Cavs 108, Rockets 83

2009 December 27
by rahat huq

The Rockets lost to a much better team tonight.

Houston opened up blistering out of the gates, jumping out to a 16-4 lead after just four minutes.  The Cavs closed the gap to end the 1st and held a 51-48 lead at halftime.

The Cavs opened up the 3rd with a ‘3′ point barrage, putting the game out of reach.

Aaron Brooks was a bright spot with 23 points, 18 in the first half.

Brian Cook entered the game with 5:37 remaining in the 4th allowing me to get a head start on this recap.

Random Musings:

  • Two interesting plays involving Battier:
  1. With 6:56 remaining in the 1st, Anthony Parker sets up for a corner ‘3’.  A rotating Battier closes out, not by contesting the shot, but by jumping past Parker with an outstretched hand to the face.
  2. To close out the 1st, Lebron receives the inbounds pass in the backcourt with just a few seconds remaining.  Lebron gets ready to shoot the desperation heave.  Rather than jumping to contest the shot, as is done by 99.9% of NBA players, Battier simply stands in James’ path with his arms raised.

Shane’s ‘hand in the face’ defense has been well documented, most notably in matchups against Kobe Bryant.  But he doesn’t just use this method in straight man-coverage.  He does it in all situations.  Whether it be in covering end-of-quarter-heaves to rotational close-outs, Shane Battier has deemed it statistically advantageous to never actually go for the block.

  • Two very uncharacteristic mental errors tonight by Hayes:
  1. With the score 16-6, Hayes picked up his second foul with 6:14 remaining in the 1st.  Hayes gets trapped inside with Shaq and slaps him on the arms to prevent the basket.  Given the situation, he should have conceded the hoop.  I worry at the time that this would be a turning point in the game, but that did not prove to be the case.
  2. With under two minutes remaining in the half, the Rockets are able to force Lebron into a fadeaway airball in the corner.  Hayes grabs the board as Battier sprints out to half-court.  Hayes tries to outlet the pass to Battier and it is picked off by Lebron, leading to an AND-1 basket.  The Cavs take a 3 point lead.

I was very surprised to see a guy like Hayes make such costly mental errors.  His presence in the game is of more importance than preventing a basket.  As far as the second play, the team gains nothing even if Battier is able to receive that pass – he wouldn’t have been able to do anything with it in the open floor.  Except for Trevor, not making mental errors such as these is a big part of why the Rockets have been so good this year.

  • 4:35 left in the 2nd, Landry hits a fallaway turning away from the basket.  This was the type of shot that I had earlier said he couldn’t make.  He seems to be showing us a different move every game.
  • At the end of the 2nd, the Cavs’ announcer remarks that the Rockets play “every possession like it is their last one [and that] that’s why they’ll do well in the playoffs.”  I completely disagree with this sentiment.  The fact that the Rockets’ success comes as the result of maximum effort should be the cause for concern for playoff potential.  The Rockets, as currently constituted, can’t play any better while their opponents will certainly turn up the intensity.  Everyone plays hard in the playoffs.
  • With 8:01 remaining in the 2nd, after directing an obscenity laced tirade towards my television set, Trevor Ariza is finally removed from the ball-game (after a series of bone-headed plays) and replaced by Aaron Brooks.  The Rockets run a very interesting lineup featuring Brooks, Lowry, and the 6’4 Jermaine Taylor, all together on the perimeter.  The team instantly goes on a run.
  • The Cavs take the lead to close out the first half as Lebron completely wears out Battier in the post on successive plays.  This sequence was noteworthy for being the first time all season that my cognitive inhibitions somehow allow me to mutter “I wish we had Artest right now.”  Embarrassed, I quickly realize we would probably have 10 less points at that moment were that the case.
  • Trevor Ariza opens up the 3rd quarter with what is becoming his ‘signature move.’  It’s so painful to watch that it’s almost humorous at this point.  He will drive in, get cut off, and then pick up his dribble.  Having nowhere to go, he’ll turn back around off of his pivot foot and attempt an off balance fallaway.  He does this move at least 5 times a game.  This has become so routine that I’m almost beginning to wonder if the whole sequence is pre-meditated with Trevor somehow believing that what he is doing is the same manner in which other wings perform their fadeaway jumpshots.
  • I just don’t understand what’s taking place.  Rick Adelman probably forgets more basketball on any given day than I have ever known in my entire life.  He’s proven this year that he might just be the best coach in all of basketball.  I just don’t understand what is going on with Ariza.  I don’t want to just criticize; I want badly to just understand the rationale behind what is taking place.  I just can’t think of any logical explanation as to why this player is being allowed to frequently attempt feats which he has absolutely no hope of achieving.  It’s become mind boggling at this point.  I have said many times that I am all for experimentation and player development.  But these have to be within certain limits of realism.  You play David Andersen despite his defensive troubles because he will improve.  You live with Jermaine Taylor getting blocked at the rim because he will learn from it and adjust his shot.  These are areas where players improve from in-game experience.  Trevor Ariza cannot compensate for his complete and total lack of skill and body control with in-game experience.  It just won’t happen.  Letting him take in-game reps at creating off the dribble is completely counterproductive – he just can’t do it.  Maybe he’ll improve over the summer, but affording him such a leash during the season is simply hurting this team.  I just want an explanation because I’m dumbfounded at this point as to why this has been allowed to continue.
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  • durvasa

