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Huq’s Pen: The five stages of grief

  • I don’t really know what to tell you guys.  I don’t really have the energy to break down a play or anything, right now.  Maybe that will change in the next 48 hours.  But right now I’m just straight up depressed.  In the Kubler-Ross model, I’m somewhere between depression and acceptance.  Before the series began, I was in stage 1: denial.  I predicted Houston in 5 because I decided to turn a blind eye to some of the glaring warning signs coming from this team.  After the losses in Game 1 and Game 2, I felt anger.  I reached the bargaining phase right before and then after Game 3: “we can’t expect major adjustments like the team making crisp defensive rotations or running anything resembling a coherent offense down the stretch, but maybe they can make some basic tweaks and we’ll be fine.”  The miraculous win actually made this worse, leading to delusions of grandeur.  And now here we are, depression and acceptance.  It is what it is.  I’ll watch, I’ll cheer, I’ll be here the whole way.  But I’m human too.  I don’t have it in me to hold out hope on the team pulling this out.  If it happens, it happens.  But I just don’t have the energy to keep hoping – not with the way the team has lost these three games.
  • I think for me, what hurts the most, is seeing Dwight Howard and knowing there aren’t many more years left in the tank and one of them is about to potentially be completely wasted.  That block late in the game when he dialed the clock back to 2010 and completely erased Nicolas Batum was one of the most awe-inspiring sequences I’ve ever seen in the twenty years I’ve been a fan of this team.  There’s just something about a superstar big man that gives you chills.  And it’s going to be wasted.

  • Jeremy Lin: nothing left to say on this point.  Depression/acceptance.  It’s gotten to the point now where, each time he kicks the ball off his leg in a critical situation, I can only just smile and laugh.  Depression/acceptance.  If Houston does go on to lose this series, I don’t know how Lin is back next year.  For a guy whose game is entirely based upon confidence, he’s completely damaged goods.  The only thing keeping him here is the fact that it might take multiple picks just to get someone to take his contract.  Unless they pull off Carmelo or Kevin Love, the decision to choose Jeremy Lin over Goran Dragic, while fundamentally sound in theory, will be one Daryl Morey will regret for some time.
  • As is normally the case, Houston completely sputtered down the stretch, coughing up a ten point fourth quarter lead.  I tweeted that we needed to maintain a cushion because I didn’t like our chances fighting a close game.  The problem there is that it’s pretty much impossible to maintain a cushion against a high octane team like the Blazers.  You simply have to execute down the stretch.
  • Again, just some bizarre, bizarre playcalling down the stretch.  There were multiple plays where the team used Chandler Parsons as the primary ballhandler/initiator, in one instance in a pick and roll with Dwight Howard.  In retrospect, this actually made perfect sense: Harden/Howard, when used, had proved to be a pretty much unstoppable play, so the natural thing to do would be to just not run it and use Parsons in Harden’s stead.
  • But seriously.  You’ll notice a change in my tone from the first two games.  Not much anger.  I’m deflated.  I don’t really know what they were doing there.  Anyone with a modicum of basketball acumen knows that Chandler Parsons doesn’t have the quickness/ballhandling ability to attack an offense as the primary initiator.  His drives are off of the rotation of the pass when the defense is not set.  McHale made this same blunder at the end of one of the Grizzlies games this year when, after Parsons hit like ten threes, the hamster running on the wheel in McHale’s head said, “hmmm.  He just hit ten spot up threes.  The natural thing to do here would be to just hand him the ball and let him create.”  Just baffling, baffling stuff.  If Harden was gassed, why not just run pick and roll with Lin then?  He atleast has the ability to attack the rim and make something happen.  Why would you ever run a play for Chandler Parsons?
  • Perhaps almost as egregious was that the team then spent the next few possessions attempting to forcefeed Dwight Howard in the post, an exercise which is always an adventure it itself.  To his credit, Howard converted a few times, but he predictably turned it over on one play, and nearly did another time.  Going by the numbers, even the eye test from this series, posting up Howard against Aldridge is not a smart move.  It was to the point last night where I was screaming for them to run the Harden ISO because of how bad their other choices were.
  • Speaking of Harden, what the hell happened?  There was an almost eerie stretch late in the game, before he revved it up again, where the entire situation had a Scottie Pippen feel to it.  (reference: After Phil Jackson drew up a play for Toni Kukoc to take the final shot in a ’94 Bulls playoff game, Pippen refused to enter the game.)  By the time Red94 goes to press, I’m sure more will come to light regarding this, and I don’t want to speculate…but that was just really, really odd.  I’m hoping Harden was just gassed, and that is definitely a likely possibility given his lack of conditioning.
  • I don’t understand how the team went multiple possessions without giving the ball to Harden.  When I rail against the 1-4 flat, I’m not saying he shouldn’t be involved at all!  Harden should be the focal point of EVERY SINGLE PLAY down the stretch.  It should just be in different looks – off the pick and roll with Howard, pick and roll with Lin, off the catch at the elbow.  Sigh.  It’s almost like McHale was thinking, “oh.  we shouldn’t ISO Harden?  Okay, I get it.  You must mean not give him the ball at all for a four minute stretch.”  Hashtag logical conclusions?
  • I’m really actually hoping Harden just quit/was gassed, because it is downright chilling to think that McHale drew up for Harden to not touch the ball for the majority of overtime.
  • Before Troy Daniels hit one of the most miraculous shots I’ve ever seen, from the corner, the Rockets hadn’t scored a basket in over five minutes.  To say Houston has late game execution problems would be a gross understatement.
  • I ignored this throughout the year, but I’m starting to become of the opinion that Chandler Parsons and James Harden may not be able to coexist at the wings on a team with championship aspirations.  That’s not a knock on Parsons, who played great last night, but it’s just far too big a strain defensively to have two bad defenders at those critical spots.  But anyways, there will be plenty of time to revisit this over the offseason.
  • Game 5 is on Wednesday.  We’ll see what happens.  I don’t have the energy right now to look ahead.  Maybe I will tomorrow – we’ll see.  That’s all from me for this morning.

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About the author: Rahat Huq is a lawyer in real life and the founder and editor-in-chief of Red94.net.

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