Recently I’ve been reflecting on how much our opinions of the game are tied up with how well the players are shooting. The margins between a made basket and a missed one are so small that there will always be an element of randomness in the result. The upshot is that it is very difficult to disentangle a player or team’s shooting performance with how good they actually are. If you make them all, you look like champions, if you miss them all, you look like last year’s Bobcats.
In this game, we saw what happens when all the shots go in. The Rockets looked near invincible and racked up an incredible 72 (!!) points by half time, led by supernova-hot Chandler Parsons. Try out this line for size from half time: 22 minutes played, 26 points on 11-13 shooting (3-4 on threes), 4 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 assists 1 block. And they didn’t stop coming after that either.
The first half of this game was one of the few times so far this season when the refs were not shy to blow their whistles. In past games, Harden hasn’t got the calls he was expecting going to the basket, but tonight he got everything and the results exceeded even the crazy efficiencies of Kevin Martin’s best games last year. By the half he had 25 points on 8 shots for a true shooting percentage of 104%.
To compound the craziness of that opening 24 minutes, the number of calls by the officials caused significant foul trouble, precipitating some unusual rotations. Patterson picked up 2 fouls inside the first minute, forcing Morris into the game much earlier than expected. When he came back (subbing in for Parsons who had played the entirety of the first period, he picked up another foul within a minute, forcing Chandler back in. This wasn’t a huge deal as Parsons was playing out of his mind, but it would have been good for him to have got a few more minutes rest. Harden also picked up two fouls early, which meant Daequan Cook got extended minutes for the first time. On the other side of the ball, both Anthony and Chandler picked up their third fouls midway through the second quarter and had to sit. The result was a swiss cheese-like defence that the Rockets exploited to the fullest. No Chandler means no size in the middle (the Knicks are currently relying on the aged Kurt Thomas as backup centre, and he can’t really get it done on defence any more), which led to some ridiculously small ball. Chandler Parsons ended up playing at centre for the last couple of minutes of the game!
Given the mind-boggling numbers the Rockets produced in the first half, you could be forgiven for thinking that the game was a blowout by half-time. Houston was up by 15, but given all of the offense on display it did not feel like a safe lead. It would have been a lot more if not for the heroics of Carmelo Anthony. He seemed to be unable to miss from the three point line, even with a hand in his face.
In the third quarter, it got a little ugly. Frustrated by how quickly the scoreboard was ticking over, the Knicks started jawing with the officials after Anthony didn’t get a call on a shot, and cussed out the officials on the way back down the court. He earned a technical for his words, as well as being completely oblivious to Patterson running the floor and allowing an emphatic dunk. A couple of possessions later, the two centres got in a tangle battling for a rebound and Chandler elbowed Asik in the throat. It was a nasty foul and drew hearty boos from the crowd when they saw it on the jumbotron. The game seemed to be descending into madness, but fortunately the officials took some time to assess it as a flagrant-1 and everyone had time to calm down.
Even with all the drama, the hot shooting didn’t stop. Through three quarters, both teams were shooting over 50% on three pointers. The Rockets had registered more than 30 points in every quarter and lead 104-80. You’d have thought eventually the game would come back down to earth, but as the fourth quarter began the teams continued to score. Carmelo was in beast mode, making pullup threes and draining shots from the post. But they didn’t have Chandler in the game and that meant the Rockets had a huge mismatch inside. Asik was dominating Kurt Thomas and the team reaped the rewards. Half way through the fourth quarter, the lead had crept up to 29, at which point Woodson admitted defeat and the benches emptied. Final score: Rockets 131, Knicks 103.
- If ever there was a game to showcase just how outrageously talented NBA players are, this was it. Perhaps inspired by the Jack Taylor’s 138 point game earlier in the week, the two sides put on an offensive display. There were long stretches of the game where it seemed like nobody could miss a shot.
- Chandler Parsons had his best game as a Rocket. He seemed like the only person who could slow down Anthony in the slightest. Several times Carmelo came at him in the post thinking he could bully the slightly smaller defender. But Parsons held his own and forced tough shots, several of which ended up being misses (a rarity in this game!). And of course, there’s his insane statline: 31 points (13-17 FG, 4-7 3PT), 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals, 1 block, 0 turnovers.