    "# Trevor Ariza opens up the 3rd quarter with what is becoming his ‘signature move.’ It’s so painful to watch that it’s almost humorous at this point. He will drive in, get cut off, and then pick up his dribble. Having nowhere to go, he’ll turn back around off of his pivot foot and attempt an off balance fallaway. He does this move at least 5 times a game. This has become so routine, that I’m almost beginning to wonder if the whole sequence is pre-meditated with Trevor somehow believing that what he is doing is the same manner in which other wings perform their fadeaway jumpshots."

    Its funny you mentioned that as his signature move. I actually thought to myself the other day that we should call this move "The Ariza". It is painful to watch.
  • Lars
    Very dissapointing game tonight. Our lack of height was really exposed today imo.
  • Jed
    Great blog, keep it up.
  • hometownfanhouston
    Wow, hope everyone had a great anyone else out there wondering, WTF? Ariza? McGrady? Adelman? Isnt this the coach that says you dont lose you spot in the rotation due to injury? I am interested to see the outcome of this meeting today. It is very clear our Rockets are good. But we are missing something, or someone.......I bet McGrady laughs his ass off watching Ariza shoot.
  • rahat_huq
    durv - classic tragic humor

    lars - i'm not too disappointed by the outcome. the cavs are just a great team and we hung tough for two quarters. obviously i would have liked a win, but i'm proud of the effort and don't think we can expect more, realistically.

    jed - thanks, i appreciate that.

    hometown - in fairness though, mcgrady was never a part of the rotation to begin with, so its not as if he "lost" his spot
  • hometownfanhouston
    Rahat, was T Mac starting when he got injured? He played more minutes per game with one leg last year. Ariza is averaging a sub par 16 ppg on 37% fg.....and this dude is our GO TO GUY......really?
  • hometownfanhouston
    the problem is we have no SWAGGER, are we really concerned by taking minutes away from Ariza.....I mean the NBA is still performance based, right?
  • bigyul
    I just hope we come back with McGrady getting the starting spot and we can put Trevor on the bench. It is painfully obviuos his minutes need to go to McGrady and let him work his way back into lineup while helping Trevor to build his confidence back up while playing off a gifted passer. I think we know now why the Lakers were so willing to let this guy go. Will be interesting this next game....
  • Clint
    I don't understand the McGrady situation, at all. So what if he's an egotistical jerk that loafs on defense and doesn't know how to say the right things to the media? He'll be out of here soon anyway, one way or another. Right now, his trade value resides only in his expiring contract, but it can be more if he continues to play(hypothetically) like he did in his last to games, but with substantially more minutes. We may(possibly) lose a few more games in a meaningless season if he somehow gets into the rotation (by all accounts he is done playing as a Rocket so, again, this is hypothetical). Play him until he is traded or the trade deadline comes(only a few months away), in which case you can evaluate his impact and either continue to play him or bench him the rest of the season. I doubt it will impact the development of our younger plays if some extra minutes go to McGrady. Just play him substantial minutes to potentially increase his trade value even if it might negatively impact the team this season; short term pain for long term gain.
  • hometownfanhouston
    Clint: What evidence do you have that the Rockets will (possibly) lose more games with McGrady playing?

