In five years of hardcore following basketball, I don’t think I’ve seen a more bizarre basketball game, whether Rockets or otherwise, in my entire life. Words fail me to describe just what the heck happened here, but I will attempt to do my best.The first half can basically be summed up by a paragraph I wrote shortly after it ended:In an earlier recap, I declared a 102-91 defeat against our hated rivals Utah to be a disaster and an embarrassment. Tonight’s game has taught me the valuable lesson of being cautious in using those words – because if the Utah loss was a disaster, tonight’s loss was the equivalent of the 140 car wreck that occurred in Southeast Texas during the recent Thanksgiving.Even the first half was ridiculous, if for no other reason than that it can be summed up by “Almost every Rocket on the floor sucked, and only the scoring contributions of Mr. Toney Douglas prevented it from becoming a ridiculous blowout.” If you do not understand the peculiarities of this statement, please turn in your Rockets fancard now.Anyways, enough about the first half. We sucked, the Lakers steamrolled us, at one point they led by 17 in the second quarter and they had a 13 point lead at the half. Let us move on.The third quarter, generally, was similar. The Rockets defense improved, and this time the Rockets managed to cut the lead to 10, but there wasn’t a whole lot that was particularly new. Harden bricked shot after shot( we will be covering that later), but the rest of the Rockets hung around to make a game out of it. The score was 83-73, and the lineup was Douglas-Delfino-Parsons-Patterson-Smith.Aside from substituting Parsons for Harden at the 9:38 mark, that was the lineup which would win the game. You read that right.The defense picked up. Los Angeles’s complete and total lack of a point guard hurt them severely with their ball movement, as they turned over the ball at an awful, or to be even harsher, Houston-level, rate. Houston’s jumpers, which went repeatedly in and out, finally began to go in. And then, with 3:17 left, Interim coach Kelvin Sampson employed that ancient and legendary tactic which secured the victory.He fouled the ever-loving daylights out of Dwight Howard.Mr. Howard’s struggles with the free-throw line were particularly noted on Sunday when the Lakers embarrassingly lost to the Magic on a night where he shot 9-21 from that area. He did perform better tonight, as the he finished the blatant fouling by hitting 4 of his 8 foul shots during this period, but the Rockets turned the game around as their offense finally appeared. A late Kobe 3 and a missed Toney Douglas free throw (his first missed free throw of the season in fact) gave a brief scare with 8 seconds to go, but for once there would be no miracle. Kobe missed the game winner and the Rockets escaped with easily the strangest victory I have seen and will likely see in my life.
- I really need to take a moment to talk about Douglas and Smith separately. Let’s make it very, very clear. Throughout this season, Toney Douglas has sucked so badly that at times I wished we had Rafer Alston back. He could play pesky defense, but he couldn’t handle the ball, or do anything on offense. But tonight was different. He kept the Rockets in the game with timely shots in the first half. It was Douglas who made the 3 pointer that gave Houston its first lead of the game with 2:38 left, and once again, it was Douglas, not Lin, who played at the end. Smith secured rebounds, finished the ball, and hit free throws which secured Houston’s lead over Los Angeles. He finished with a career-high 21 points on 8 shots, had 9 rebounds, and while his defense wasn’t Asik-level, it was good enough. One of the small subplots that appeared during the Harden trade was the role of Cole Aldrich and whether Smith or Aldrich would be the backup behind Asik. Tonight’s game largely decided the outcome of that battle, and may Aldrich enjoy the lovely sights of Europe next year.
- While I really cannot praise Smith and Douglas enough, I also cannot lambast every Houston starter aside from Asik, who played a typical Asik game but was unable to battle the combined forces of Dwight Howard and Mr. Joey Crawford, enough. Lin, Harden, Parsons, and Patterson all had contributed heavily to Houston’s previous wins, but tonight the four of them combined to shoot 12 for 48, and Marcus Morris, who has not played well over the last few games, threw up a 0 for 5 performance. Harden in particular needs to be singled out as tonight was easily the worst game of his career in the red and white. He bricked shot after shot, and there was a horrifying stretch in the second quarter where he (and the Rockets) began to lob fullcourt passes which inevitably led to turnovers. Houston as a whole really needs to stop doing that. Houston escaped with a win because the bench showed up tonight, but this is not a team that can reliably do this. We know Harden can be great. It just needs to happen on a more consistent basis.
- One thing which really showcases the media attention which the world lavishes on Lakers players is the evolved perception of Jordan Hill. Hill was exciting when he first showed up, and Rahat himself wondered Hill would be the long, springy power forward who should have played with Yao Ming all those years ago. However, while he hustled and rebounded, it was quickly revealed that he possessed barely any value on offense and that he was a lackluster defender. The attempt to play him at center quickly and quietly ended in failure as Dalembert took his position and minutes, and Morey traded him for a late first rounder. Today, despite largely bein the same player, many Lakers fans seem to view him as a valuable rotation player and have expressed irritation with D’Antoni’s refusal to play him. Hill did pay tonight and grabbed several rebounds, but as usual failed to finish. The more things change, the more they stay the same.