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Houston Rockets 100, New York Knicks 98 – All’s well that ends well

Coming off a disappointing loss to Sacramento, this was a key game for the Rockets to get back on track. Some bad habits have been forming that it would have been nice to see broken, but more important was to get a win to stop the team from sliding any further down the Western Conference standings. They weren’t perfect, and they left it late, but eventually they hung on for an important win.

  • In what is by now a very familiar trend, Harden decided to monopolize the ball in the clutch. They had stretched the lead up to 5, but on repeated possessions he ran the clock down without getting a good shot out of it. While watching this game, it occurred to me that there are two types of Harden isolations. In the good, acceptable ones he faces up his defender prior to using his dribble and keeps his head up. Often these end up with him whipping the ball to a team-mate whose defender has cheated off him slightly too much, but he can also work out of the triple threat to get the step on his defender. In the bad type of isolation, he tends to have a live dribble. In that situation, he is much less likely to consider passing, and especially in late-game situations he has a tendency to go for fancy side-to-side dribbles instead of wriggling his way towards the rim. Unfortunately the late game possessions were more of the latter type, and we saw the perils of that approach when he accidentally dribbled the ball off his foot and was lucky not to give the Knicks a fast break.
  • It’s worth bearing in mind – you have to balance any criticism of Harden with an acknowledgement that he pretty much single-handedly kept the Rockets’ offence going in the second half of this game. He finished with 37 points and 6 assists, and there were stretches of the game where he seemed to be the only player capable of making a shot. The timely threes and trips to the line are a huge asset to the team and in my mind it’s worth taking the bad with the good. It’s just frustrating given that there’s no good reason that you couldn’t keep the positives and get rid of the negatives.
  • Despite the hero-ball, the Rockets were able to come away with the victory. This was thanks to a combination of actually getting some stops in the late game for once and some terrible decision making from the Knicks. A few weeks ago Bargnani was rightly pilloried for launching a three when all he had to do was hold onto the ball. You would have thought that the team would have learned its lesson from that, but apparently not. With 20 seconds left on the clock and the scores tied at 100, the Knicks corralled an offensive rebound. All they had to do was hold for the last shot, but instead they passed the ball to JR Smith at the top of the arc who promptly missed a three. The Rockets got the board and to compound the error, a foul while fighting for the ball put Brooks on the line. So instead of having the last shot and a chance to win the game in regulation, the Knicks got the ball back with 17 seconds and needing to score to avoid losing. A huge swing and a lucky break in the Rockets’ favour.
  • There’s not much you can do about Carmelo – despite playing on a sprained ankle he was too good in the post for Parsons. What you can do, however, is keep tabs on the Knicks’ outside shooters. The Rockets started out doing this very well – I was impressed initially by the extra attention the defenders seemed to be paying to their men on the perimeter. However, as the game wore on that effort started to lapse and shooters started to get free. Iman Shumpert took special advantage of the freedom he was afforded as he buried 6 of 6 outside shots (all of them open). Sometimes shooters get hot, but here the Rockets gave him so much space it was not particularly surprising that he made a high percentage and this inattention was a huge part of why the game was close down the stretch.
  • Once again it felt like Howard did not get enough touches in the post. He was rarely saw the ball in the second half, and with the offence generally looking anaemic he should probably have been fed a bit more often.
  • On a related note, it was good to see Greg Smith back in the rotation. I’ve been a bit concerned by some of the minute totals Howard has been putting up in past games (even with Smith, he still had 38 minutes tonight), but hopefully McHale will be able to rejig the rotation in future games to keep Dwight’s minutes a little lower.
  • Harden kept trying to throw a lob to Terrence Jones in the first half. The first few times it was slow and telegraphed and the Knicks had defenders in place to snuff it out. It doesn’t look like a good option in the half court set, but when they tried it on the fast break it connected rather well. Perhaps it’s something they’ve been practising in their days off?

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