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Indiana Pacers 100, Houston Rockets 91 – A Lesson in Defense

Paul George is a beast on defense. Any time James Harden would make his way to the rim, to the three point line, or even to the scorers table to check in, Paul George was there.  His fancy eurostep tempts defenders into giving up position on the drive. Not so for Paul George. He simply stayed the course, cutting off any chance for Harden to make big plays. With Roy Hibbert and Lance Stephenson leading the offense, a hundred points was all it took to put Houston away. The Pacers came to town and showed the Rockets how to play defense.

The Rockets once again came out of the game slow, managing only 5 points in the first 5 minutes. Not for the first time, we’re left wondering just what would have happened if the first quarter’s effort resembled the last three. After fighting out of a 35-19 hole, the Rockets were able to trim the lead down to five midway through the game, but the Pacers were always there to push it back up to double digits. Their gameplan of lane-denying physicality on the defensive end and stalwart back to the basket play on offense was simple and effective. Roy Hibbert was too long and too strong for even Asik to reliably stop in the post, and the Pacers recognized Harden’s light defense, letting Lance Stephenson have the ball as much as he wanted.

On the plus side, Chandler Parsons played exceptional defense on Paul George all night, keeping him to a paltry 4-17 from the floor. Free throws eventually filled out his points, but Indiana’s all star was not much of a factor on offense because of Parsons. Greg Smith also had a phenomenal game, racking up 18 points and 19 rebounds in 32 minutes. When Omer Asik sat down 8 minutes into the game, Smith was there to attack the inside. Eventually the Pacers began to focus on disallowing Smith from catching passes, and this led to some critical turnovers late in the game. On a night where everything was going wrong for Houston, Greg Smith was a crucial bright spot.

The darkest spot was of course James Harden’s inability to solve Paul George’s defense. Harden actually ended the night with more attempts than points, 22 points on 24 shots. He hit only 6 shots, and attempted only 9 free throws, both of which are very poor for him. He made some degree of adjustment and looked for his teammates, but his 8 assists weren’t enough to turn the tides in Indiana’s favor.

Lin came out aggressive, and was often times one of the few players getting through Indiana’s defense. However, he sat during much of the last half of the game, only checking in with a few minutes left. Perhaps it was Patrick Beverley’s defense which held George Hill to 2 points on 11 shots, or maybe Beverley’s timely shots impressed head coach Kevin McHale. Whatever the reason, Lin got plenty of rest.

Parsons and Asik both played very solid defense, and the Rockets actually looked solid on that end most of the night. They were still prone to a few frustrating breakdowns defensively, but the team seems to be gradually pulling it together. Neither was a huge contributor on offense, Chandler with 11 and Omer with 8 points, but at least Asik shot an efficient 3-5. Parsons had a poor night, shooting only 5-14, including 0-3 on threes.

Donatas Motiejunas missed 2 shots, grabbed 2 rebounds, blocked a shot and fouled 4 times in 13 minutes. Tyler Hansborough shot right through his defense, and Motiejunas got very little burn on the evening.

While Carlos Delfino tried to do too much tonight, Thomas Robinson was doing more and it was working. Delfino shot 2-6 and missed some shots after fancy spin moves and drives. Robinson, on the other hand, forced the ball down the Pacers’ throats, spun to the basket and grabbed offensive boards with gusto. He’s working hard for his minutes, and his 10 points on 50% shooting and 4 offensive rebounds are a result of that. With one steal to cap it off, Robinson is already looking like a useful member of the rotation, which bodes well for his future in the league.

While losing any game at home hurts, the Rockets had given themselves some wiggle room with an emotional win over the Spurs. Getting schooled on defense is a painful process, but there’s a silver lining. If the Rockets can learn anything from the lessons the Pacers just handed them, they stand that much more of a chance in the future. With a critical division rivalry game against the Grizzlies coming up next, the Rockets need any lessons they can get.

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