The last time your Houston Rockets won in Toronto, it was 2007. Rafer Alston had one of his rare good games and put up 23 points on 9-14 shooting, Kirk Snyder and John Lucas played decent minutes, and even Vassilis Spanoulis got on the court for 51 seconds. Since then, playing in Toronto has not been a place to just lose, but a place to lose miserably and without even the slightest shred of good feelings. In January 2009, Tracy McGrady submitted what has simply been known afterwards as the Toronto game, where he basically quit on Houston and completely changed the direction and relationship between himself and the franchise. Next December, Trevor Ariza in his frustration swung an elbow at a rookie Demar Derozan’s back in what was a classless move. Tonight, in fact, was arguably our best loss yet as it marks the first time that the Rockets did not lose by double digits since that 2007 win.
It sure felt like a double digit loss, however, and if it wasn’t for James Harden being well, James Harden, it likely would have. Toronto nearly doubled the amount of baskets made outside the paint as they effectively used the off-ball screen, and the Rockets simply could not make a jumper. While Houston did drive it into the lane as a result, Toronto’s tall defenders just simply swatted the shots away as they finished with an eye-popping 13 blocks (though Houston did get a lot of free throws as a result of this style of play as well). Tonight, the formula worked and while the Raptors never really dominated the scoreboard, it was clear throughout which team was playing better.
That being said, a good off-ball screen not only requires a player who can make a jumper, but a player who can make the pass to get the ball to the right spot. And tonight, Jose Calderon not only made the correct passes both to screeners and to the Raptors’ big men right next to the paint, but so thoroughly and utterly wrecked Jeremy Lin that a proper description of what occurred on the court would force me to utilize language that I would prefer not to wield. Even the box scores, which show Calderon with a triple double, 17 points on 12 shots, 14 assists, and 0 turnovers, in contrast to Lin who was 3 for 9 with 7 points, 2 assists, 3 turnovers ( and all 3 occurred in the first quarter) doesn’t serve justice. Calderon made jumpers over Lin, made brilliant passes, and repeatedly outhustled a younger, but more passive opponent. Ultimately, while this was not a good game for anyone on the Rockets with the exception of James Harden and to a lesser degree, Marcus Morris and Omer Asik(more on Mr. Morris below), Lin’s play against what Calderon did tonight was the difference between victory and defeat.
At the end of the day, Lin has talent. Rahat is correct in that players like Lin do not do what they have done without it. But Jeremy Lin is not James Harden, and he will never be at James Harden’s level. Perhaps this team was intended to be Lin’s when he signed that controversial contract this summer, but it’s not anymore and now he is the second point, and possibly even the third offensive option behind Harden and Parsons respectively. I’m confident that eventually, Lin and Harden will learn to play together and make one of the best backcourts in this league, but it is Lin who will need to adjust to Harden and not the other way around. And it will start by not getting outplayed by average point guards like Calderon. Tomorrow, in what is easily the biggest game of his career, will be a testament to if Lin can once more do what he has do throughout his basketball tenure – bounce back.
- In the aftermath of Patterson’s foot injury, Rockets fans have openly speculated about how Coach McHale would treat the news and whether he would send in either Jones or Motiejunas. For now, tonight’s answer appears to be “not really.” Jones took the court for limited minutes, but he did not really impress, and took a 3-point shot which he had no business taking (I have stated before and will continue to maintain that I have zero confidence in that shot for Jones while he keeps that long, unusual release). Instead, Marcus Morris’s minutes were bumped up as he played 37 minutes and even Parsons played the four for brief stretches. Morris, as stated earlier, was one of the Rockets besides Harden who played decently as he displayed the offensive repertoire which made him an interesting prospect for a good shooting night. However, Morris was hopelessly outmatched on defense against Ed Davis, who scored all 13 of his points in the third quarter and helped give Toronto the lead for the rest of the game. Morris suffered from the attempts to make him a 3 throughout last year, but if the Rockets are finally willing to end that project and make him a power forward, learning to handle stronger, bigger opponents will be something which he will need to improve at.
- When James Harden followed his first two dominant performances of the season with a series of less brilliant games, many critics attributed those earlier games due to lack of scouting or something along those lines. Yet as the season has continued on, Harden really has continued to battle defenses which focus completely around on him as he works with little offensive help. Even with Toronto’s big defenders and their coach’s emphasis on defense, he still managed to get to the line and get points there. I know it is obvious to every sane Rockets fan out there, but it really is wonderful having a player like him on this team.