There are bad losses, Bad losses and BAD losses in the NBA. Losing to the Los Angeles Clippers by something like a thousand points was Bad. Losing to the Thunder and setting an NBA record for offensive dysfunction was BAD. Losing to the Warriors on their home turf in overtime? Every loss is bad, but this one was survivable. This was the first game after a strangely tepid trade deadline, and the Rockets nearly came from behind for the win. There are still issues to work out and defense to work on, but they’re the same issues and problems the team had yesterday. Losing stings, but this is pain you can live with.
As for the Golden State Warriors, they looked like the competitor everyone expected in the summer. Their offense was desultory, but so was Houston’s. Both teams were on the second night of a back to back, which tends to cause shooting to suffer and defense to become more important. The Warriors are the more steadfast defensive team, and at times it looked like Houston couldn’t get anything they wanted. When any Houston players found themselves open, they clanked the shot more often than not. Even at the free throw line, the poor shooting persisted.
If this sounds like time to panic, it’s not. James Harden had a monster 39 points on 14-27 shooting along with 4 rebounds and 5 assists. Harden took over the game late and looked like a star. He even defended David Lee quite capably on multiple occasions. If your Rockets Game Bingo has “good post defense from Harden” on it, you may have just won big. If, like the rest of us, it says “good post play from Dwight Howard” on your sheet, you’re out of luck. Dwight’s 24 rebounds and 4 blocks may have been huge for the team, but his 4-13 shooting and 3-8 free throws were cause for dismay. Jermaine O’Neal brought it to Dwight on both ends of the floor and enjoyed an amazing game, including a crucial block in overtime that prevented Parsons from taking the lead.
The biggest reason for concern for Houston was free throw shooting. At 16-25, any of those misses would have helped avoid overtime in the first place. The Rockets, while sporting dreadful numbers from the stripe to begin with, 64% as a team is a recipe for disaster. The downside is that there’s little to be done about it, but the upside is that this will largely correct itself with time and rest. It stings to know that those missed shots could have saved the game, but says little about Houston’s prospects.
There’s not much to be learned from a game where all but two players on the team shot less than 50%. There’s little takeaway from the end of the game except that James Harden and Steph Curry are both amazing. There’s no good reason to be afraid of Jermaine O’Neal any more than the day before. Ugly losses hurt, and seeing that win streak fall apart hurts even more. That’s all true, but in a mid-February regular season game, none of them are impossible to survive.