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Houston Rockets 94, Golden State Warriors 88: Houston wins with an ancient and secret technique known as “defense.”

It was observed by one of the ESPN commentators tonight (I do not remember which one) that every game between the Warriors and the Rockets should receive national TV billing.  As a whole, this makes sense.  Tonight’s game was anticipated to be a high-flying, high-scoring affairs where two All-Stars in James Harden and Stephen Curry would duel in a game between two rising teams who like to run, shoot, and not play defense.  Combined with the chippiness of the past two matches, one would have anticipated more of the same in an exciting game.

Yet while tonight was an exciting, close game, it was played very differently from the earlier contests.  While Houston launched a barrage of 3 pointers like normal, finishing with 15 made shots compared to Golden State’s 9, it was with defense and lots of free throws that the Rockets won the game.  Golden State needed 87 shots to score 88 points, and the Rockets also managed in the fourth quarter to prevent the Warriors from scoring a single point for the first 5 and a half minutes.  In a way, it was pure moneyball, as rather than heroics, the team as a whole worked together to win the game.

Initially, one felt that tonight’s game would be a disaster for the Rockets.  While Houston did manage an early lead, David Lee utterly manhandled Motiejunas and Robinson during the opening minutes.  The former lasted only about three minutes before he sat down with two fouls, not to play again for the rest of the half, and while Robinson did a relatively better job compared to Motiejunas, David Lee still managed to get 10 points in 7 minutes before he suffered an injury to his right knee.  While Lee left and did not return for the rest of the half, the Warriors continued to dominate as Klay Thompson scored 9 of the Warrior’s last 11 points in the quarter to give them a 30-21 lead.  As the second quarter continued, the game began to feel like a potential Warriors blowout.  Houston’s offense utterly stagnated with a Robinson-Smith frontcourt and a struggling Harden while the Warriors in their own turn also played excellent defense for most of the game.  The Rockets’ field goal percentage fell to a pathetic 31%, and the Warriors grabbed a 41-28 lead at the 6:35 mark before McHale called a timeout.

Whatever McHale said there, it worked.  The Rockets defense had its first major stretch of clamping on both the defense and interior against one of the best offensive teams in the league, as the Warriors managed only two field goals for the rest of the quarter.  While Houston’s offense did improve on the field, the important change was that the Rockets, and Lin in particular, grew more aggressive in the paint and were rewarded with fouls for their trouble.  Houston walked into the locker room at halftime with a 50-48 lead.

The Rockets started out well during the third quarter, as Lin continued his excellent play through both driving and dishing the ball to Motiejunas and Asik.  Whenever the Warriors made a shot, the Rockets answered, and things seemed to be going well with a 66-59 lead.  Then just as one began to feel complacent, Andrew Bogut made his only shot of the game in the form of a prayer 3 point shot from the corner with time running out from the shot clock.  Bogut’s three sparked off an additional Golden State run of 3 pointers as they racked off 11 straight points and finished with a 76-73 lead at the end of the quarter.

From there, Houston’s defense utterly clamped down.  Asik was the difference maker.  Morey recently stated in an interview that Houston is in fact the #1 half court defensive team when Asik is on the floor, and tonight the big man certainly demonstrated why.  With the Warriors playing rookie center Festus Ezeli during the first part of the final quarter, McHale opted to have Asik guard Lee and Carlos Delfino guard Ezeli.  Asik completely shut down Lee and the Warriors drivers, and the Rockets had the time to close out on shooters knowing that Asik was behind them.  While the Rockets were not able to take as much advantage during the scoring drought as they would have liked due to only scoring 9 points themselves for those 5 and a half minutes, they did manage to take the lead and held one of the better offensive teams in the league to only 12 points in the quarter.  From there, Harden and Lin drove to the rim for the rest of the game, kept the Warriors out of reach, and won the game and the season series.

  • The Rockets needed key contributions from pretty much everyone in order to win (and yes that includes James Harden’s game tonight), but no player helped more than Chandler Parsons.  Over the last 6 games, Parsons has averaged over 24 points a game on over 60% shooting from the field and almost 60% shooting from the 3 point line.  Tonight, Parsons had 18 points in the 1st half, earning praises from the ESPN crew, and finished with 26 points on 13 shots.  On a side note, Rudy Gay blew it late against the Lakers, missing several potential game-winners or tiers, and finished with 17 points on 26 shots.  Mr. Gay is making 15 million more than Parsons.  Life really is unfair.
  • It was alluded to above, but tonight was probably Harden’s worst scoring performance as a Rocket.  He finished with 20 points but shot 3-17 to accomplish that, with all 3 shots being 3 pointers.  Harden was completely incapable of finishing at the rim tonight, which culminated in a possession late in the game where he blew up Klay Thompson and Bogut but was unable to finish a not very difficult layup.  Some of that can be attributed to Golden State’s defense in the paint which was why Harden managed to bolster his point total with 11 free throws, but finishing at the rim is one of the key aspects for all superstars.  Harden did have 11 assists so it wasn’t all bad, but he could probably use some rest instead travelling for another game tomorrow.
  • Jeremy Lin played in the fourth quarter and had an important role late in the game as McHale repeatedly ran the Lin-Harden pick roll with the result of repeated trips to the line.  May we please put this silly controversy to bed now?
  • Speaking of lineups, McHale did not particularly use either Motiejunas or Robinson much during this game, preferring instead to send Delfino or Francisco Garcia out.  I’m not sure whether such a lineup would have worked if Lee had not suffered the knee injury in the first quarter, as he was visibly limping at the end of the game and really didn’t work in the post or on the boards as much as one would expect from an All-Star.  However, that lineup has been shown to work extremely well when the 3 pointer is falling as the team is a +4.4 on 3 pointers made.

