Let’s get this quick and clear for those who did not watch this game: For all purposes and intents, tonight was a blowout. The Rockets made a late charge at the last minute to make the score much closer than it was for most of the game, but this was one of Houston’s worse performances during this now six-game losing streak.
The Indiana Pacers, the 29th-ranked office in the league, had 83 points by the end of the 3rd quarter. They tied their season high number of points in the 1st quarter with 31, could not miss a 3 pointer, and outrebounded the Rockets on both ends, blocked shots, and stole the ball pretty much when they felt like it. The results largely spoke for themselves.
It should first be noted that a fair amount of Indiana’s offense was based on lucky shots. Paul George may be a serious All-Star candidate ( he would be one of my choices if Deron Williams had not finally woken up in the aftermath of Avery Johnson’s firing), but he’s not shooting 70% from the 3 point line, especially since the Rockets did pay more attention and tightened up later in the game. The Pacers as a whole, one of the worst offensive teams in the league, hit a huge amount of jumpers, which was punctuated by a Roy Hibbert 16 footer to seal the game for them.
But this was not a good game by any stretch of the imagination. Again, the Rockets fell into a hole in the first quarter as George tied the Rockets by himself with 18 points, and again, they sort of hung around and got to within 4 points in the 3rd quarter. After committing 8 turnovers during the first quarter, the Rockets had none during the second and managed to close the gap. But for most of the game, the Pacers kept a double digit lead as they did what they liked against an exhausted and discouraged offense and a disorganized defense.
Harden once again played poorly and failed to even get 20 points tonight, but there are two things that I really think should be noted about his play before any serious discussion starts. First, what has been particularly strange about Harden’s play during the entire losing streak as opposed to just tonight and the Dallas game has been the difference in the free throws. He averaged around 11 free throws during December but only has managed to get slightly fewer than 7 during the last six games. Before the cries of “Kevin Martin clone” shriek in response, Harden is driving to the rim as hard as ever, a massive difference compared to Martin’s herky-jerky whatever he did when he tried to get to the line. Defenses, especially strong ones like Indiana, have just been significantly more aggressive against him in the paint with better results.
Secondly is the fatigue factor. The January schedule is particularly difficult, as Houston has almost as many back to backs this month as it will have for the rest of the season. But as I noted on Wednesday, you cannot reasonably expect Harden to play almost 38 minutes a game on a team this fast-paced for an 82 game season. Tonight, Harden played 40 minutes on the first night of a back-to-back as McHale elusively chased victory over the last few minutes. While Houston’s thin wing depth no doubt plays a role in McHale’s rotation, I believe that this has to be reduced significantly for the long-term benefit of the Rockets.
- It appears for now that Patrick Beverley has taken over Toney Douglas’s spot in the rotation as the backup PG, as Mr. Douglas did not get on the court even during the final minute of garbage time. Beverley is incredibly interesting to watch on the floor. He possesses incredible footspeed, has shot the ball from distance extremely well (whether this is luck or part of his skillset is something that I’m still not currently not sure about), and handles the ball much better than Douglas. But while I think he is capable as a backup, some of the flaws in his play should be noted before the annual Rockets point guard controversy returns. Beverley has a tendency to attempt to do much to the ball and while he is acceptable, is hardly special with his court vision. While his hard, aggressive defense is pleasing to watch, he also has to make sure that he avoids any silly fouls and is aware of screens or traps his opponents will use to get past him. As someone who was always amused yet exasperated with some of the stunts which Douglas would pull, Beverley is a welcome change. Hopefully he can continue to earn his play and avoid any slump.
- A moment should be taken to praise those who did play well, namely Mr. Parsons and Asik. Asik managed a new career high of 22 points, and also did all of the usual defensive and rebounding things we have come to expect from him. He has shot 15-18 from the foul line since his disastrous Boston game where he was 1-8, and remains an absolute steal of a contract. Parsons in the meantime has averaged around 19 points a game on over 50% shooting over the last 5 games and still remains a better rebounder than our power forwards. As the Rockets will once again find themselves in trade rumors given their recent plays, I think that a moment to restate the obvious fact that Parsons should absolutely not be included in any discussion about upcoming free agents such as Smith or Millsap, however badly we may want to upgrade our power forward position right now.
- Oh, right, our power forwards. At the end of the third quarter, Marcus Morris and Patrick Patterson were 1-13 with 2 rebounds from Patterson, while David West by that point had scored 18 of his 20 points on 7-14 shooting and largely did what he wanted in the paint up to then. I have no desire to waste my time coming up with creative negative terminology to describe their performances, but one particularly frustrating play during the 3rd quarter occurred when Patterson twice received incredibly wide open looks at the corner 3 but refused to take the shot, choosing instead to pass it out with little time left on the shot clock. Neither of them played during the entire fourth quarter.
Six games ago, Houston looked like they were locks for the playoffs and had a chance of possibly winning 50 games. Now, with 41 games down and 41 to go, they’re back in the 9th seed again and have a game tomorrow against another sliding team in Minnesota.