    We need more offense...over the last four games were averaging 94 pts and giving up 100.4ppg....
  • Clint
    I'm not saying that we would lose a few more games with him in the rotation...I actually have no idea whether he would ultimately hurt or help the team. What I am saying is that it shouldn't really matter (if the Rockets lose a few more games) if they parlay his extra playing time into a better deal, which would possibly have a much bigger impact on the long-term success of the team.
  • hometownfanhouston
    agreed, the only problem is what are we going to get in return that will have a positive impact on our team THIS YEAR!
    It's a catch 22 for the Rockets, if they play him, and he succeeds, FANS will be ANGRY if we trade(me 2). Cause there IS NOBODY out there, that can compare to a healthy McGrady, this season.
    If he plays and blows it, no trade value. which means were stuck.
    But my point is....he cant suck any worse than Ariza right now!
  • hometownfanhouston
    If someone could comment or give your thoughts on this....coming into this season, I thought the experts were crazy, picking us not to make the playoffs. I assumed we were a 6 seed at OUR BEST. This is probably where we will stay with the current rotation.
    So why is Adelman worried about the "chemistry" of a below average team, playing above average, just to get average results?
    Are our players just excited that were gonna make the playoffs, or do you really think anyone on our team expects to win the championship?.....I hate them, but I know the LAKERS expect to win
  • rahat_huq
    hometown/clint/bigyul: based on reports today (most notably by yahoo), it's looking like this marriage is ending in divorce. we'll have to stay tuned to verify the veracity, but i think this is extremely unfortunate from a long-term standpoint. i guess we're in the minority here.
  • bob schmidt
    Was Adelman never prepared for McGrady's return from injury? I'd like to think that he is smarter than that.....
  • bob schmidt
    Regardless of how you feel about T-Mac, the man has gone through a difficult surgery and almost a year of tough rehab. Added to that, his 23 million dollar salary says he should get a fair chance to play his way back, or hang 'em up. It's hard to imagine that 15 minutes of Ariza's time plus his own 8 minutes a game would hurt the team. Both men playing 25 minutes a game might show us something.............
  • rahat_huq
    bob. naturally i agree with you, but without fully knowing what is actually going on behind the scenes, i just can't bring myself to criticize rick/daryl.
  • bob schmidt
    Not criticizing, just commenting.. If rick/daryl were willing to bring back Von Wafer, presumably they would have given him playing time, right? Does anyone besides me think that Von Wafer is worse for team chemistry than a productive McGrady?

    Just thinking out loud, but maybe Mac is due a little bit more respect than he's been getting.
  • hometownfanhouston
    Im with BOB here
  • hometownfanhouston
    Rahat, at some point we have to be critical of these two individuals. I mean, WE the fans pay their salaries. I feel like our team is playing GOOD not GREAT, and the fact that we are playing hard nose basketball becomes a moot point come playoff time.
  • hometownfanhouston
    It is sad to watch an organization shun another great Rocket. Tracy is the new Hakeem and Moses. Houston we need to show our loyalty to the players that have given everything to our city. If anyone can do some website hosting, we need a site for a petition to get McGrady some minutes. I have been a rocket fan since I can remember, I live in Dallas and have never missed a Rocket game in town (EVER....3 years straight), and catch as many playoff games as my salary will allow. But I am done for the time being, practicing tough love. I cannot watch the games anymore without being disgusted at Ariza's shot selection, or pondering WTF we dont have someone that can single-handedly win us games if the need arises, which has happened often against upper echelon teams.

    Daryl Morey is about to TED THOMPSON his team.
  • thirdcoastborn
    Two weeks with 2 back to back games is brutal.Going 5-3 with the loses at Denver,Cleveland and Orlando over that stretch is not bad. In the Orlando,Denver and Cleveland loses we still played with them into the 2nd half. When well rested we can beat any team in the league. Ariza is going through a slump, and is to inconsistent at this point of his career to be the second option behind Yao. Jermaine Taylor has struggled and to me does not deserve any minutes. My dreams of having McGrady back in the starting lineup for the playoff run is slim. My thing is what has he done in his few games played that another team would want him, unless to dump some bad contracts on us. Kevin Martin would be a good fit with no true two guard on the the team, but we dont need the other bad contracts with him. Either we get a third team involved, or close to the trade deadline a desperate team may cave in with a better deal,other than that take ur loses with him, instead of messing up our team with bad contracts.
  • hometownfanhouston
    I have scoured all the sources I can, yahoo, the chronicle, espn, and every blog imaginable. I have read all the expert opinions I can. But that is all I am seeing, other people opinions. What I havent seen is a LOGICAL argument as to why he is not playing.
    1. Why cant this team have good chemistry with Tracy
    2. Why has a 7 time all star been given the STEVE FRANCIS(journeyman) treatment
    3. Would Ariza be SO MUCH better if he had another potential offensive threat to take some pressure off? P.S..........a consistent offensive threat. We cant rely on "SOMEONE" getting hot, night in and night out.
    4. Can anyone point out the player we have...playing currently...that is willing and CAN put the whole team on their shoulders?

    I mean I love the whole "team" approach, but can someone inform RA that he is not Coach K, and also, can someone tell Battier this isnt the effin Blue Devils...
  • hometownfanhouston
    and has anyone seen Ariza's stats over the last 5 games.....all you T-Mac haters be careful of what you wish for........pathetic....Kyle Lowry has a better field goal percentage than our current "star" well as most of the other players on our team...
  • hometownfanhouston
    P.S. Ariza has the worst FG percentage of anyone on our team who sees considerable minutes
  • ChuckyBrown
    Is there ANYONE who could've predicted that Ariza would go from a decent 54.4% TS% to a sub-replacement level 46.4%? Or that he would be on pace to have a -1 Win Share on the season offensively? Or that he would turn from a low usage, decently efficent, low mistake player into someone who takes worse shots than Artest and truly hurts the team offensively? Unbelievable. It's almost like his desire to be an All-Star (nothing wrong with that, but that was one of his stated goals) and to prove worthy of his contract has turned him into an utter liability
  • theenemy
    Hey guys, if I may weigh in as a Laker fan....

