Houston Rockets 110, Toronto Raptors 104: This game is, and has always been, about buckets
- In the aftermath of the earlier horrifying 2 game losing streak, there have been discussions on everything from short rotations to the usage of power forwards to Lin’s role in the rotation to the Twin Towers lineup to silly Twitter spats on who supposedly said what about some teammate. But I believe that there is one issue that hasn’t been talked about enough, namely Houston’s dreadful 3-point shooting for these past eight games. After shooting over 36% from there last year, Houston is now barely shooting over 31% this season, which includes a 7-26 performance tonight against the Raptors. The Raptors, led by a defensively skilled but offensively unimaginative coach in Dwayne Casey, and lacking any true 3 point gunners, managed to outshoot the Rockets from range tonight. This trend simply cannot continue, especially if Houston intends to play centers in Howard and Asik who do not possess any range.
- It may be one thing to start recapping what was a hard fought victory on a negative note, but I will freely admit to being much more frustrated by this game than the second Clippers defeat. A large part of that is due to Jonas Valanciunas. The young center, who is supposed to be the future of the Raptors franchise, was incredible tonight. His stat lines may not be that impressive, as he finished with 10 points on 9 shots and grabbed 13 boards, but he had a real effect on Dwight Howard and on Toronto’s defense. Valanciunas suffered from foul trouble throughout the game, and Houston repeatedly capitalized when he sat out to take advantage of Toronto’s weaker interior defense. He then fouled out for good with 3:11 left in the game, when Houston led 84-80. Yet without their best player, the Raptors hustled, grabbed rebounds, and took advantages of Dwight’s continued free throw struggles to force one overtime, and then another off of a ridiculous Rudy Gay buzzer beater before finally succumbing to James Harden and Jeremy Lin in the second overtime. From my perspective, Houston likely does not win this game if Valanciunas plays during overtime.
- I mentioned Dwight’s free throw struggles, but they were a severe problem during tonight’s game. Finishing 4-12 from the line is bad enough, but Howard was also visibly rattled taking foul shots at the end of the game, as he finished 1-6 over the course of the 4th quarter and the 2 overtimes. More than anything, Howard looked visibly nervous at the foul line at the very end, which is the absolute worst thing one could see from the superstar center this late in the game.
- As a contrast to this negativity, Jeremy Lin deserves particular praise for his play tonight. Lin was largely quiet during the first half, as Howard and Harden dominated the Raptors and built a commanding 47-33 lead at the end of the half. However, Toronto adjusted and Houston began to move away from giving the ball to Howard, which permitted the Raptors to creep back into the game and eventually extend it by an additional ten minutes. During the fourth quarter and the overtimes, Lin at times was seemingly the only one who was willing to put the ball on the court and make something out of nothing. He was the only player tonight who shot well from long range as he finished 3 for 6 from there, and eventually closed the game out with 31 points. According to Jonathan Feign, that is the most amount of points a Houston bench player has scored since Carl Landry’s incredible last season with the Rockets – and Landry was well on his way to winning the Sixth Man of the Year award until he was traded to the Kings and a starting position.
- Does tonight’s game signal the end of the Twin Towers and/or the appearance of Terrence Jones in the regular rotation? With Francisco Garcia out with the flu, Jones largely took Garcia’s minutes during the 2nd quarter, but Jones’s athleticism and rebounding were good enough that McHale chose to have Jones in the starting lineup at the beginning of the second half. That arrangement lasted only three minutes until two quick fouls from Jones had McHale send in Omri Casspi, but at bare minimum, Howard and Asik did not play together for a single second during the second half. There are currently many mistakes in this stage of Jones’s young career. His offense generally needs work, as he has a problem finishing and does not possess a reliable jump shot. His team defense in knowing the rotation also needs work, but his defense tonight was extremely good on an individual basis. Jones spent most of the second half and overtimes guarding Rudy Gay, who was even more inefficient than usual with 29 points on 37 shots. There is little doubt in my mind that Jones has managed to play his way into a rotation player for now, even when Garcia returns from the flu.
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