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Houston Rockets 117, Memphis Grizzlies 111: Maybe Josh Smith isn’t so terrible after all.

In my past two years with Red94, I have been constantly reminded that I sometimes do not know what I am talking about. I made my lack of enthusiasm about the Josh Smith signing very clear in Tuesday’s roundtable, and was further concerned by the reports that the Rockets had outright promised him a starting position. But Smith did come off the bench. Kevin McHale before the game stated in an interview with NBA TV that he had never heard of such a promise and asserted that what mattered was who played at the end of the game.

Well, Smith did play at the end of the game. And while James Harden was clearly the best Rockets player on the floor tonight (32 points, 10 assists, and 8 rebounds) Houston would not have won without Josh Smith’s contributions. I guess this signing may turn out to be a good thing after all.

You would not know how much Josh Smith did if you just looked at the box score. Sure, he scored 21 points, but he took 20 shots and took 2 3-pointers despite his infamous accuracy issues. One of those was a horrid airball that I expect to see at the next Shaqtin a Fool.

But Smith was important tonight because while he may not have been that efficient on the offensive end, he gave an interior presence unlike Howard and Motiejunas. Dwight Howard was an utter disaster tonight. While he did go 4-4 from the line during overtime, he scored just 2 points in regulation play. And that was on a breakaway dunk – he was helpless in the post or cutting to the rim. In addition, he was not able to stop Marc Gasol, who finished with 29 points. The worst stretch was early in the third quarter, where Gasol began to shoot jumpers like he was Dirk and even drained his second three-pointer of the season. Howard was just not capable or willing to go out of the paint to chase after him.

Memphis’s interior defense gave Motiejunas and Howard fits, but Smith has the ball-handling and passing ability to get around that. He made some passing mistakes which were clearly due to being on a new team, but he worked well enough to keep defenses honest and get into the paint on his own. Houston also ran plays for Smith down the stretch which worked better than expected, though this was probably because Memphis sent the aging Vince Carter to guard him. In addition to his playmaking and ability to get to the rim, Smith grabbed 8 rebounds, including 2 key ones down the stretch in overtime.

The Rockets have a lot of work  to do during what stretches of practice they can grab over a NBA season. McHale ran short rotations over his past two seasons coaching, but ten Rockets played tonight. Papanikolaou appears to be out of the rotation, while Smith, Brewer, and Shved are in. I will note that I am extremely surprised that Shved is playing. I follow the Minnesota Timberwolves fairly closely, and will note that Shved just was not a good player for Minnesota these past two seasons and did not improve at all. With three new guys in, some other players out, and the eventual return of Terrence Jones, McHale will have his work cut out for him. He will need to make sure everyone is on the same page, juggle minutes and starting lineups as required, and continue to work on Houston’s offense and defense. Houston’s transition defense was a disaster in the first half, as the Grit n Grind Grizzlies scored 15 fast break points in one half. But they just adjusted, and that is what matters.

There was a great deal which could have been better tonight, and defeating a Memphis squad without Zach Randolph is not a great accomplishment. Nevertheless, this was a solid win, and a sign that Josh Smith may very well prove me wrong.

And to the Memphis Grizzlies fans: I am truly sorry that you have Tayshaun Prince on your team.

About the author: The son of transplants to Houston, Paul McGuire is now a transplant in Washington D.C. The Stockton shot is one of his earliest memories, which has undoubtedly contributed to his lack of belief in the goodness of man.

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