Recap: Houston Rockets 109, Atlanta Hawks 102

In a way, this is a game we should have lost.

The Houston Rockets are a young team.  Young teams commit mistakes.  Teams that suffer a high roster turnover, that need to adjust to the habits of idiosyncrasies of one another, commit mistakes.  And in basketball, a sport where maybe 5 possessions out of 100 can swing the outcome of a game, teams cannot afford to make lots of mistakes.

And the Rockets made mistakes.  They turned over the ball through several lazy passes and finished with an unacceptable total of 21.  They took shots they should not have.  They missed shots they should have made.  Against a team that is widely expected to go into the playoffs this offseason even after losing their best wing player, these mistakes can cost you a game.

For a while, it looked like it would.  The Rockets led by 16 at the 6:35 mark, thanks to good rebounding, Harden being Harden, and Josh Smith being Josh Smith.  But the Hawks came back.  They used a large lineup with Zaza Pachulia at 5, Horford at the 4, and Smith at the 3, and began to play defense and punish the Rockets both inside and with good shooting from Stevenson and Lou Williams.  Houston led by 7 by the end of the 3rd quarter, but there was reason to not feel confident.  Lin had played the entire quarter.  Could a lead of 7 survive with Toney Douglas at the helm?

Somehow, it did, but no thanks to Douglas.  When Lin entered the game, the Rockets led 87-82.  But Josh Smith took charge and Atlanta went on an 8-0 to take the lead at the seven minute mark to take the lead for the first time since the first quarter.  You could feel the game slipping away.  A 19-point turnaround, and the Atlanta crowd for once woke up and began to cheer.

The old Rockets would have collapsed.  The old Rockets would have let the slip away.  But the old Rockets didn’t have James Harden.

He took over in a way that the Rockets have not seen since the shooting guard he should have been rightly compared to (not Joe Johnson) was forced to shoulder an Orlando team by himself.  Aside from a Patterson 3-pointer to tie the game (yes, you read that right) and a critical Chandler Parsons 3, every point from that point on belonged to Harden.  At one point, he drove to the basket, and was fouled while he made the basket.  He missed the extra free throw, but the Rockets secured the rebound, gave it to Harden, and he once again drove to the lane and got fouled while making the layup.  This time, he made the shot.

You will likely read further accolades outside from myself, but they have to be said.  A career high of 45 points on 19 shots, 7 rebounds, 2 assists.  In some way, this game was worse than his game against the Pistons – he did have 5 turnovers and at least two of them were due to sloppy passes, one of which was across the court.  But when one can say that “this game was worse”, you know that you’ve got a legitimate superstar.  One, who when a young team begins to falter in the onslaught of a supposed playoff team, can carry the team.

Some further thoughts as well:

  • I often ponder to what degree NBA 2k influences our perception about players.  While Terrence Williams, who plays like Lebron James on steroids in the virtual world, may be example number one, Josh Smith should perhaps serve as another good example of a player who is far better in video games, not least because a video game naturally cannot truly account for the mindset of the NBA players due to the consumer’s desire to actually control them.  As the current Rockets squad is not a contending team for now, people have pondered about which elite players who Morey could obtain to launch it into that rarified leap.  Smith is a frequent candidate due to his upcoming free agency and the max cap room possessed by the Rockets, but this game showcased both his potential and his problems.  As aforementioned, the Hawks frequently played Smith at the 3 tonight, leaving him to be guarded by the much smaller Carlos Delfino.  However, possessions where the Hawks actually tried to exploit Smith’s major physical advantages were non-existent in the second quarter and scattered throughout the third.  Smith ultimately seems to continue to prefer playing on the perimeter, and while that style may gain accolades and highlights, it is almost certainly through banging inside that he will obtain wins.  Lebron James, another physical player of similar build, certainly demonstrated it this past summer.
  • As mentioned earlier, the Rockets demonstrated significant turnover problems tonight.  While the first instinct might be to blame Lin given his reputation, he played very well tonight, though he will be shadowed by Harden’s masterpiece.  3 turnovers to 7 assists could use some work, but he contributed 21 points, drove relentlessly, and was a force on the rebounds, a highly underrated aspect of his game given his size and surprising athleticism.  Lin may hardly be the leader of this team like he was supposed to be when we signed him, but he has already demonstrated that he can work very well with Harden, as he dished a few dunks to him when he cut.  Beardsanity is alive.
  • Patrick Patterson started tonight.  He seemed to be somewhat limited tonight as his injury might not have fully recovered, but he played good post defense on Smith ( assisted by Asik, who had one of the odder statlines I’ve ever seen with 19 rebounds and 0-7 shooting) and seemed to regain his shooting touch to an extent.  While many Rockets fans are irritated with Morris, he also played well, though he did spend far too much time camping on the 3 point line during the game.