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About the author: Write for a living, though not in sports. Been following the Rockets my whole life, with Stockton’s shot being my first memory. Consequently traumatized.

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  • phaketrash says 1 YEAR ago

    You're reading waaaaaaaay too much into what I said. Mostly, I think I am done with this. You guys have fun.

    Which part? I thought I was just responding to your question on relevancy, and disagreeing about patterns in general. Some of that was more akin to personal musings that are, as I pointed out, unrelated to the topic at hand.

  • thejohnnygold says 1 YEAR ago

    You're reading waaaaaaaay too much into what I said. Mostly, I think I am done with this. You guys have fun.

  • 2016Champions says 1 YEAR ago

    I think McHale has done a good job considering how young his team is, it's not easy to teach a bunch of young guys new plays. With that being said, I fully expect McHale to spend time teaching them plays the upcoming off-season and if he doesn't I will call for his head! lol

  • phaketrash says 1 YEAR ago

    Well, I wasn't discussing the population as a whole so not sure if that is very relevant.

    regarding Asik....my only guess is he is a bad free throw shooter???

    I'm not one for the status quo. Lin not finishing games as the starter is abnormal based on what has always been done before. I love stepping away from what has always been done. We barely lost those two games recently when Lin was benched...had we won those I think opinions around here would be different--for some at least. Regarding patterns, it is almost always the case that when we believe there is no pattern what is actually true is we just cannot see it yet. Our sample sizes are small. Over time, an underlying reasoning will emerge.

    I assumed that nba players, when it comes to consistency (or the yearning for it), they would be representative of the overall population. Is there a reason why they would be a different self-selected/biased group?

    Regarding patterns, I don't know if that is always the case. It is always the case that humans try to find a pattern where none exists lol. Not saying that applies in this situation at all -- I'm sure there is some rhyme or reason to McHale's decisions -- but just in general (as an aside), sometimes there just isn't a pattern lol.

    I found this on youtube btw. SUPER long and I have not watched the whole thing yet myself (working), but it sure seems interesting hahaha.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=MPStYh4Zxj8

  • thejohnnygold says 1 YEAR ago

    Well, I wasn't discussing the population as a whole so not sure if that is very relevant.

    regarding Asik....my only guess is he is a bad free throw shooter???

    I'm not one for the status quo. Lin not finishing games as the starter is abnormal based on what has always been done before. I love stepping away from what has always been done. We barely lost those two games recently when Lin was benched...had we won those I think opinions around here would be different--for some at least. Regarding patterns, it is almost always the case that when we believe there is no pattern what is actually true is we just cannot see it yet. Our sample sizes are small. Over time, an underlying reasoning will emerge.

  • phaketrash says 1 YEAR ago

    I will add though that the +/- numbers when Lin is on the floor in close games (<5 pt diff. w/ <5 min left) is kinda ugly. Asik's is one of the best though, so always surprised when he's not there tbh.

  • phaketrash says 1 YEAR ago

    Not to be Captain Obvious, but McHale does not answer to us--he answers to Morey and Alexander. I'm pretty sure they are watching the games too. I'm pretty sure that whatever the reason is everyone is ok with it. This is just underlying aggression manifesting any way it can to support a dislike of our current coach....also known as grasping at straws.

    It's fine if you don't like his substitution patterns or lack of consistency. I wouldn't read too much into it. There are people who do fine without the need for patterns or consistency.

    Personally, I think it helps the team overall to maintain a mental edge as nobody knows when they will be called upon to play. They have to stay focused and ready. It also means the opponents cannot plan ahead in anticipation of our 4th quarter line-ups....for all we know McHale is tracking their players' minutes and forcing the opponent to play "tired" guys to match up vs. our fresh ones to close out the games hoping to gain an edge there. It's all speculation on our part and I would be surprised if it was done willy-nilly.

    eh, I don't know about people who do fine without consistency or patterns. That is just not true on a population-wide level lol. People CRAVE consistency and patterns. Sure exceptions exist, but I don't like to take exceptions into account unless there is already a clear reason why a very small minority issue applies.

