I’ll fully admit to not being impressed in the slightest by Saturday’s win against Minnesota. The turnovers were numerous, the rebounding was poor, and the Rockets played an incredibly undisciplined and sloppy version of basketball which was only bailed out by Aaron Brooks bringing his NBA 2K self to life, and the Rockets shooting 55% from long range, something I doubt they will accomplish four more times this season.
Tonight, we saw what happened when the ridiculously hot shooting collapses.
That was what I typed out midway through the third quarter, because tonight’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies from my perspective really had gotten that out of hand. For the first two and a half quarters, the Rockets played sloppy, terrible basketball which struggled against Memphis’s vaunted defense. But Houston began to turn things around offensively later in the third quarter, and then Kevin McHale sent out a Beverley-Garcia-Parsons-Casspi-Asik lineup. That largely bench lineup trounced Memphis’s bench, finally regained the lead, and held on late in the game against Mike Conley and the Grizzlies starters to win the game and go up 10-5.
- Some statistics which show the stark difference between the brilliant fourth quarter and the miserable earlier periods: Houston made 2 3-pointers in the first three quarters. They made 4 in the final period. They had 3 turnovers in the fourth quarter, after 17 in the earlier three. They had three assists in the first half. They had nine in the second. The Grizzlies had 11 offensive rebounds in the first half. They had three in the second. The numbers show the truth of the ugliness and weak cohesion of the first half, only for it to it be turned around by a bench mob that actually played defense, made shots, and was allowed to ride out the rest of the game by McHale.
- I know I described the lineup that won the game as a “bench mob”, but it was largely Chandler Parsons, Omri Casspi, and Omer Asik who won the game out of those five (more on Asik below). Francisco Garcia had a timely three pointer which tied the game at 75-75, but that was his only three pointer out of six attempts and he had two, possibly three, foolish fouls at the end of the game which resulted in trips to the free throw line for Conley. Casspi and Parsons in the meantime had 9 points apiece in the final quarter, mostly off of fast break points as the Rockets at the end finally managed to turn the pace away from Grit n’ Grind and towards the normal dazzling Houston offense. They also had some great double teams, a notable example when the two trapped Zach Randolph to throw an errant pass which Beverley nabbed and passed to Casspi for the finish.
- Asik in particular was a massive difference in Houston’s effort later in the game, as he definitely outplayed Howard on the defensive end tonight. Part of that is due to the fact that Asik is better than Howard at staying calm in the face of blown calls. Howard had some problems early at the game with the referees, and received a technical foul for his complaints, something which he never seemed to quite get over for the rest of the game. Asik in the meantime went to work. In addition to performing well against Zach Randolph and the depleted Memphis big men, Asik grabbed 10 rebounds in 21 minutes and prevented the Grizzlies from dominating the boards like they did in the first half.
- With Harden hopefully back for Wednesday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks, it is pleasant to know that the Rockets have managed to win the past two games without him. The game against Minnesota was from my perspective a fluke born out of hot shooting, but tonight’s game was a much better indication of the depth and potential that the Rockets can have with greater defensive rotations and discipline. There is still a lot of work to do on the defensive end (there was one play in the second quarter where both Parsons and Terrence Jones abandoned Jon Leuer on the assumption that the other would cover Leuer, leaving him wide open for an easy jump shot), and needless to say, Harden will not exactly help with the defensive rotations. But it is a start.