One good game can be attributed to chance.  Two can be a coincidence.  Hopefully tomorrow, Harden will completely and totally close the book on the now dying argument that he is no longer a star.

View this discussion from the forum.

About the author: The son of transplants to Houston, Paul McGuire is now a transplant in Washington D.C. The Stockton shot is one of his earliest memories, which has undoubtedly contributed to his lack of belief in the goodness of man.

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Total comments: 8
  • Sir Thursday says 4 YEARs ago It was rebounding vs. turnovers in this one - loved our effort on the glass (although a lot of our success can be attributed to a poor showing from Atlanta in that department - they only seemed competent at rebounding when Pachulia was in the game), hated our lack of focus with the passes. There was a particularly abysmal stretch in the 3rd where we just seemed to continuously throw the ball away. I think that's something that will improve once the team get a bit more familiar with each other.

    Great game from Morris tonight - hopefully he can keep putting in performances like this and turn around what has been an unpromising start to his career. He was actually able to create a few baskets for himself, which is what I've been looking for from him, and the mistakes he made in the first game were gone, leaving him to be a competent garbage man. I think he can thrive in that role, though it would be better for him if we had a competent backup point guard. He's not going to get many easy looks with Douglas running the point.

  • Bigtkirk says 4 YEARs ago The Rockets play fast and Asik is a load in the middle, so they will not be a team that opposing teams enjoy playing this season. But McHale better quite playing Harden and Lin 40+ minutes each game in this style of play or they will wear down relatively quickly. Hopefully, McHale loosens up the rotation at home. Given his play during the pre-season and in camp, I find it baffling that Jones has not seen any playing time in the first two games.
  • Stephen says 4 YEARs ago Morris looked like an NBA player today. Esp liked he actually made offensive moves,one into pull-up J,other into lane. Good to see.(Still way too early to call,but if Morris turns into a productive NBA player are we still going to rip McHale for developing young players? Parsons-who he started as a rookie-Morris and Smith,who looked good.)

    Josh Smith. How much potential does he have? This is his NINTH season-he is who he is. His past two coaches for past half-dozen seasons have been begging him to give up the jumpers and get his butt down low and he has been steady in his refusal to do so.

    Harden has me eating a heaping of crow. For all those who said he was worth a max deal and I said no effin' way...I was wrong.
  • Rahat Huq says 4 YEARs ago

    amacbrooks12, on 03 November 2012 - 03:51 AM said:

    Aside from Harden's historical game , Lin's great performance , and Marcus Morris' bounce back game , I learned something about Josh Smith as Rahat pointed out...

    Just wanted to point out that this article was written by Paul McGuire, one of our new contributors.
  • Johnny Rocket says 4 YEARs ago Terrific win, if only because we won on the road and really played poorly in many respects. We shot 22 percent on three pointers, we had 22 turnovers, our center was 0-7, and we gave up a ton of easy baskets in the second half, yet we still managed to win. Harden was just amazing--is he a possible MVP candidate?--but Lin also impressed me. He still had trouble finishing, but he's a gamer--I love his hustle game. The team just hustles and plays hard; we dominated on the boards against a team that is very good on the inside. Great win!
  • Dunots says 4 YEARs ago A good read. I was very impressed by Asik in this game, as you noted. Despite the fact that he did just as well shooting as I would, I think we all agree he had a great game. A few times, Horford seemed to consider posting up, then changed his mind. Asik's defense is a thing of beauty, and I think he may end up with a cult following.
  • Cooper says 4 YEARs ago Agreed on smith he just takes way Too many bad shots he should be much better than he is. Lillard has been killin it so far Portland will be our toughest test yet.
  • amacbrooks12 says 4 YEARs ago Aside from Harden's historical game , Lin's great performance , and Marcus Morris' bounce back game , I learned something about Josh Smith as Rahat pointed out . While watching this game , Smith really didnt punish Delfino when he was suppose to and didnt take advantage on many physical advantages . He instead chose to take bad shots from the perimeter and attempted a three pointer . I no longer think we should pursue Josh Smith and he does not deserve a max contract IMO . He is a good player but he stops the ball movement on a team and takes a load of questionable shots which is something we cant afford to happen on this team .

    Anyways , another great win for us . We are 2-0 and im very excited about this special group of players . Toyota Center better be LOUD tomorrow ! Gona be fun to see Lamarcus Aldridge & Damian Lillard .
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