    I agree with timetodie on this. McHale seems erratic when he benches players like Lin and Asik in certain times. I don't like it. Sure there are a million reasons why he does it, but since no one can know, let's just pretend there is an imaginary disclaimer that exists before everyone's comments on this issue, regardless of their position (unless one's position is to just never comment on a whole subset of the Rockets organization as there are TONS of things that rely on perception-only).

    I don't think McHalehates Lin, but I also don't think Morey and McHale are 100% eye to eye on this thing. Morey would rather develop an asset in certain situations while McHale just wants to win his game. They're prob 90% eye to eye though, which is good enough, but you do end up with situations where it is like, o.O. Geez, we're at the point where a starting PG finishing the game isnoteworthy by the writer. You'd think it'd be the other way around.

  • thejohnnygold says 1 YEAR ago

    It's true....it's almost perfect anarchy...there is only one rule...love your team!

  • timetodienow1234567 says 1 YEAR ago

    Precisely, but that's what fans do. They speculate, sometimes with facts on their sides, sometimes without. That's part of the joy of being a fan.

  • thejohnnygold says 1 YEAR ago

    Not to be Captain Obvious, but McHale does not answer to us--he answers to Morey and Alexander. I'm pretty sure they are watching the games too. I'm pretty sure that whatever the reason is everyone is ok with it. This is just underlying aggression manifesting any way it can to support a dislike of our current coach....also known as grasping at straws.

    It's fine if you don't like his substitution patterns or lack of consistency. I wouldn't read too much into it. There are people who do fine without the need for patterns or consistency.

    Personally, I think it helps the team overall to maintain a mental edge as nobody knows when they will be called upon to play. They have to stay focused and ready. It also means the opponents cannot plan ahead in anticipation of our 4th quarter line-ups....for all we know McHale is tracking their players' minutes and forcing the opponent to play "tired" guys to match up vs. our fresh ones to close out the games hoping to gain an edge there. It's all speculation on our part and I would be surprised if it was done willy-nilly.

  • Jason says 1 YEAR ago

    I don't see him as an all-star with Mchale as the coach. I don't think Mchale hates Lin, I just don't think that he likes his game that much. It's hard to improve in sports if you don't have a coach that believes in you.


    Disagree. I don't see any evidence that he doesn't like his game. He's a young PG who is still developing and still going through growing pains. McHale benching him at times is simply a product of this. If he didn't like his game he wouldn't start and wouldn't be averaging 32 mins per game.
  • timetodienow1234567 says 1 YEAR ago

    I don't see him as an all-star with Mchale as the coach. I don't think Mchale hates Lin, I just don't think that he likes his game that much. It's hard to improve in sports if you don't have a coach that believes in you.

  • Jason says 1 YEAR ago Yeah, I actually don't see it that way at all that McHale hates Lin. I think the benching him at times is the right decision as he can become erratic and does not have the same spot up shooting and defensive ability as Beverly. McHale is just trying to win games based on the situation. It's nothing personal against Lin. That being said, I fully expect Lin to improve quite a bit this offseason. It would not surprise me to see him as an All-Star within the next couple years.
  • timetodienow1234567 says 1 YEAR ago

    I don't expect greatness from Lin this year. He's performing about as well as could be hoped playing the majority of the time as the off-guard(see Steve Nash this year). It's just that Mchale pulls Lin and there's no rhyme or reason that most people can see. He doesn't get pulled consistently at the same time, so rest isn't the issue (sometimes he's pulled at the 7 minute mark, the 6 minutes mark, the 3 minute mark, and rarely goes the whole quarter). Sometimes he doesn't play much if at all in the 4th. Once, that was justifiable by how lights out Beverley was playing, but the other times didn't make sense to me. The inconsistencies he shows towards Lin and to a lesser extent Asik confuse me as a fan. I think Lin will overcome that and has proven that he wants to succeed and is improving. Maybe that's Mchale's secret master plan, I don't know. I just would like some consistency from the man that's our head coach. Is that too much to ask for?

  • PKM says 1 YEAR ago

    In that it doesn't...happen?

    The whole "McHale hates Lin so he doesn't play him in the 4th quarter" thing is really overblown. I wrote in an earlier recap that I think a lot of it is because the fans have greater expectations from Lin then they do from the other pieces surrounding Harden, even though I don't think Lin should be viewed that way.

  • phaketrash says 1 YEAR ago

    I've openly maintained that I believe that the whole Lin-McHale-4th quarter thing is just so, so silly.

    In that it doesn't...happen?

  • PKM says 1 YEAR ago

    Great article, but I have to ask what silly controversy?

    I've openly maintained that I believe that the whole Lin-McHale-4th quarter thing is just so, so silly.

  • timetodienow1234567 says 1 YEAR ago

    Great article, but I have to ask what silly controversy?

  • Red94 says 1 YEAR ago New post: Houston Rockets 94, Golden State Warriors 88: Houston wins with an ancient and secret technique known as “defense.”
  • Steven says 1 YEAR ago A win is a win.
  • Jason says 1 YEAR ago Go Rockets!!!

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