The Houston Rockets have won games without James Harden. They’ve won games without Dwight Howard. They’ve won games without Chandler Parsons, and Jeremy Lin, and Patrick Beverley, and Omer Asik. For most of the season, their injury situation has not been as bad as say, the Minnesota Timberwolves last year, or the Trail Blazers seemingly in general. But Houston has had to deal with their fair share of injuries this year in contrast to last year, and yet throughout the season they have persevered and found alternatives.
Tonight was different. With Howard and Beverley injured, Jones out with “flu-like symptoms”, and Motiejunas only playing 7 minutes due to foul trouble? There’s a limit to how many injuries a team can take before they collapse – and tonight, even though they tried, the Rockets hit that limit.
The biggest problems Houston had probably could have been solved by the presence of those missing tonight. With Jones and Howard officially out, and Motiejunas virtually out, Houston had to deal with the fact that they only had one big man in Asik ready tonight. Asik played 36 minutes tonight, far more than he is accustomed to, and yet it still wasn’t enough. At one point in the first quarter, Houston was forced to start Omri Casspi at the 5 slot – and you could just see Andray Blatche’s eyes light up at the opportunity and the lack of rim protection. Asik had a real defensive impact, having a highlight reel block on Alan Anderson, and cleaning up the numerous perimeter mistakes which the other Rockets made over and over again. With the total lack of competition for boards, he also grabbed a career-high 23 rebounds, and for once Houston actually outrebounded the opposing team.
That doesn’t mean that Asik was perfect. He may have went 5-8 from the field for 12 points, but simple statistics like that just don’t show the gargantuan difference between him and Howard on offense. You can’t just lob the ball to him like you can to Howard (something which the Houston guards and Lin in particular seem to forget), and after the Nets let the Rockets hit 6 of their first 14 3 point shots, they were content to play the perimeter, keep Houston from hitting 3’s, and dare them to drive – and aside from James Harden drawing plenty of foul shots even by his standards, it largely worked. Houston only shot 38% altogether tonight.
And none of that discusses how the presence of injuries impacted the bench. Now to be fair, Houston did have its best stretch of the game playing part of the bench in the 2nd quarter. A Lin-Garcia-Hamilton-Parsons-Asik lineup moved the ball and shot well against the Nets bench, and midway through second period grabbed a brief 46-42 lead. But as a whole, Houston’s bench players were lousy. While Brooklyn’s bench outscored Houston’s only 29-26, the Brooklyn needed 26 shots to get those 29 points…while Canaan, Hamilton, Casspi, and Garcia took 35. Needless to say, that huge efficiency difference was just as important as just the general lack of bigs.
So, really, what is there to take away from this? To some degree, not much. Just having Jones around, or having Motiejunas solving that fouling issue which has plagued him his entire NBA career, could possibly have made the difference in this game. But over the medium-term, as the Rockets struggle to put themselves back together, and the Blazers seem to regain some of their earlier form? The Rockets will have to figure how to solve a big man/depth problem which has shown up in some form from the minute Greg Smith had that mysterious knee injury.
Well, the Rockets will be off to Toronto, with everyone completely unsure of who will even be playing for that game. Fun fact: the last time the Rockets won in Toronto, Rafer Alston played a decisive role and scored 23 points. Yes. Rafer Alston. Back in March 2007.s And let’s not forget Tracy McGrady’s most infamous game as a Rocket, or Trevor Ariza swinging an elbow at Demar Derozan.