- James Harden ended up with a gaudy 33 points on 15 shots, including 16-16 from the line. None of the Knicks’ wings had the requisite foot speed to stay with him on the drive and he made them pay time and again with his trademark slices to the hoop. In a welcome development, it seems as though he has got out of his three point shooting slump, going 3-5 from behind the arc.
- Asik’s play was the main reason that the Rockets were able to keep the Knicks at arms length through the second half. With Tyson Chandler forced to spend long stretches on the bench due to foul trouble, he had his way with the smaller defenders left trying to guard him in the paint. He finished with 18 points and 14 rebounds (4 offensive), but it should have been more – as Clyde Drexler is so fond of pointing out, he should be dunking the ball instead of laying it up. He blew several easy scores this way. But that shouldn’t take away what was an excellent turnaround after a mostly subpar showing against the Bulls on Wednesday night.
- The fireworks going off elsewhere on the court allowed Lin to settle down and play his game without too big of a spotlight on him, and it seemed to help. He looked noticeably more in control when penetrating to the basket and was able to convert on several tough layups that he was making with regularity in New York but which haven’t been falling for him so far this season. Several times he used nice pass fakes to create space for his drives – this is something he should do more often as that extra space seems to make it a lot easier for him to get a good shot up. The signs were there that he’s starting to get out of his funk – he ended up shooting 6-12 for tonight, including a three. He still looks out of control on the break though – there was one sequence in particular where he got bailed out after going up wildly far too close to the basket and having to fling the ball back to a trailing Parsons that really didn’t look pretty.
- There was a nasty scare in the first quarter when Morris collapsed to the ground in the middle of a Rockets’ possession. It was hard to tell exactly what happened – one minute he was jogging up the court, then my feed blacked out for a couple of seconds and when it came back, he was on the floor. The replay appeared to show that he got elbowed in the neck while fighting with Anthony for a rebound and struggled up the court before falling to the floor. It looked bad, and I was genuinely afraid for his health as he lay there unmoving for at least a minute. Fortunately he was just a bit dazed and after a break in the locker room was back on the floor in the second quarter.
- In Morris’ absence, Terrence Jones was forced to check Carmelo for a couple of possessions. It got ugly. Anthony isolated him at the three point line and blew past him like he was a statue. A chastening experience for the youngster, which shows that he perhaps still needs a bit of time to get used to the speed of the game.
- The bench guys joined the party tonight – three 3s apiece for both Douglas and Cook. It was good to see Cook get some extended minutes and actually hit some shots. As a shooter, he is particularly susceptible to being judged the way I outlined in the opening paragraph, and up to now he’s been missing everything. But tonight he was given time on the court and went some way to showing that he still is an accurate marksman from range.
- For all that the offense was great from Houston, the New York defence was abysmal. I don’t know if they were still weighed down from their Thanksgiving dinner or something, but they looked leaden-footed around the perimeter and glued to the floor inside. Time and again, Harden and Lin were able to penetrate and suck in the defence, and whenever they did they either got an easy layup or were able to kick out to someone for the most open of looks. In the first half this was usually Parsons and he made them pay. The Knicks weren’t helped by the fouls Chandler picked up, but it must be worrying for them that when he’s out of the game there’s not really any backup.
- I had been expecting to see Morris get a lot of time guarding Anthony, but unfortunately his first half injury scare meant that he wasn’t able to spend very long on him. Patterson, as I expected, did not have the quickness to keep up with him – he was forced to give up some separation in order to prevent the drive and Anthony punished him for it by draining threes on him over and over again. Part of the reason Patterson got so little playing time in the first half was because when he was on Anthony his only real hope was to foul.
- When Patterson wasn’t guarding Anthony, he actually looked very good. Good hustle on the offensive glass, hit on a couple of his midrange jumpers as well as some nice finishes around the rim.
- I’m guessing this was an off-night for New York and they’ll be chomping at the bit for revenge after being thoroughly embarrassed in this game. But for now, enjoy the sweet taste of a blowout victory against one of the league’s most impressive teams. Hopefully it’s a sign of good things to come!