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@  Mario Peña : (23 May 2015 - 12:30 AM) I agree with you SadLakerFan. I don't believe a timeout would have been a good idea. Everything points to the decision that was made being the right one and just because the outcome was a failure doesn't mean it wasn't the best scenario.
@  SadLakerFan : (22 May 2015 - 04:01 PM) Gotta disagree. You would be taking the ball out of your best (by far) player's hands when the defense is on its heels. A timeout would allow the best defense in the NBA to prepare for the inbounds play - you might never even get it to Harden. As for Harden, I watched it again a few times - he's got to take that shot at 4.0 seconds. He'll learn. I see this as his coming out game. The whole nation knows how good he is now.
@  txtdo1411 : (22 May 2015 - 02:45 PM) Agreed Majik. It's hindsight and everything happened so quick, but that would have been huge. I also feel Harden takes that first stepback if Barnes didn't do that fly by from behind. Just an unfortunate ending to a great game. We'll get them back in Houston.
@  majik19 : (22 May 2015 - 02:21 PM) I feel like McHale or someone should have taken a timeout as soon as Harden got double-teamed. Then we could've drawn something up for him.
@  SadLakerFan : (22 May 2015 - 06:37 AM) McHale made the right call - no time out against the best 1/2 court defense in the NBA. In retrospect, you wish Harden had taken the step back.
@  Mario Peña : (22 May 2015 - 04:53 AM) The 5 always trails and always gets the ball as he crosses half court, I believe it was kind of a habit pass. Harden should have just decisively gone right initially and Ariza probably would have had an open corner three. Harden and co. are still learning.
@  cointurtlemoose : (22 May 2015 - 03:54 AM) Maybe it didn't register in the split-second decision that it was Howard trailing. If it's anyone other than Howard, one of Curry/Thompson peels off to cover the trailer, and Harden gets his one on one back
@  JY86er : (22 May 2015 - 03:41 AM) Oh well, Guys. We got 'em right where we want 'em now.
@  jorgeaam : (22 May 2015 - 03:40 AM) Oh boy, well, at least I like our chances to take both home games the way the Warriors are playing
@  jorgeaam : (22 May 2015 - 03:39 AM) Why didn't Harden call a timeout instead of passing it to Howard on the 3 point line?
@  cointurtlemoose : (22 May 2015 - 03:38 AM) Heartbreaking last couple seconds...
@  jorgeaam : (22 May 2015 - 03:36 AM) WHAT THE HELL JUST HAPPENED
@  jorgeaam : (22 May 2015 - 03:35 AM) Let's go rockets!
@  Cooper : (22 May 2015 - 03:34 AM) Harden and Howard are just incredible
@  jorgeaam : (22 May 2015 - 03:32 AM) Wow
@  Cooper : (22 May 2015 - 02:45 AM) nick johnson sighting?
@  jorgeaam : (22 May 2015 - 02:29 AM) Rockets quieting the crowd
@  cointurtlemoose : (22 May 2015 - 02:16 AM) It is pretty crazy to be tied at this point. Harden single-handedly gave us a reset button for this game
@  jorgeaam : (22 May 2015 - 02:11 AM) Rockets are missing 2 starters, Dwight is playing with a bad knee, and yet they've kept both games quite close so far against a team that finished 67-15
@  jorgeaam : (22 May 2015 - 02:10 AM) I must say that I start to think the Warriors are tremendously overrated


Member Since 25 Sep 2012
Offline Last Active Apr 28 2015 01:56 AM

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Houston Rockets 98, Golden State Warriors 99: Of all the times to not attack...

Yesterday, 09:52 AM

New post: Houston Rockets 98, Golden State Warriors 99: Of all the times to not attack...
By: Mitchell Felker

James Harden makes his bones attacking the paint.  Everything in his arsenal is predicated on his ability to get to the basket.  All those free throws, that wicked step-back; nothing would be as effective if he wasn't so good at getting to the rim.


So last night, with precious few seconds left on the clock in a one point game and the ball in his hands after rebounding the Harrison Barnes miss, Harden raced up court for what would surely be a last second play to decide the game.


"There's no one there, there's no one there!" I screamed at my TV, fully expecting him to get to get into the paint.


