The Houston Rockets lost to a much better team tonight.
Houston opened up blistering out of the gates, jumping out to a 16-4 lead after just four minutes. The Cleveland Cavaliers closed the gap to end the 1st and held a 51-48 lead at halftime.
The Cavs opened up the 3rd with a ‘3’ point barrage, putting the game out of reach.
Aaron Brooks was a bright spot with 23 points, 18 in the first half.
Brian Cook entered the game with 5:37 remaining in the 4th allowing me to get a head start on this recap.
- Two interesting plays involving Shane Battier:
- With 6:56 remaining in the 1st, Anthony Parker sets up for a corner ‘3’. A rotating Battier closes out, not by contesting the shot, but by jumping past Parker with an outstretched hand to the face.
- To close out the 1st, Lebron receives the inbounds pass in the backcourt with just a few seconds remaining. Lebron gets ready to shoot the desperation heave. Rather than jumping to contest the shot, as is done by 99.9% of NBA players, Battier simply stands in James’ path with his arms raised.
Shane’s ‘hand in the face’ defense has been well documented, most notably in matchups against Kobe Bryant. But he doesn’t just use this method in straight man-coverage. He does it in all situations. Whether it be in covering end-of-quarter-heaves to rotational close-outs, Shane Battier has deemed it statistically advantageous to never actually go for the block.
- Two very uncharacteristic mental errors tonight by Hayes:
- With the score 16-6, Hayes picked up his second foul with 6:14 remaining in the 1st. Hayes gets trapped inside with Shaq and slaps him on the arms to prevent the basket. Given the situation, he should have conceded the hoop. I worry at the time that this would be a turning point in the game, but that did not prove to be the case.
- With under two minutes remaining in the half, the Rockets are able to force Lebron into a fadeaway airball in the corner. Hayes grabs the board as Battier sprints out to half-court. Hayes tries to outlet the pass to Battier and it is picked off by Lebron, leading to an AND-1 basket. The Cavs take a 3 point lead.
I was very surprised to see a guy like Hayes make such costly mental errors. His presence in the game is of more importance than preventing a basket. As far as the second play, the team gains nothing even if Battier is able to receive that pass – he wouldn’t have been able to do anything with it in the open floor. Except for Trevor, not making mental errors such as these is a big part of why the Rockets have been so good this year.
- 4:35 left in the 2nd, Landry hits a fallaway turning away from the basket. This was the type of shot that I had earlier said he couldn’t make. He seems to be showing us a different move every game.
- At the end of the 2nd, the Cavs’ announcer remarks that the Rockets play “every possession like it is their last one [and that] that’s why they’ll do well in the playoffs.” I completely disagree with this sentiment. The fact that the Rockets’ success comes as the result of maximum effort should be the cause for concern for playoff potential. The Rockets, as currently constituted, can’t play any better while their opponents will certainly turn up the intensity. Everyone plays hard in the playoffs.
- With 8:01 remaining in the 2nd, after directing an obscenity laced tirade towards my television set, Trevor Ariza is finally removed from the ball-game (after a series of bone-headed plays) and replaced by Aaron Brooks. The Rockets run a very interesting lineup featuring Brooks, Lowry, and the 6’4 Jermaine Taylor, all together on the perimeter. The team instantly goes on a run.
- The Cavs take the lead to close out the first half as Lebron completely wears out Battier in the post on successive plays. This sequence was noteworthy for being the first time all season that my cognitive inhibitions somehow allow me to mutter “I wish we had Artest right now.” Embarrassed, I quickly realize we would probably have 10 less points at that moment were that the case.
- Trevor Ariza opens up the 3rd quarter with what is becoming his ‘signature move.’ It’s so painful to watch that it’s almost humorous at this point. He will drive in, get cut off, and then pick up his dribble. Having nowhere to go, he’ll turn back around off of his pivot foot and attempt an off balance fallaway. He does this move at least 5 times a game. This has become so routine that I’m almost beginning to wonder if the whole sequence is pre-meditated with Trevor somehow believing that what he is doing is the same manner in which other wings perform their fadeaway jumpshots.
- I just don’t understand what’s taking place. Rick Adelman probably forgets more basketball on any given day than I have ever known in my entire life. He’s proven this year that he might just be the best coach in all of basketball. I just don’t understand what is going on with Ariza. I don’t want to just criticize; I want badly to just understand the rationale behind what is taking place. I just can’t think of any logical explanation as to why this player is being allowed to frequently attempt feats which he has absolutely no hope of achieving. It’s become mind boggling at this point. I have said many times that I am all for experimentation and player development. But these have to be within certain limits of realism. You play David Andersen despite his defensive troubles because he will improve. You live with Jermaine Taylor getting blocked at the rim because he will learn from it and adjust his shot. These are areas where players improve from in-game experience. Trevor Ariza cannot compensate for his complete and total lack of skill and body control with in-game experience. It just won’t happen. Letting him take in-game reps at creating off the dribble is completely counterproductive – he just can’t do it. Maybe he’ll improve over the summer, but affording him such a leash during the season is simply hurting this team. I just want an explanation because I’m dumbfounded at this point as to why this has been allowed to continue.