, more power to them, but that’s exactly what they’re doing, pretending.
TO THE RECAP!
Alright so that I keep this a manageable length, I’m going to talk about specific things through the third quarter and then move to recapping the final crucial moments of this game.
Dwight Howard’s Night
Boy did he have a rough one. At the end of three quarters he had 3 points on 1-9 shooting and Jermaine O’neal ended up marking him for almost the entire game. You might remember Jermaine from such exploits as this. But he only had one job to do tonight and it was to make Dwight work; which he accomplished with merit.
Howard’s hook shot is like Vince Young’s throwing motion. Yeah it kind of gets the job done, but you know there are about 100 better ways to execute it. When Howard releases his hook, it’s not actually a shot. The ball is simply playing the percentages in that if it doesn’t have far to travel, then there is less time for the ball to lose it’s general direction. Yao Ming and the Dream had actual hook shots and that’s what made them unstoppable. It didn’t matter how far out you pushed them, a few extra feet wasn’t going to effect a ball that was aimed at the hoop. I respect the hell out of the improvement Dwight has made in the paint but he still doesn’t shoot the ball; he throws it up there and hopes for the best.
Dwight’s sequence tonight went like this:
- Slams an alley-oop from Parsons.
- Difficult hook shots from too far out.
- Recognizes he has to be closer. O’neal flops and draws the charge.
- Goes back to missing long hooks.
- Dwight picks up fourth foul in the 3rd quarter and sits down until later making an impact.
It didn’t help that the Refs were calling an egregious game, and allowing for Howard to be hammered down low while calling touch fouls on Patrick Beverley up high. Despite being mostly useless offensively, Howard was busting his tail in every other aspect of the game and eventually played pretty well in the closing 13 minutes of the game.
Something the Rockets neglected all night was closing out on shooters at the three point line. The first three quarters were FILLED with this mistake. Houston hurled themselves at shooters instead of closing out under control. This led to a number of open threes for Curry as well as A LOT of dribble penetration. This was the catalyst for David Lee’s big night, and D-Mo’s benching. Once the Warrior player drove by the perimeter defender (usually a power forward), our center was forced to commit and David Lee would trail the center creating an easy dump off and lay-up for Golden State. It wasn’t as prominent in the second half but it killed us at first.
The Rockets were so conscious of the Warrior’s shooting talent that they relaxed on all the other basic principles of defense.
Harden’s Second Half
So because of the poor defense, Houston went into half time down 47-43 and with almost no momentum. James Harden had 5 points and we knew that if he didn’t show up then this one was already over. Harden then went 5-6 for 15 points in the third quarter. Nailing transition threes, forcing his way to the hoop, and generally being impossible to stop despite all of the defensive attention he was getting. Something that helped the Rockets in the third was that Howard got his 4th foul. Each possession Houston had been sending Howard’s way was a waste at that point. With Asik in, the team looked a little more like last years Rockets. By the end of the third the Rockets had gained their ground back and were still only down four despite their uninspiring play.
The Final Thirteen Minutes
So with eight minutes left in the fourth, the Rockets (mostly Harden) had tied the game at 73-73. At this point the only way the Warriors were scoring was through extremely lucky shots or by major mental lapses on Houston’s part. Golden State’s offense had ground to a halt. Unfortunately so did Houston’s other than the 15 points Harden would go on to score in the quarter.
Kevin McHale, desperate to get something going switches to the true small ball lineup with four minutes left. Beverley (who had hounded Curry all night), Unconfident Lin (who played terrible), James Harden, Chandler Parsons (who didn’t have his shot in the second half) and Howard (who was doing anything he could to affect the game). I was hoping this would lead to an offense but unfortunately it just gave Harden many more Iso possessions so I’m not sure what to think of all that. Twitterverse was complaining after the game about McHale being out coached and this next bit is I think why.
Beverley was making Curry’s life miserable so Mark Jackson started running true plays for Klay Thompson. Medium level pick and rolls or off ball screens to get Klay open shots from his sweet spots. After doing that a couple times, Jackson then exclusively picked on James Harden with David Lee. Harden was playing the power forward in the small lineup and Lee was trying to back him down possession after possession. McHale countered with more 1 vs 5 basketball. After Lee hits two a couple shots in a row, the Houston moment of the night happens.
With 30 seconds left and the game tied at 87, the Warriors throw it down into Lee again with Harden at his back. Lee takes a power dribble and as he turns, Harden goes full Chuck Hayes on the ball and slaps it clean out of his hands. Harden grabs the ball in transition and isolates on Iguodala at the top of the key. Jab step, through leg dribble, MJ arm check, step back, nothing but net. Rockets go up 89-87 with 6 seconds left.
The Warriors call a timeout and get the ball at half court. They run Curry off a screen to receive the ball and Parsons is trailing Curry as he outlines the three point line then heads for the basket. Curry has Parsons behind him and Howard ahead of him as he gently kisses the ball off the very top of the backboard (which was necessary in order to clear Dwight’s excellent challenge) and the ball just barely rolls in. Tie game, 89-89 with 3 seconds left. Harden misses a decent look at a three on the next possession and the game heads to overtime.
In overtime the Rockets only really ran the Harden ISO so things continued to be tough. Igoudala hits a couple more extremely lucky shots but the play of the game came from Jermaine O’neal. With a minute left and the Rockets down 96-95, Parsons does a brilliant back door cut off a Harden ISO and James finds him. Parsons raises up for the baseline slam but Jermaine FREAKING O’neal is there for the huge block. The Warriors recover the rebound and then the game was just about hitting free throws.
Rockets lose a tough one, 102-99 in overtime.
The statistical nitty gritty is here.
They do it again on Sunday at 8PM CST against the Suns in Phoenix.
Just for the record, I’m counting this glass of whiskey as morning drinking.