    I like Trevor, and I like the Rockets, and I'm a little bummed by the way he's not working out in Houston. As the same time, though, I can't help but wonder what the thought process was when you picked him up: "This guy is a career bench player, who in his best year became the #4 scoring option on a championship team. Let's make him our go-to scorer."

    I mean no disrespect to Houston. Adelman seems to me to easily be one of the best coaches in the game. Clearly the franchise seems to know what it's doing. You guys have consistently played good and exciting basketball, sometimes maintaining at a level higher than I thought you could maintain, and every player you have right now (except maybe T-Mac) I can't help but root for. I very much hope that in the next year or two the right pieces fall into place and things really click. I hope when that happens we still can beat you in the Conference Finals, but that's nothing personal.

    But this particular move just looked to me at the time--and even more now--like a confused one, almost like the signing was made without actually scouting the guy. Ariza can be a very, very good role player and a strong defender next to Battier, but to expect him to be your create-when-nothing-else-is-working scorer seems to me like asking him to be something he's not (which isn't to say he didn't ask for that assignment).

    Your thoughts? Maybe more minutes for T-Mac will help take some defense off of Ariza and he can start hitting open 3s and making backdoor cuts again?
  • tommartin91
    The point of signing Ariza was not to make him our go-to scorer. It's a 5 year contract, not a 1 year deal. Ideally, he is a second or third option. Once Yao comes back, things will start to pan out in the way that the Rockets envisioned when signing Trevor. There is also the possibility that Houston could find an impact wing through a trade or in free agency.
  • theenemy
    Fair enough. The (or at least "a") perception out west here is very much that Ariza left because he wanted to try being The Man somewhere. The money offered was comparable, as I recall, but Houston looked like a place where he could better try to grow his career and not be Kobe's "little brother." Maybe things are seen differently in Texas, though.
  • 29rocket
    Very solid observations about Ariza. Any Rocket fan wants to believe Rocket front office did its homework on Ariza's offensive game prior to signing him. But how much detailed research was REALLY done on Ariza's offensive game before he put on the Rocket red? When you saw Ariza blossom in the Lakers' last playoff run, it was with Kobe as Kobe would dish to him for a spot-up three. No evidence of anything more, really. Now? Now, we see the spot-up three specialist trying to create off the dribble or drive to the hole. Scary stuff. With all this in mind, here's why the Rockets will stick with Ariza for now: (1) Money. Rockets signed him to a 5 year deal [I think]. You don't put 5 years on the bench after 3 months. (2) All-around play. Ariza does other things well. Good passer. Above-average defender [tries for the steal too often but does play halfway decent team defense]. Will get you some rebounds. (3) Chemistry. Chemistry. Chemistry. Rockets could be the most fun team to watch in the NBA right now because everybody tries hard and plays on the same page. It's why McGrady won't be allowed back in the mix. Ever. It's also why Ariza IS on the floor. Final thought about Ariza: While his "learning on the job" may be sometimes impossible to watch [I have actually cringed from time to time] and, possibly, ultimately a failure, we probably have to give him the benefit of the doubt. For all his awkwardness, he is still quite young [younger than Andersen] and is wearing "the man" cape for the 1st time. He's probably a bust, but let's revisit Ariza this time next year...
  • Alituro
    Here's my take on Ariza. I speculate that Morey's stat team saw tremendous upside in his numbers in LA. They indicated that with more playing time, those numbers could be a huge plus for the team as a starting role player. Ariza has all of the physical attributes of STARS at his position also: length, hops, quickness, etc. So, the big question is: Does he have the talent? The question was never given the courtesy of an answer while he was at LA because of being in Kobe's shadow. What better opportunity is there to give a guy a chance to rise to the top, than when you have a team with both stars injured for at least half of a season? You never know who will emerge as the next Joe Johnson.

    Well now the question has just about been answered. He may not have what it takes to be an elite player in this league. But, when relaxed and playing in his comfort zone and within his abilities, he can definitely be a solid role player, much better than his predecessor (Ron,Ron). We just won't have the luxury of playing him as such until our roster is no longer void of stars. Until then we will just have to do our best to stomach the play of Ariza under pressure.

    Meanwhile, the cream that has risen to the top these past few months is none other than Carl Landry! Saying he "comes off the bench" is beginning to sound as preposterous as saying Ginobili "comes off the bench" for the Spurs. Landry for 6MOTY!
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