Houston Rockets 96, Detroit Pistons 82

Tonight was an evening of good news and bad news. The good news was that the Rockets got me a great birthday present: their first blowout of the season. The bad news was that Coach McHale has taken an indefinite leave of absence due to the illness of his daughter. His departure will not only leave a hole at the top of the Rockets’ leadership, but more importantly is a trying and difficult time for him, his daughter and their family. There’s no doubt that the entire Rockets team, fanbase and community wishes her a swift return to health.

At least one piece of stress was lifted from McHale’s plate tonight: the Rockets won fairly convincingly tonight, for the first time in this season. The dark cloud at the edge of this sunrise is that the Pistons are proving to be among the worst teams this season in every metric. At this point, anything less than a blowout team would have been a bit of a black eye for the Rockets. The overarching narrative of youth mistakes tapered slightly, but was still present. The Rockets looked like a .500 team, and the Pistons looked like a 15th seed team. For once, this season, things made sense.

The Rockets starters looked a bit more together than they have in a while, despite a still unacceptable 15 turnovers on the night. The surprise, however, was that Lin had exactly zero of those turnovers. The defense wasn’t exactly focused on him, and the Pistons seemed to be leaning more on the Rockets’ interior players and, of course, Harden.

Asik had an uncharacteristically high 4 turnovers. This was in large part due to the fact that the Rockets actually passed the ball inside to Asik a few times. While 5-12 shooting isn’t good for a man who plays exclusively at the rim, it was a far sight better than his previous evenings. His play inside is bizarre and ungainly, but did manage to work a few times. If he can get up to an average inside offense for putbacks and interior passing, he’ll be able to take a lot of the pressure off the backcourt.

Harden, the main focal point of every offense from now until Durant suits up in red and yellow, had another inefficient game. He was able to get to the line a few times and hit 6 of his 7 attempts, but that was the most effective single element of his game. A line of 6-14 shooting (with 2-6 from three), 5 rebounds, 2 assists and 5 (!!) turnovers isn’t really good enough. It’s possible that the offense suffered without McHale to run the show, as interim head coach Kelvin Samson is the team’s defensive coordinator. (I’m not convinced of that, but that’s for another story.)

Lin took care of the ball well, but also failed to shoot with any quality. As previously noted, he’s going to need to do better than 2-7 to stretch the floor out for his teammates. I think everyone will be happy with his 8 assists, however.

Parsons and Patterson both faded into the periphery for the most part, which isn’t surprising given the extended bench minutes that come with a blowout. Patterson shot an invisible 1-5 from the field and picked up only two rebounds in 16 minutes. Parsons managed an even 30% shooting with 8 points and 5 rebounds. More surprising was that he played 33 minutes.

The bench was the real story, as they got a season-high amount of burn due to the score margin. Neither team could hit anything: Rockets and Pistons both went 40% from the field, no doubt due in large part to both being on the second night of a back-to-back. Garbage time minutes let the Pistons lift their numbers substantially, and turned a nearly 30 point rout into a more tame-looking 14-point affair. With that cushion through much of the game, bench players came and went, some looking better than others.

Marcus Morris took over the bench tonight, hitting 6-7 shots, grabbing 8 rebounds, a pair of steals, and generally looking like a real NBA player. Even when he messes up a play, he looks like a high energy, high effort player. Tonight, his game-high +/- of 21 told the story.

Delfino looked tired (2-7 shooting) and Douglas looked… Douglas. 11 points is alright, but 4 turnovers in 20 minutes isn’t. He still plays decent, hustle defense and bad, hustle offense. The big surprise of the night was that some rookies actually saw the floor. Samson emptied the bench in the 4th, after the game was sealed. Motiejunas and Jones looked like good rookies. They were unrefined, but seemed happy to play within their respective skill sets. Daequan Cook and Cole Aldrich were in attendance.

In fact, it’s impossible to bring up Aldrich without mentioning the theme of the night. This was a game fraught with boners. Both tired teams seemed to be in a competition to see who could fail hilariously more times. Aldrich gets the gold medal for his inexplicably biffed fast break, in which a half-court lob hit him underneath the opposing basket, only to see him dazedly let the defenders close on him and strip him of the ball unceremoniously.

Silver medal goes to Tayshaun Prince for the boner premier of the evening. After recovering the ball on the defense, he fell to his stomach and literally watched the ball slowly roll out of bounds. There’s a reason the Pistons are 0-7 on the season. The blown layups and unforced turnovers between both teams were nearly innumerable, but at least kept the game… entertaining.

If it’s possible to have an ugly blowout, the Rockets had it. Being tired is a good excuse for an ugly game. The defense, while still shaky at the three point line, managed to hold the Pistons to a paltry 82 points. Now that they’ve blown out a bad team, they have some cred. That’s important. Now they just have to learn from the successes tonight and leave behind the bumbles.

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