But Harden didn't attack.  He haphazardly went into Steph Curry's body, then pulled up so that he could play a wall-pass with Dwight. Once he had the ball back, with no real plan of attack, he bobbled the ball off the Splash Brothers' feet.  Game Over.  Warriors 2, Rockets 0.


Why didn't Harden just attack the basket like he does so many times a game, usually with bigger defenders protecting the rim?




I mean, I get that he's double-teamed, and they do have the middle of the floor walled off, but there's no big man and he's got both defenders on their heels.  And if he didn't like that look, why not call a timeout and draw something up?


But after Harden pulled up and waited for everyone to catch up to the play, there had to be a better option than attempting to drive at the same double-team that he just forewent, who happens to now have their feet set with backup behind them.




It's literally the same look he just bypassed, except a little worse.  Even if a timeout was not an option at this point, why not run right at Dwight Howard's shoulder and use him to create space for a shot?


It was a pressure situation and there was no time to think, that's why. Harden played so well, but by the very end, he'd run out of magic.  It's just terribly unfortunate that Harden's awesome performance was all for not.


Harden scored 38 points on just 21 shots, but this wasn't a free throw contest like a lot of Harden's big scoring nights.  He was 9-10 from the charity stripe, sure, but he was also 3-6 from deep and 13-21 (62%) overall. For the second game in a row he was an assist shy of a triple-double, adding 10 rebounds, three steals and a block to his impressive box score. This was the best, most complete game for Harden in the playoffs.  He and Curry duked it out all night and, if not for the late-game blunder, Harden outplayed the league MVP.


Houston fell behind by as many as 17 in the first half, but Harden was their answer.  And it wasn't a flashy hit-em-quick comeback like the Rockets are wont to do.  They did go on a 14-2 run to close the gap, but it was a methodical approach that got them back in it.  Harden scored 12 points in the second quarter on 5-6 shooting and was absolutely ruthless from the midrange.  The analytics community is fond of saying that only a select few players (Dirk, Aldridge, Durant etc) make shooting 15-18 footers worth the effort, but that step-back jumper that Harden perfected this year just added a year or two to his prime.  That shot will save him from crashing to floor so much after attacking the rim time and again.


The Rockets might not have needed such a run in the second had the bench not been so bad.  For a unit that got so much praise for their second round performance, they have looked absolutely ordinary two games into this series.  Josh Smith was a little too aggressive last night, taking too many shots in the first half and then disappearing in the second. Corey Brewer made little statistical impact and finished with a +/- of -23.  Pablo Prigioni somehow managed to finish with a -10 in only seven minutes of action. The only Rockets player off the bench to really show up was Terrence Jones, who finished with a line of 12 points, 2 boards, an assist, a steal and 3 blocks.  He attacked and played fearlessly, although there were several times he took contested shots rather than kicking out to open shooters.


Dwight Howard ended up playing despite his sprained knee, and played well.  He shot 73% from the field for 19 points, but was only 3-7 from the stripe.  He did manage 17 rebounds (5 offensive), 2 steals and a block, but allowed too many layups in his vicinity.  Steph Curry especially squeaked by a few times for easy buckets while Howard was in the area.  His stat line looks better, but I'm not sure Howard made as much of an impact as Andrew Bogut (14 pts, 8 reb, 4 ast & 5 blk).


Besides Bogut and Curry (33 pts, 3 reb, 6 ast & 1 stl), the only other Warrior to really hurt the Rockets individually was Draymond Green.  He only shot 3-9 from the field, but stuffed the stat sheet with 12 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists and a steal & block each.  But where the Warriors really had the advantage was their bench.  For the second game in a row, Golden State went on a big run with their starters on the pine.  Shawn Livingston had another good game, making all four of his shots for 8 points and 4 rebounds.  Leandro Barbosa's 4 points and 3 assists don't look like much, but he was +13 in his time on the court.


The Rockets can't continue to let Golden State's bench decide games.  The Warriors second unit closed that big Rockets lead in Game 1, and they built a big lead in Game 2 against Houston's bench.  It hasn't been Houston's offense as much as the defense, and Kevin McHale needs to figure out a way to generate stops with his second unit on the floor.


