For once, the Rockets met just the team they needed to. After a disastrous three game slide including two blowouts, the Rockets needed someone to right their ship against. The Bulls, with their crushing defense and spotty offense, provided exactly the trial and opportunity this young Rockets team needed to settle down on both ends of the ball. It wasn’t always a pretty game, but it was a win for the team’s growth and their record.
The Bulls came to Houston on the heels of losses to the Blazers and the Clippers, and needed a win to avoid a three game slide. Unfortunately for them, the Rockets were ready, willing and able to cut a losing streak of their own. The Bulls, of course, continue to struggle while 2010-2011 MVP Derrick Rose struggles with the ACL he tore last season. Rose is the focal point of their offense, though they’ve been able to hold onto a 5-6 record so far. The Rockets were without veteran swingman Carlos Delfino and backup center Cole Aldrich.
The Rockets took advantage of the Bulls’ missing star, as well as the return of Houston’s own James Harden. Harden missed the entire second half of the last game due to a flu of some kind. He was visibly ill during that game, and clearly needed the rest. He came back strong against the Bulls, scoring and stealing at a wonderful pace despite being the target of continuous double teams. He returned to the kind of line Rockets fans want to see: 28 points on 8-14 shooting, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and a massive 5 steals. His game-high 6 turnovers mar an otherwise fantastic line. He continues to rack up turnovers, in large part due to his high usage and constant double teams. Nonetheless, it would behoove him and the team to try to lower turnovers across the board, which remain a constant problem. The Rockets coughed it up 23 times tonight, a season high. That has to fall eventually.
Parsons also turned it up for this game, showing an unwillingness to let the sophomore slump claim him. While most of the Rockets have struggled lately, he’s been everywhere at once, and it’s invaluable to the team. He amassed 18 points on 7-13 shooting, and grabbed a career high 13 rebounds. His peripherals seem to go wherever they need to, and his shooting has settled into a highly efficient groove. He seems to increasingly shy from bad shots, and it’s great to see. If you’d told me two years ago that the Battier-Budinger rotation would be replaced by a player who combines the best of both players and was drafted in the second round, I’d have accused you of having irrational, unrealistic hopes. And then Chandler Parsons happened. He’s a player to hang onto.
Patterson also continues to make all his naysayers look foolish. Now that his bone spurs have been fully removed, he looks active and accurate this season. 20 points on 8-16 shooting, including a three pointer? And that comes with 8 rebounds? Those are great numbers, and defenses will eventually have to start paying him more attention.
Asik looked excited to play his old team, but they had his number as much as he had theirs. He only shot 2-8 (for only 4 points), but most of his shots were from below the rim, where the refs decided to let anything go. The real surprise was that he only grabbed 6 boards. The Bulls were on fire on the offensive glass, with Noah, Deng, Boozer and Robinson all grabbing at least 3. Whatever the Bulls knew, it let them take Asik’s boards from him. In response, he had 3 emphatic blocks, including a late one against Noah that sealed the game for Houston. Given how amazing he’s looked, he’s allowed to get quieted by a great coach and solid team who knows his game one night.
Toney Douglas was a surprise bright spot of the night. Whether he knows about the hate being piled against him, or he’s just settling into his game and forcing things less, he looked mediocre rather than horrible on offense (1-4 shooting, but it was a hugely important three late in the game), and had a few good defensive plays. He still looks like a puppy scrambling to do everything at once, but he seems to be getting a hold of what the team needs from him. Livingston would still probably be playing much better, but at least Douglas hit all his free throws and doesn’t seem to be actively hurting the team.
The dark lining to that is that Lin seems to be losing playing time. His line tonight was terrible. 4 points on 2-9 shooting. 5 turnovers to 3 assists. He notched a steal, but when you average three a game, that’s not enough. Lin eventually sat down during the Rockets’ amazing late game comeback. They completely shut the Bulls down for 4 minutes, and Lin wasn’t involved. He can still pass with the best of them, but his offensive game seems, if anything, to be degrading. Perhaps his confidence is increasingly shaken, but he’s on a bad path and needs to break out of it if this team wants a winning record this season or any season.
With Aldrich and Delfino out, the rest of the bench was only Morris and Smith, who both looked happy to be there. Morris was held scoreless in 14 minutes, but he played with so much energy and hustle (like an amazing catch-up play on defense to stifle a fast break) that it was hard to notice. He offers a similar all-around skill set to Parsons, and both have good intangibles. As long as one is on the floor at all times, the team is well-served. Smith looks like his foot has healed nicely, and looks ready to close the door in Cole Aldrich’s face. 4-7 shooting and 4 rebounds is fine for a backup, and he never looked lost on defense. He bobbled or missed on a couple passes, but he still came out efficient and is only improving. The Rockets bench looks like experience might grow it into a solid unit by the end of the year.
For the last few games, the Rockets have looked defeated before the second half even started. Somehow, this team suffers in high-scoring affairs and thrives when defense abounds. Hopefully the experience of holding a team scoreless over 4 minutes at the end of the game will do them good. This team has a lot of defensive potential, and that’s what will carry them to the majority of what wins they get. If they can just get the shooting and the turnovers in line, they just might have a shot at a winning record.