The volatile nature of the Rockets’ offensive output has been on show a lot recently. When everything flows and the shots fall they’ve shown they can get past the 70 point mark by half time. Unfortunately tonight showed that it is very possible to see the other side of that coin, especially when faced by a determined and disciplined defence. The Grizzlies slowed the game down, clogged the lane, and generally made it as tough as possible for the Rockets to score. In the end the Rockets only just surpassed their first-half total from the Portland game in the full four quarters of play tonight. Despite Chandler Parsons unleashing a rain of three pointers, the two teams remained neck-and-neck all the way down the stretch and in crunch time the Grizzlies got the stops they needed to hold on to a slender one point margin of victory.
- Parsons went 0-3 from beyond the line in the first half and all of his shots looked miserable. He wasn’t jumping straight up and seemed to be putting even less arc on the ball than usual. I was all ready to write about how sometimes when his form collapses he has a tendency to go into slumps, but then in the second half something incredible happened. The shots still didn’t look great – flat, often taken from well behind the three point line and taken from strangely angled jumps. But somehow they all went in. In the end he was 10-11 on three pointers in the second half and finished with a game leading 34 points – a monumental number considering how low scoring the game was and the fact that no other player surpassed 20.
- There were a few downsides to Parsons’ play, unfortunately. One was that he was being forced to take these difficult long threes to bail out what was otherwise one of the worst offensive showings I’ve seen from the Rockets this year. Harden and Beverley were frustrated at every turn whenever they tried to drive. They would end up in a thicket of long limbs and stout bodies – there was always someone between them and the rim making the shot difficult or infeasible, and another defender hanging around in just the right spot to make the kick out awkward. Both had awful shooting nights as a result, going 2-11 and 1-11 respectively. This lack of production out of penetration bogged down the Rockets’ offence and made manufacturing good shots in the half-court a tedious and difficult process.
- There wasn’t an easy release valve in the post either. Howard had issues with foul trouble that limited his ability to be aggressive in the post. And when he did catch the ball on the block he was clearly bothered by Marc Gasol’s length. Hook shots that would normally be taken straight up had a bit of fade on them, and where he usually is very good at putting the ball up accurately here there were several wild misses caused by the unsighting effect of Gasol’s big body. He did much better when matched up against Randolph, but unfortunately the Rockets were unable to force the defensive switches to get Gasol away from Howard all that often.
- Memphis’ transition defence tonight was very good. It felt like every time the Rockets looked to push the ball the camera would swing round to point at the Grizzlies’ paint only to reveal at least three defenders already back in position to snuff out any thought of attacking the rim. They weren’t quite at Pacers-level of consistency, but they’re pretty close and that bodes ill for the turnaround game tomorrow night in Memphis.
- Have to talk about the final play of the game. The Rockets had the ball on the side-line with 9.3 seconds left on the clock and down by one. There was a conundrum – do you run a play for the ice-cold Harden or the red-hot Parsons, bearing in mind that Harden is a lot more comfortable in such situations but had been guarded really well all night by Courtney Lee? McHale went with Parsons, but the results were not good. The play was a Parsons-Howard pick and roll, but a good hedge/trap by Gasol broke it up. Parsons’ lack of comfort with the situation showed as he made the crucial mistake of picking up his dribble. I suspect someone more experienced would have kept the dribble alive and looked for a secondary option. Unfortunately, Harden (perhaps not used to being without the ball in such situations) cut in towards the free throw line instead of popping out to receive a reset, so there was nobody for Parsons to throw the ball to. He finally got it to Beverley who had no choice but to throw up a heavily contested prayer at the buzzer that was way off. It was disappointing to lose a game in that fashion after Parsons’ offensive outburst really should have been enough to put the Rockets over the top.