The Warriors are the better (or just healthier) team, but I can promise you this: those "Over-Rated" chants that were echoing through Oracle Arena in Game 1 every time Harden touched the ball will not be heard for the rest of this series, regardless of how many games it goes.  They may not have believed it before, but there's not a Golden State fan out there that doesn't recognize how good the Beard really is anymore.


And for all those folks who thought that the Rockets were punching above their weight and didn't belong in the same class as the Warriors, those beliefs can be put to rest.  Without two of their five starters, the Rockets are just a few plays away from being up 2-0 in this series themselves.  I'd like to see what this series would look like if the Rockets were healthy and the Warriors were missing key-cogs like Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala.


But that's not the case.  Golden State is the healthiest team left in the playoffs and certainly the favorite to win it all.  Hopefully getting back to Houston will cure some of the Rockets problems, and those Toyota Center rims will be as soft and sticky for the Rockets as Oracle's were for the Warriors.  Just one or two breaks and the Rockets are right back in it.

Golden State Warriors 110, Houston Rockets 106: Die standing

20 May 2015 - 04:11 AM

New post: Golden State Warriors 110, Houston Rockets 106: Die standing
By: Forrest Walker

The Western Conference Finals have begun and the Golden State Warriors have taken the expected 1-0 series lead on the Houston Rockets. It was not, however, a double-digit bashing, nor was it an ugly, one-sided game. This was a real contest, the kind that suggests an entertaining series worthy of the third round of the NBA playoffs. James Harden is exceptional, Trevor Ariza has icewater in his veins, and the Rockets aren't afraid of the Warriors. This is gonna be fun.


The biggest worry, bigger even than going in a one game hole, is that Dwight Howard suffered a bruised knee when Josh Smith slid into him. He played through it to the best of his ability, and still grabbed 13 rebounds in the game, but had to leave in the fourth quarter, and did not return in a critical stretch run. If his knee will recover soon, the Rockets look to be in surprisingly good shape. When he wasn't posting up (which he should stop doing, forever, immediately), he was a force of nature, and was winning his matchup and more. His presence is mission critical here, and the news that comes out over the next forty-eight hours may determine Houston's fate.


The good news is that the Warriors don't seem to be able to contain James Harden as well as the Los Angeles Clippers could. It's surprising that a better defense is more pliant to Harden's game, but LA had a perfect storm for containing Harden. DeAndre Jordan's rim protection and JJ Redick's startling defensive alacrity were able to slow him and make the other Rockets beat them. The other Rockets did indeed beat the Clippers, and now Harden faces the slightly less successful Klay Thompson and Andrew Bogut, the latter of whom stayed in foul trouble and the former of whom was biting on far too many of Harden's fakes. James flirted extensively with a triple double, ending the night with 28 points on 11-20 shooting, 11 rebounds, 9 assists, and 4 steals. Harden took his team as far as anyone can, going on a scoring run by himself to close the game up late.


Unfortunately, without Dwight Howard inside to hold the fort, Terrence Jones and Josh Smith weren't able to keep from getting washed away by the tidal wave that is Golden State's defense. Jones' 2-10 shooting was indicative of his inability to finish at the rim in the second half, and it was only by divine providence that Josh Smith ended with more points (17) than shots (16). Jason Terry joined in the letdown brigade, shooting 2-9 and clanking on open threes, though he did play better than expected defense on resident fire elemental Steph Curry.


Curry shot 6-11 from three point range, and a few of these were open. That's gotta change.


The pleasant surprise captains were Clint Capela and Pablo Prigioni, who looked fresh and relatively un-scouted by the opposition. Prigioni seemed to have saved up all his super bar for tonight's game, and hopefully he has more in the tank for the rest of the series. He's looked like the crafty veteran that general manager Daryl Morey hoped he was trading for, and Clint Capela is showing limitless promise. Capela is performing plenty well, even if he's on a huge stage much sooner than expected. He cleans up around the rim, sets good screens, flushed the ball, and plays remarkably tenacious defense. He's going to be overmatched as the series progresses, but he's better than he should be right now, and is a delight to watch.


The big story is that the Warriors had to fight to keep the Rockets down late, and were up by only 2 points with 15 seconds left in the game. The Rockets led by 16 early in the second quarter, and forced a sleepwalking Warriors team to step it up. A lot can happen, but this doesn't look like a series headed to a sweep. If Dwight can take the floor, if Harden can prove he deserves all his MVP votes and more, and if the role players can get anywhere near Trevor Ariza's level (who was the second best player for the Rockets tonight), the Rockets can make this a series. Ariza's fourth three in five tries cut the lead to 2, and it proved something important. The Rockets aren't laying down, and they aren't going away.

