The great plays of Shakespeare are five acts, but while tonight’s victory against Cleveland was a solid victory, it was not exactly the sort of game from which legends are born. Therefore, only three acts are really needed to describe what transpired tonight.
After an initial 8-2 deficit, Houston’s frontcourt of Terrence Jones and Dwight stormed the paint and overwhelmed Cleveland’s poor defense all the way to a 49-30 lead. Houston then put on one of those inexplicably poor performances that seizes them from time to time, as they failed to check Cleveland’s perimeter scorers, which let the Cavaliers back in the game and even gave them a 63-61 lead – Dion Waiters in particular had a field day, finishing with 17 first half points on 10 shots. Having given up the lead, the Rockets emerged from their stupor to once more batter Cleveland into submission.
The three stages can be summed up by one fact: the Cleveland Cavaliers needed 17 minutes to score their first 30 points of the game. They then needed less than 11 minutes to score the next 30 points, but then needed 18 minutes to reach 90.
- Houston’s reawakening during the 3rd part, after the Cavaliers had taken the lead, can be partly attributed to just more effort, but Kevin McHale did make an important though surprising substitution. He yanked Terrence Jones and Chandler Parsons very early in the 3rd quarter to replace them with Donatas Motiejunas and Jeremy Lin. The fact that it worked in general is not incredibly surprising – Lin helped to get the ball moving in transition, for example. But it also worked very well on the defensive end. Cavaliers coach Mike Brown, no doubt aware of Motiejunas’s defensive reputation, or lack thereof, had Tristan Thompson attack Motiejunas repeatedly on the post. But Motiejunas’s defense is not particularly weak man-to-man; it is in defensive awareness where he struggles. The result was that Thompson only scored once on Motiejunas in the 3rd quarter. It could not help but remind me of when Howard was so badly stymied by Andrea Bargnani earlier this season, especially since Bargnani is another European big who is a decent post defender but a miserable help defender.
- What was also surprising (and a tad worrying) is that after yanking Parsons and Jones from the game, Kevin McHale opted to not play Parsons at all for the rest of the game. Parsons wasn’t playing great having gone 1-4 from 3, but he wasn’t bad, and McHale does rely on him extensively, as he plays the third highest minutes per game in the league. Likely this sudden rotation change was to combat Cleveland’s rotation of Jarret Jack and Kyrie Irving simultaneously, so it is a sign of McHale adapting to the situation. (And no, it does not appear at the time of writing that Parsons was injured, especially since he never went to the locker room.)
- A special shout-out to Jeremy Lin and the first triple double of his NBA career: 15 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists (Beverley and Lin, the two point guards, combined for nearly half of Houston’s rebounds). Like I said earlier, Lin did a very good job of sparking Houston’s offense in transition. Irving hit jumpers on Lin (and everyone else who guarded him) throughout the night, but Lin answered by running through the paint and making excellent passes to the frontcourt. That is the Lin who can singlehandedly shore up Houston’s weak bench, the Lin I had hoped to see.
- Also on a more personal note about Lin: I will not deny that many of my columns have been fairly hard on Lin’s performances, especially before this recent stretch of games. But more than any other Rocket, Lin is the one who I have the highest expectations relative to his play. Other members of Red94 like Rahat have discussed the possibility of Houston obtaining another max free agent in 2015. I am at best, skeptical of the idea, which means that if Houston is to become a true contender, most if not nearly all of its improvement must come within the team. And while Lin is obviously not the best player on the Rockets, he is the one who I think has the best chance to surpass the expectations set out for him.