As Rahat graciously provided a live account of tonight’s game, I do not believe that a general recap will suffice. The Rockets executed, made wide-open 3 pointers, and took advantage of Toronto’s woes on the offensive and especially the defensive end. While the boxscore shows that Toronto’s rebounding and turnover numbers were similar to ours, context, as with any statistic, must be noted. Houston utterly demolished Toronto on the offensive glass and on the passing lanes, which was punctuated by a play late in the 3rd quarter where Parsons swooped into 3 Toronto players and grabbed the ball from them. While that offensive rebound only culminated in a missed Harden 3, it showed the nature of the game as the Rockets completely outhustled and outworked the Raptors up to a 96-69 lead with exactly 2 minutes left in the 3rd quarter.At that point, Houston decided to take the night off and shoot jumpers. Toronto promptly ended the game on a 10-0 run which ended with a Cook 3, and at that point Toronto was the team hustling while Houston fell back into bad habits of lazy passes and relatively little effort. The fourth quarter was filled with a slight tension for the fan, but Houston finally cut down any hopes of a Toronto rally late in the game with a Lin steal and dunk.If there is any player who should be noted tonight, it is Lin. Lin’s struggles have been well-documented this season, and faced with an old favorite in Lowry, someone who consistently demonstrated his willingness to punish his old teams as any game we had against Memphis showed, one could not help but fear the worst. However, the opposite happened. Lowry was largely neutralized, and at times one could clearly see that he was frustrated with his teammates, angrily staring at Terrence Ross after he committed a turnover. His trademark “I’m going to shoot a 3 in your face and it will go in because I’m Kyle Lowry” shot vanished, and while he rebounded with the old tenacity that we loved, there was little else about his game that could be seriously praised. Lin, on the other hand, easily had his best game of the season. His jumper returned and he was both active on defense and slashed the lanes like normal. While one game clearly will not quell the concerns about whether Lin and Harden can work together, I believe that it will be necessary for them to form a Rush Hour style duo if the Rockets are to really make a leap and possibly make the playoffs this year.
- While of course every Rockets fans can rejoice that we acquired a true All-Star in James Harden, the concept of “what-if?” still lingers, and none more so with this game than Terrence Ross. The 2012 draft was abuzz with the rumor along the lines that the Rockets would send Lowry and the 12th pick to the Raptors in exchange for their 8th pick, an idea that became even more tantalizing when Andre Drummond fell that far. Instead, Toronto, likely motivated by ephemeral dreams of bringing back Steve Nash to his native country, selected a stunning choice at the time in Terrence Ross. Tonight, Mr. Ross did manage to demonstrate some of the reasons for that pick, as Toronto’s last-minute rally was largely led by him, Valanciunas, and Calderon shooting 3’s. He slammed down some spectacular dunks and played tenacious defense, but one can still wonder about a 19-year old athletic center who could have wearing the red and white.
- If there was one thing that was truly frustrating about Houston’s inability to put away Toronto until the final minutes, it was that every minute gone represented a missed chance for a long-awaited national showdown between Donatas Motiejunas and Jonas Valanciunas. The two Lithuanian stars are noted for their massive differences, as JV has the reputation of a banger and while Motiejunas is more like Valanciunas’s frontcourt partner Barganni in skill but lack of defensive strength. While Motiejunas finally showed up on the court on the final minute, JV took a seat, and our Lithuanian rookie merely had to content himself with throwing a pass to Greg Smith which led to a foul. A far cry from the supposed first battle between two countrymen.
- Tonight, after ridiculous amounts of roster turnover and a trade which shocked the entire NBA, your Houston Rockets are .500. While one would naturally suppose this to be something to cheer about, there are those who view this as a calamity with their slogan of “14th pick again?” While ignoring the fact that Houston would in fact be the 8th seed tonight should the Lakers lose, the fact is that all 8th or 9th seed teams are not created equal. Oklahoma City was the 8th seed two years ago, but everyone understood them to be a team with a bright future. Memphis, the 8th seed one year ago, today possesses the best record in the league despite a lack of high-potential young talent. And Utah was destroyed by San Antonio during this year’s playoffs, but still remain a team which has a bright future. This team is no Charlotte during their one miserable playoff team of castoff veterans. Houston has plenty to look forward to, whether it is Harden’s transition to a first option, one of our PFs becoming great, or Parsons seemingly avoiding the sophomore slump and improving throughout the season. This has been a grand season to start out with, and we have plenty to look forward to, both good and ill.