Houston Rockets 113, Los Angeles Clippers 100: I love this game

18 May 2015 - 12:18 AM

New post: Houston Rockets 113, Los Angeles Clippers 100: I love this game
By: Paul McGuire

I was happy with this series just getting to a seventh game.


After getting wrecked as badly as they did in the first four games, the fact that the Houston Rockets made this series competitive was good enough for me. Sure, other teams had come back from 3-1 deficits. But none had done so while getting blown out as badly as the Rockets.


But the Rockets won Game 7. They led wire to wire. And aside from two scary moments early in the third  as well as the last minute of the game, they were in complete control. The lead went up to 20 in the fourth. But with less than 90 seconds, Los Angeles made a final push to get within eight points with less than 90 seconds left. Howard observed later that at that point, he thought "we can't let them pull an us on us."


The Clippers did not. J.J. Redick bricked yet another three and Trevor Ariza hit the dagger trey. A few free throws later, and the series was over. The Houston Rockets are going to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in almost 20 years, when John Stockton taught my childhood self that good does not always triumph.


As great as this regular season has been for the Rockets, I do think that Houston has been underrated because of the Howard injury.


Houston finished with 56 wins, but had a SRS of 3.83 and an expected win total of 50 games. To put this number in perspective, last year's Rockets had a SRS of 5.06. The Clippers this season were at 6.80. The Warriors are over 10, one of, if not the highest SRS since the 1997 Bulls. In short, the Rockets got to where they were by winning a lot of close games - and as Daryl Morey has observed, good teams don't win close games. They blow out their opponents.


But the reality is that Houston is better than that 3.83 mark because Dwight Howard was injured for so many games. As great as Donatas Motiejunas was this year, I cannot imagine him trying to box out and contain DeAndre Jordan throughout this series.


Howard could. And Howard did.


We all know how Howard has played throughout this series. How he is not wasting offensive possessions on post-ups, how he is playing the pick and roll defensive center which everyone else in the basketball universe knew he would be so good at. And that defensive boost has given the Rockets a level up which they needed to beat the Clippers.


Sure, Houston needed some help. Houston probably does not win this series if Chris Paul plays in Game 2. But in addition to Howard, the Rockets made adjustments.


While I have always been "meh" on Kevin McHale ( not blaming him for the Portland loss, but not praising him for how this team has played this season), every Rockets fans has to give McHale huge credit for how he coached this series. There may be no coach in this league, not even Popovich, who is as good at making players believe in themselves. It reminds me of Rudy T, who was no X's and O's genius either ( as anyone who watched the Franchise years can attest to.)


Starting Josh Smith over Terrence Jones was huge. Placing Ariza on Redick at the start of games was huge. And while Doc Rivers ran his team into the ground, the Rockets were fresher and ready to thrash the Clippers by the end. Only five Clippers scored more than 2 points in Game 7.


The Clippers had no depth. Everyone knew this at the beginning of this series, but Austin Rivers managed to hide that fact for a bit. But as the series dragged on, Kevin McHale made his adjustments, and the Clippers felt the aftereffects of that first round war against San Antonio, it seems like their players aside from Paul ran out of gas. Yes, Blake Griffin had 27-11 tonight. But if people can talk of how Harden did not take over this series even though his numbers are not much different from the regular season, then I can do the same for Griffin.


After McHale put Smith on Griffin, Griffin wasn't terrifying like he was beforehand or like Aldridge was last year. He could be contained. He was tired. He didn't do much after someone passed him the ball when he was at the top of the key. He lobbed the ball up to Jordan a few times, but that was about it.


Chris Paul fought hard, and I will go nuts on any idiot who blames him for the Clippers losing this series. He was the only Clippers who seemed willing to score in the fourth, and even had this amazingly clever play to get Howard to the foul line with less than 2 minutes left. But there isn't much Paul could do about the fact that the other Clippers perimeter players forgot how to play defense and left Trevor Ariza open for wide open three after wide open three. Nor could he do much about how the Clippers players forgot to shoot as well.


