Tonight, a Houston team missing key players went up against a wily, clever team that has been contending since seemingly forever and proceeded to get utterly blown out in the process. And the Rockets also played basketball.
I do want to take a moment to talk about the football game, because Houston has always, cares about its football. I’ll openly admit that I am pretty casual about the sport (certainly like it more than baseball which I personally rank somewhere between Jersey Shore and getting my fingernails removed), which I like to attribute to growing up following Hakeem’s legend, Franchise’s flashiness, and utterly no Houston football at all (thanks, Bud Adams). Still, to watch the Texans doing well while the Rockets continue on their long road back to contention does make me happy, even if as I write this article, New England is utterly destroying Houston thanks to annoying penalties and Tom Brady being Tom Brady.
Now, as for the game which was actually exciting tonight? The important thing to note beforehand is the absence of James Harden, who clearly struggled in the second half Saturday against the Mavericks thanks to a sprained ankle he got in the second quarter. Delfino took his place in the starting lineup, though we did see plenty of minutes for Toney Douglas and Lin playing together as well as (unfortunately) Daequan Cook. To top it off, Mr. Parsons walked into the locker room approximately 30 seconds into the game with a stinger in his right arm. This had all the makings of a complete and utter blowout that would be nearly as bad as tonight’s other Houston game.
Well, it wasn’t. Because for the first time in this season, Jeremy Lin showed why Mr. Morey threw 25 million dollars at him.
Lin’s jumper was on tonight and he hit several jumpers during the first half, but he remained generally passive. Nevertheless, Houston managed to stay in the game at that point due to incredibly hot 3 point shooting, sloppy play by the Spurs, Toney Douglas playing like he actually deserves to be in this league, and Asik drawing foul after foul and actually making his free throws. Still, the Spurs led by one by at the half, and given that seemingly everything had gone right for Houston up to that point, I had little confidence. San Antonio took the beginning of the third quarter to prove my concerns right, as they used the usual Spurs style to extend the lead to 84-78 with 3:40 to go in the quarter.
At that point, Jeremy Lin promptly scored 12 out of the remaining 15 points in the quarter to put the Rockets back on by top. The fourth quarter had more Lin heroics. He did everything that he had done for the Knicks. He drove, hit jumpers passed the ball to his open teammates. While his last attempted isolated gamewinner was a dismal failure thanks to stout defense from Danny Green and he was visibly tired throughout the overtime period, Lin finished by tying his career high of 38 points on 21 shots and had a good passing game of 7 assists with only 2 turnovers. Mr. Asik was also incredibly active tonight. While Duncan humiliated Asik into his worst game of the season on Friday, tonight Asik limited Duncan, put up a typical Asik defense, and even hit the game tying banker at 120-120 from outside the paint.
While it is incredibly frustrating to see Houston lose in overtime AGAIN, this was definitely a positive step up as the fans know that the magic of Linsanity has not vanished. Now it becomes all the more important that Lin and Harden work together as a first step to the Rockets making the first leap to a playoff team.
- Someone who is far more intelligent about basketball than I am needs to explain our defense, because at this point I have no idea what’s going on. Douglas, Lin, Parsons, Asik, and Patterson. All five are guys who have at least good reputation at defense, and no one on the squad has a reputation of being a particularly bad or a Kevin Martin level defender. Yet the team defense has been bad throughout the season and was particularly miserable tonight as the Spurs finished with a FG% of over 52 and numerous free throws. It always seems that every night, there is one wing, whether it is Batum or Mayo or Neal, who just goes completely bonkers from the mid-range or three. How is it to be fixed? I honestly think – hope – that simple time together, cohesion, and an improvement on rotations will help out a lot as the minutes slowly start to become more coherent. Hopefully, it was be sooner rather than later.
- Aside from my praise for Lin and Asik tonight, I also believe that Daequan Cook and Carlos Delfino particularly deserve mention tonight – for stinking it up tonight. A mere look at the box score, where Delfino shot 2 for 12 for 5 points and Cook was 0 for 2, would confirm their lack of shooting, but there was a lot worse to it than that. Delfino had quite a few moments during the overtime period where he seemed to be conspiring to hinder the offense, whether it was pulling up and slowing down when Houston had the numerical advantage or watching the ball bounce off his leg after being hounded by Danny Green. Cook, on the other hand, seems to believe that the proper way for him to enter the rotation is to shoot the ball, regardless of circumstance or the type of shot. With no real clue on when Harden will return, and the Marcus Morris at SF project seemingly a dismal failure, Houston will need to shore up its wing rotation as soon as reasonably possible if Morey and McHale do not possess the intention to run our All-Star wing into the ground, Stoudamire style.
- I want to take a moment to make a point which I think needs to be clear with Rockets fans. The process of Lin and Harden working together cohesively will be difficult and likely wrong, just like it was for Miami as Wade and Lebron figured responsibilities for their team. But regardless of what you think about it, Lin is staying a Rocket for a long time. He will not go to LA, or Miami, or back to New York where he can shine under the glaring media lights. I am confident that in time, Lin and Harden will be fine, and the fans need to have patience if they wish to see it.