- Before this series began, never in my wildest dreams did I expect to be writing about the team being down 0-2 heading to Portland. It was conceivable the Rockets could go down 0-2 in the next round against San Antonio, and in the next round, against the Thunder, I thought that prospect was a near certainty. But against the Blazers? While I predicted Houston in 5 on ESPN, I knew 1-1 was a distinct possibility. But down 0-2 heading to Portland? It looks like I really underestimated (perhaps willfully ignored) the importance of good coaching in professional sports. Trust me, there will be much more on this point later.
- I said on Twitter before tipoff, and also in my Game 1 rant-cap, that I wasn’t overly worried/disappointed with Dwight Howard’s play because, as Charles Barkley said, what we saw in Game 1 is essentially who Dwight is. Howard came out last night on a completely different level, starting the game out scoring 13 of Houston’s first 15 points, seemingly on a mission to destroy the basket support as he finished every play with one of those dunks where he pulls the whole rim down and hangs for aesthetic effect. It was breathtaking to watch and by halftime, Superman had 25. But heading into the third quarter, I tweeted that it worried me that while Howard and Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge were both having historic first halves, leading to the tied score, Aldridge’s efforts were more sustainable while Howard’s were likely to taper off. Lo and behold, Howard scored just 7 more points the rest of the way, while Aldridge continued his tear to the tune of another 40+ performance. That whole train of analysis is not meant as a knock on Dwight. 32-14-4 is more than enough to expect from one’s superstar center. My assertion was simply based upon the observation that Howard’s game is more prone to being stopped by adjustments (more on this) than Aldridge’s. Howard made comments following Game 1 about needing to demand the ball more, but I never thought effort or intensity were really the problem. Sure, he can flex his muscle and dunk the ball down as hard as possible, but a timely double-team or help defender here or there can completely throw him off.
- If you’re a fan of the Houston Rockets, you’re wondering what an ‘adjustment’ is. My apologies. Allow me to explain as simply as possible. An ‘adjustment’ is basically when, in a game, something is happening over and over again, perhaps by one of the teams, and then the other team’s coach says, “hey guys, we need to make an adjustment. let’s stop doing ‘x’ and do ‘y’.” And then typically, some different result ensues. I’ve poured over the past two years worth of video from the Houston Rockets to find some tape to better illustrate the concept, but unfortunately, did not find anything.
The playoffs show us something curious: the difference between the ideal and the practical. A “bad matchup” suggests, to me, not some rare quirk of the game or misnomer, but that we evaluate players with too much lack of the particular. When I hear X is better than Y, but Y is just a bad matchup for X, I think: You’re measuring incorrectly.
Better, worse… who cares? Rankology and hierarchy be damned. We should look at the pantheons of players and teams like a periodic table, not a one-way list. Some mix well, others don’t—the goal, as a viewer and lover of the game each season, is not necessarily to determine who is best. Everyone loves that base bit of pride, surely—stick your finger up in the air with Aloe Blacc on in your Beats, I dare you to do it without swelling with self-worth at the thought of war won through your surrogate ballers—but the strange and varied permutations of humanity-by-way-of-athletes is what truly beats our hearts.
Houston Rockets vs Portland Trailblazers: Some thoughts about the benches, Harden’s defense, and adjustments
First, the benches
At the end of the regular season, the Portland Trailblazers was the most bench-allergic team in the league. Portland played its bench 29.55% of the time, or dead last in the league. I’ve noted that, given the bench data, the Golden State Warriors and Trailblazers are in precarious states because they both play their benches very little, and their benches aren’t very good. One injury to an overworked starter portended disaster. One Andrew Bogut injury later, I feel pretty proud of my prediction (though bad for the Warriors). And while the Blazers might not be injured, they are most definitely tired. Take a look at Portland’s field goal attempts and their opponents’ over the course of the season.
The Blazers accelerated their pace through January, but have played significantly more slowly since. Their opponents, who were once being run off the court to the tune of four fewer field goal attempts per game in January, have now turned the tables and are out running the Blazers. Think the Blazers lack of bench utilization has something to do with these trends?
- If Patrick Beverley has been lost, you can kiss the Houston Rockets’ title hopes this year goodbye. You can stick a fork in them. They don’t have a chance in hell without Beverley. I guess we will find out in a few hours. When Red94 went to press, it was believed that Beverley had suffered a sprained knee with the fear being that the injury was serious. He limped to the lockerroom at the close of things last night and it didn’t look good, but we will just have to wait a few more hours and see. But I’m bracing for the worst. The Rockets can still win this series without Beverley, but it will be tough doing anything else of significance.
- Isn’t it funny how your whole world can change just at the drop of a hat? One minute, the Rockets were coasting to a Game 1 victory, nursing a double digit lead with less than five minutes remaining, having absorbed a historic night from the Blazers’ best player while their own two stars didn’t have their best games…and the next, they are down 0-1, having coughed up the home court advantage and possibly facing the impending news that they have lost their starting point guard.
- Dwight Howard might have had the most unimpressive game of anyone in the history of anyone who has ever scored 27 points and pulled down 15 boards. The Rockets completely crumbled offensively down the stretch, as they have been prone to do, also making critical errors defensively…but make no mistake, that game completely turned when the Blazers went to the Hack-a-Howard, killing Houston’s momentum and obviously stopping the clock while the Blazers clawed their way back in. There should be no question left: the next time Portland employs the strategy, Howard should be yanked immediately, unless he’s demonstrated a consistent stroke already at the line on the night. Now is not the time to worry about hurt feelings. If you can’t hit your freebies, you sit, because otherwise, you are hurting the team. The problem for McHale is that, for his part, Howard was otherwise dominant protecting the paint. With the big man out of the game, the lane looked like the Red Sea upon Moses’ arrival and the Blazers wasted no time taking the ball straight to the rim.
The main thing you don’t want to do at the start of a playoff series is to lose game one. You also want to avoid having a key player suffer an injury, try to prevent the opposing star players from absolutely detonating and most of all don’t let double digit leads evaporate in record time. Unfortunately, the Houston Rockets went ahead and did all the things they shouldn’t have done, coughing up a huge loss in overtime and dropping home court advantage. The good news, if there is any, is that home court advantage seems to be meaningless so far, with road teams winning 5 of the 8 games this weekend.
The Rockets and NBA fans in general have a lot to be sore about in that game, mostly focusing on the confusing, inconsistent, frustrating officiating that seems to have taken over half of the playoff games so far. In the end, it was likely a wash for the Rockets, but the calls were seemingly random in frequency, legitimacy and direction. The NBA admitted to badly blowing a call at the end of the Clippers vs Warriors game on the 19th of April, and this game has a flagship call as well. Dwight Howard was called for his sixth foul late in overtime and the decision was questionable, to put it mildly. Replay showed Joel Freeland outright hugging Dwight, and a public admission of error is likely tomorrow. Whether that call would have helped or hurt the Rockets is frankly immaterial. The refereeing is obtrusive, distracting and disruptive, three things that are absolutely critical to avoid as a league.