To sum things up? Despite the lack of a bench, I do think Los Angeles had the better team on paper. But games are not played on paper. They are played where nerves are frayed, muscles scream in pain, and sweat drips off your brow ( or perhaps rain given the current Houston weather). Kevin McHale outcoached Doc Rivers. The Rockets showed up and shot the ball when they needed to, while Los Angeles ran out of steam.


The result? The best and most important Rockets victory I have watched in my life.


Now, what about the next round? Golden State is a different thing from everyone else. They have everything from shooters to creators to interior defenders to a good coach. Everyone will pick Golden State to beat Houston. Most will pick them to crush the Rockets.


But most people ( including myself) thought this series was over after Game 4. And while I'm sure you will hear it a thousand times before Game 1 begins, I might as well observe it now. 20 years ago, the Houston Rockets and the runner-up MVP took on the number 1 seed in the Western Conference and their MVP candidate. 20 years ago, the San Antonio Spurs beat the Houston Rockets in every regular season game in the 1994-95 season.


If you're reading this, you know what happened next.


Maybe history will repeat itself. Maybe it will not. I do know that pretty much no matter what happens in this series, this season has been an unqualified success for the Houston Rockets.


Now let's see them get ready for Round 3.

Enemy Perspective: Law Murray of ClipperBlog

16 May 2015 - 11:22 PM

New post: Enemy Perspective: Law Murray of ClipperBlog
By: Mitchell Felker

Before tomorrow's deciding Game 7, we traded a few emails with a friend of Red94, Law Murray of ClipperBlog.  Follow Law on Twitter @LawMurrayTheNU


MF - What were your thoughts after 128-95 in Game 4? Series over, or were you more reserved?


LM - When I helped the Podium Game with their preview of this series, I thought it was going 7. A series isn't over just because a team goes up 3-1. And the Clippers know this better than most teams. After all, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan were in red and blue blowing a 3-1 series lead against the Memphis Grizzlies just three years ago. It's the playoffs. You can't expect your opponent to quit!


Im sure we have differing opinions, but that fourth quarter in Game 6 was awesome. The Clips looked gassed, but Josh Smith also looked like LeBron...Did you see it as more meltdown, or more comeback?


I thought it was awesome as well. It was incredible. So many narratives burned in flames in that fourth quarter, and it was glorious to watch. The Rockets won that game. Doc Rivers made the point after the game: it doesn't matter that the Clippers went decomposed bone cold offensively in the last six minutes of the game if they defend like champs. The Rockets dropped 40 points in that fourth quarter. They outrebounded the Clippers 21-5! The Rockets took it from the Clippers. I'm focusing on that incredible effort more than LA's choke job. Again, it's the playoffs. It's about winning games, and the Rockets were big winners Thursday night.


I cant remember who said Blake Griffin has been the best player in the playoffs so far (Jon Berry?), but I have to agree. It always seemed like before he only played this way when CP3 missed time. Has this playoffs been a new level for Blake Griffin, or is this where he's been and I just haven't noticed?


Man, Blake Griffin is a few less fourth quarter brain cramps from shutting this entire postseason down. I was an early defender of the Blake Show when folks went out of their way to simplify his game ("All he does is dunk"), and a part of that faction loved to used Chris Paul as a reason why Griffin was overrated, as if he didn't hop Kias in his ROY season. But while Griffin has always had the skill, his effectiveness has indeed reached a new level in these playoffs. He's had triple doubles with and without Paul on the floor. He's hit the glass harder and hit the paint harder. His game definitely went from the sustainable regular season approach to the necessary dog you need to win in the spring. But ... he needs another game or the ignorance will continue, at least on some level.


What's Austin Rivers' deal? Rockets fans just went through this with Al Farouq Aminu going all Ron Artest on us in Round 1, and now Rivers is Jamal Crawford 2.0? WTF?


Well, in all the hate that Austin Rivers gets, people lose track of the fact that the kid is only 22 years old. He's had a rough start to his career, and he's not the most fun player to watch when he's at his worst. He doesn't lack skill, as the Rockets and Spurs found out. But Rivers' jumper is the difference between him being useful or a liability. He made 10-of-18 threes in Games 1-4, but he has regressed sharply towards the mean in Games 5 and 6 (1-of-8).


