It was a soggy night in Washington, and in a rare occurence the bad weather outside affected the basketball inside as the game was interrupted on two separate occasions thanks to a leak in the Verizon Center roof. If you stuck around past the rain delays, you would have seen the Rockets allow a huge lead to evaporate as they lost control of a game they were completely dominating for three quarters. They slide from 25 points up at one point to fall behind by 5 midway through the fourth, but were able to recover to escape with the win. For three quarters this was the most complete performance the Rockets have put on since Christmas Day, but the events of the final frame turned it into a nail-biter the Rockets were lucky to escape from with a win.
- Jeremy Lin and John Wall have a history going back to the Las Vegas Summer League before their rookie seasons, when the matchup between the two of them was possibly the highlight of the tournament. It’s always been fun to watch the two play against each other, and tonight was no exception. For three quarters I thought Lin did a really good job of staying in front of Wall and preventing him from getting to the rim. Several times he forced Wall to make a bailout pass from under the basket. But it all fell apart in the fourth when Wall seemed to move to another gear. He was a blur in the open court and got the rim at will as the Wizards erased a 15 point deficit in just 6 minutes.
- Howard absolutely pulverised Gortat in the post whenever he got the chance. Gortat is by no means a small man, but it was incredible how easy Howard found it to back him down. Even when Dwight caught the ball near the three point line he was able to get all the way to the rim without facing up. The Wizards adjusted by benching Gortat and playing Nene and Seraphim down the stretch, and it worked a lot better for them.
- This is the second consecutive game where the Rockets have gone through a stretch featuring several consecutive turnovers late in games and given up damaging runs to their opponents. I think you can trace a fair amount of the blame to a failure to adapt to adjustments in defending Howard’s post game. Last night, the Hawks put pressure on the feeds to Howard, fighting hard to disrupt him as he made his catch and forcing passes to be made through a thicket of limbs. Tonight, the Wizards switched Howard’s primary defender and started to double team more often. This is an area where I think McHale needs to step in quicker – when he sees changes like this he should call a timeout and suggest an alternative strategy. Otherwise we may well see more sequences like this in the future – if you can throw Howard off his game, the turnovers he coughs up can be very damaging otherwise.
- On the back of a brilliant quarter from Omri Casspi (who had 12), the Rockets put up 38 points in the second frame and opened up a 17 point half time lead. For the first time in a long while, the Rockets’ bench actually looked productive. They ran a second unit of Brooks/Lin/Garcia/Casspi/Smith, and it worked really well. Lin was in attack mode and getting to the rim, and Casspi was hitting from both outside and in. Garcia has been in a slump recently, but he was back to being quietly useful tonight, facilitating well and coming up with one of his trademark sneaky blocks. And it was great to have Smith the garbage man back on the court – his game has great synergy with Lin’s when Jeremy is aggressive and able to penetrate. If he can stay healthy it will add some much needed pop to the second unit’s offence.
- Terrence Jones also had a good game tonight. He started slow but had a great third quarter, and had a key block late on to preserve the Rockets’ fragile lead. My one criticism is that he continues to struggle mightily to box out on the defensive glass. The Wizards had 17 offensive boards tonight and a lot of them came when Jones’ man was able to sneak past a ball-watching Jones for the offensive board. Particularly when the team is going through an offensive funk, these lapses can be very demoralising.
- There was a clear emphasis in generating early offence from the Rockets tonight. For the first time in what feels like forever they were pushing the ball off makes and it got them several easy buckets. Nice to see and hopefully they’ll be able to keep it up in subsequent games.