I don’t know what it is about this team this season. I really don’t. Whether it’s Trevor Ariza or John Salmons or OJ Mayo, I feel like more often than not in our defeats, this team has dealt with one chucker or another just firing up stuff that goes in. And at the end of the day, as the great Bill Russell observed, it’s about buckets. Milwaukee fired up a lot of junk that went in, culminating in a Monta Ellis prayer that Jordan himself would have missed, and the Rockets had the opportunity to make a lot of easy shots that didn’t go in. That’s all there is to it.
This is all the more frustrating because just like the Washington game, the Rockets obtained a 17 points lead. Houston stormed out to a 28-11 lead with 5 minutes left in the first quarter as they utterly manhandled the Bucks in the paint. The Motiejunas-Asik frontcourt had a brilliant start, as Asik had 10 points and 5 rebounds in the 1st quarter, and Motiejunas demonstrated an all-around game in passing, rebounding, and scoring. Unfortunately, Thomas Robinson in his Rockets debut did not quite have Motiejunas’s impact(more below), and the Bucks, in a pattern that more or less lasted the entire night, began to fire jumpers that went in. The Houston offense stalled as Milwaukee packed the paint and they ended the first quarter with a mere 36-33 lead.
The problem that then resulted for most of the game was a complete and total inability to make anything outside the paint at all. The Rockets had a season record of over 70 points in the paint, helped significantly by a fantastic performance from Omer Asik with 16 points and 22 rebounds, but by the end of the third quarter, Houston had a grand total of 5 field goals outside the paint, all three-pointers, and finished the game with zero made mid-range jumpers. Delfino was cold tonight, though he was more aggressive in the paint than normal and even managed two dunks, Lin had a second straight poor shooting night, and the Rockets finished the game with an uncharacteristically low 7 3 pointers. Furthermore, the team missed 9 free throws and had 17 turnovers. It’s not like the Bucks were covering the jump shooters spectacularly well. The Rockets just couldn’t hit a thing tonight.
Meanwhile, the Bucks group of Ellis, Ilyasova, Reddick, and Mike Dunleavy Jr. (and I’ll openly observe that Dunleavy has always depressed me out of the simple knowledge that a journeyman shooter who has never been a key part of any major team’s rotation has been in this league for almost four years longer than the 7’6’’ center selected two picks before him) just fired up mid-range shots and 3-pointers that went in. Houston did manage a 105-99 lead at the very end as the Bucks momentarily grew cold, but the Bucks tied the game, managed to grab the ball after missing one potential game winner and then Monta Ellis heaved up a 30 foot prayer falling backwards on one leg that went in. For one night, the keys to the game were indeed chucking, firing up bad shots and lots of long two, and gambling on defense. On to the next one.
- The long-term ramifications of this loss concern me less than a potential injury concern for none other than Mr. James Harden. Harden banged knees with Monta Ellis during the second quarter and fell down onto the court for the next few minutes. While he finally got himself up and instantly got back on the court, he wore a wrap on his left knee and seemed a step slow for the rest of the game, though he did manage a terrific layup at the very end which tied the game before Ellis’s game winner. Probably because of the injury, Harden looked to pass it more, but he was also a step slow there as he finished with seven turnovers. The worst one occurred at the very end of the third quarter, where he threw a lazy inbounds pass which was stolen and turned into a JJ Reddick 3 pointer.
- There really is no way to cut it. In his first few minutes of action, Thomas Robinson was really, really bad tonight. As stated above, Robinson came in when Houston held a 17-point lead…and finished his 8 minutes of play with a +/- of -18. He had 3 fouls in 8 minutes, looked completely lost on defense, and missed a pair of free throws. Kevin McHale chose not to play him at all during the second half, instead going for the Delfino at power forward rotation which he has used for the previous three games. The other important arrival, Francisco Garcia, did not play at all tonight.
- The main bright spots for this game go to Asik, as mentioned by his spectacular points/rebounds total as well as the normal Rockets collapse on defense when he sat on the bench, and on Motiejunas’s dazzling Rockets debut. Motiejunas had 13 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists in 26 minutes as he displayed the footwork, hustle, and offensive repertoire for which he was highly advertised. He was easily the most vocal Rocket on the floor as he tried to make sense of the offensive rotations, and while it should be noted that the Bucks do not have a real banger at the power forward slot, Motiejunas generally held his own at the defensive end. In fact, the bigger problem for the Lithuanian rookie tonight was not defense, but rather stamina. Motiejunas may have played only 26 minutes, but he was visibly exhausted at the end as he seemed to be gulping air when he could and missed a couple of easier shots as a result. D-Mo, without a doubt, is a person who likes to go full throttle as anyone who has seen him sprint down the court can attest, but managing one’s energy during a game may be a course that he should consider.