Coming back from down 3-1 to win a series is old hat for Houston. What's the general feeling for Clippers fans heading into Game 7? How much do you fear Cluth City at this point?


I feel like Clippers fans are caught between feeling sorry for themselves and staying optimistic. With all due respect, it's not even about the Houston Rockets at this point. The Clippers had control, and now they don't. But they still have a chance to do what they need to do. Clippers fans have been here before as well. The Clippers are the only team to win a Game 7 this postseason (since they are the only one to play in one). So it's more just wondering if the Clippers take care of business in one game. None of the other stuff matters as much once Game 7 tips off!

Houston Rockets 119, Los Angeles Clippers 107: The Headband Brigade

15 May 2015 - 01:01 PM

New post: Houston Rockets 119, Los Angeles Clippers 107: The Headband Brigade
By: Mitchell Felker

June 7, 1995.  I was an 11-year old gangly mess of arms and legs that refused to wear shoes outside of school and couldn't even look a girl in the face yet.  But I was the biggest sports fan in the world, so who needed girls anyway.  And to that point, I'd lived quite the charmed sports-life.  Being born in rural north Texas, the only thing that mattered to me was that blue star (I know, I know).  But then after moving to Houston in the early 90's, it didn't take long for basketball (and to a lesser extent, baseball) to get its claws into me.  Soon the Dreamshake and Killer B's were right there on the wall next to my Michael Irvin "Playmaker" poster.


So to recap, before my 12th birthday, I was in the midst of the greatest NFL dynasty there will ever be (save it, THE. GREATEST.), had seen a National league MVP and likely champ in baseball if not for a soul-killing strike, and had already witnessed my still-favorite basketball player ever carry a ragtag team to an NBA Championship.


So in Game 1 of the '95 Finals, with the Magic up by three on the Rockets with six seconds to play and Nick Anderson at the free throw stripe, I was pretty sure I was about to explode with anxiety.  I was basically batting 1.000 in big games at that point in my life (who knew that would flip so, so hard), so I had no idea what to do with my self when it seemed the Rockets may lose.  My dad was plugging away on the graveyard shift, and my mom had zero interest in sports, so I was left to my own devices during one of the biggest moments I'd ever witnessed.  We all know how Nick the Brick earned his nickname, but when he missed that second free throw and yet managed to grab his own rebound before getting fouled again, I spiked the remote control (don't tell Dad) and turned off the TV to go shoot baskets in the dark to cool off.  It wasn't till two hours later, after I'd imaginarily helped Dream dispatch Shaq and Penny in Game 7 to win the title, that I came back in and watched Sportscenter.  To my shock/elation/dismay, Anderson missed both of his free throws, the Jet tied the game to send it to overtime, and the Magic didn't box out Hakeem (6:10 mark).


My point is, kids are dumb.  "I'll never make that mistake again," I told myself.


Well, some things never change.  I'm still an idiot.


Last night the game headed into a commercial break with three minutes to go in the third, and the Rockets down 18.  DeAndre Jordan had just REJECTED a Dwight Howard hook-shot and the Clippers were capping a 14-2 run.  "This is an avalanche!" Jon Berry said.  And I was absolutely buried in it.  Able to take no more, I turned the sound down low, wrapped myself in the warmest blanket in the world, and intentionally dozed off on the couch.  I was in no mood to write the doom-and-gloom recap this was sure to be, choosing rather to wake up early after I'd digested what was happening, and finish the fourth quarter to have it posted before coffee time.  But around 12:30 last night, my phone started buzzing with texts from my buddy Chad.


"Holy S***"


"You watching??"


"49-18 run!!!"


Needless to say, I restarted the fourth quarter immediately.  After finishing the game, the opening paragraph of Jonathan Abrams' Grantland piece on Josh Smith was sticking in my head.



From the stands, Pete Smith can still hear people complain about his son’s play. He has to restrain himself from responding. He detests the critical comments, the jabs from people who’ve never played the game at an elite level. They don’t know how hard it can be. They don’t know that you need guts to take those shots. They don’t know that Josh Smith is living a dream that’s been transferred from father to son.


Well Mr. Smith, can you hear the haters now?


Dwight Howard (20 pts, 21 reb with 7 offensive, 1 ast, 1 stl & 2 blk) was the only reason the Rockets were hanging in the game early while LA was running their layup lines on Houston's defense.  But his obligatory silly fouls and even a flagrant and technical foul each eventually handcuffed his aggressiveness.  James Harden (scored 17 of 23 points in the 2nd) was the only reason Houston fought back and took a lead in the second quarter, but remnants of the flu sapped his strength early and he went MIA in the second half.


So near the end of that dreadful third quarter, after Kevin McHale's mistimed Hack-A-Shaq had sparked the Clippers into retaking the lead, the Rockets were running out of ideas.  With their two best players hamstrung, who would step up and be the reason they got back in the game in the fourth quarter?  Who would grab the team by the belt and make certain that they didn't go meekly into the offseason?  Josh Smith and the rest of the Headband Brigade, that's who.




When the Rockets were healthy this season, or at least healthy-ish, I L-U-V loved their bench mob.  It didn't matter who else was on the court (although D-Mo made them particularly formidable), what really made it fun to watch was the Brigade.  Smith added his playmaking, Jason Terry his shooting and Corey Brewer his Corey Brewer-ness.  At full strength, I liked Houston's bench as much as any in the NBA.


But never in my wildest dreams did I think they had that in them.  Against Chris Paul (31 pts, 7 reb & 11 ast) fighting to prove he can carry a team to the second round and the best Blake Griffin (28 pts, 8 reb, 2 ast, 2 stl & 1 blk) we've seen to date, in a do-or-die elimination game ON THE ROAD, and without the league MVP runner-up, the Rockets outscored the Clippers 40-15 in the fourth quarter.  Smith (19 pts, 6 reb & 2 ast), Brewer (19, 10 & 2, and a +/- of +32) and Terry (7, 7 & 5) were good all night, but definitely saved their best for last.  They combined for 34 of those 40 fourth quarter points (15 for Brewer, Smith 14 and Terry 5).  Smith more-or-less played the point and was nearly flawless.  He took care of the ball and although he shot too much from the outside (4 attempts), they were going in (3 makes), so it didn't matter.  He had the guts to take those shots.


But it wasn't just the offense.  The defense in the fourth quarter was outstanding as well.  I don't know if it was tired legs on the Clippers part, but the Rockets looked quicker, sharper than they have all playoffs.  They didn't miss a rotation and there were no open shots to be found on the perimeter for Clippers' shooters.  Blake Griffin definitely got tight and was scared to pull the trigger on his 17-footer, which had been deadly all night up to that point.  Dwight Howard and Smoove controlled the rim and kept the Clips' bigs off the glass while Brewer and Trevor Ariza bounced around the outside like they were spring-loaded.  I don't want to think James Harden, even sick, was hurting them so much in that department, rather they just finally felt the heat on their ass, but that was the defense that's required to win championships.


As for the rest of the Rockets, Terrence Jones was a factor off the bench, scoring 16 points on 6-8 shooting, with 5 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal. He thoroughly outplayed the Clippers backup bigs, but just doesn't have much to offer against Blake Griffin.  I'm oddly a huge Pablo Prigioni fan, but he was actively bad last night, and even picked up a tech for punching a chair.  On another positive note, Jamal Crawford seems to have cooled off from where he was earlier in the series and Austin Rivers has come back to earth, as both were a non-factor last night.


So now, back to Houston for Game 7.  This is undoubtedly the biggest game the Rockets have played in almost 20 years, since John Stockton buried them in Game 6 of the '97 Western Conference Finals.  The three days will help James Harden get his legs back after the flu, but it will also give the Clippers some much needed rest; they haven't had three days off since Game 2 of the first round against San Antonio.  You better believe Chris Paul will be as focused and ready as we've ever seen him, with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan at max volume.  The Rockets can't afford another slow start or count on more dreadful Hack-A-Shaq to keep them in it.  They need to feed off the home crowd and come out hot, with the same intensity on defense that they showed in the fourth quarter last night.


But if the Rockets do fall behind and need a spark, be sure that Josh Smith, Corey Brewer and Jason Terry will be ready.  For when the night was at it's darkest, and the Rockets hanging by a thread, it was the Brigade that rescued them.  Let's just hope they're not so necessary on Sunday.