By: Paul McGuire
I disagree with Mr. Voulgaris. What will change that rule is when the Clippers-Rockets series that became much more probable tonight becomes seven straight games of Hack-a-Smith-Howard-Jordan-Dorsey.
The Rockets started off with the big lead, gave it away late in the third, and then came close before falling short in the final seconds. It was a disappointing loss which showcased much of the big problems which the Rockets will face in the postseason. And I am not just talking about the free throws.
But let's start with the free throws. The Rockets give up an average of 106.7 points per 100 possession according to basketball reference. Therefore, a Houston player should have a free throw percentage of 53.35 percent or higher to make intentionally fouling him a mathematical mistake.
Smith, Howard, and Dorsey are all worse than that. And hacking them is probably even more favorable for the opposing team because Houston's offense should be above 106.7 when Harden is on the floor, which he should be at the end of every quarter where Houston is already in the bonus. The result tonight was that Gregg Popovich hacked Josh Smith for over 6 in-game minutes. Smith went 12-26 from the foul line tonight and failed to punish Popovich for that coaching decision.
There will be probably be serious debate about changing the hack-a-X rules in the postseason. But it is not the postseason and Houston must deal with the reality that all but one of their big men in the playoffs are vulnerable to hacking.
They will also have to deal with how their big men are going to defend other big men. Duncan scored 29 points on 15 shots tonight, but it was how he got those points that was concerning. When Howard was on the floor, Duncan got them through the relentless Spurs system and finishing passes. The Spurs system cannot be completely stopped, but Duncan is not an irreplaceable part of that system.
But when Howard was not on the floor, Duncan outworked Smith, Jones, and Dorsey in the post. Especially Dorsey. Dorsey relies on his lower body weight to prevent players from muscling him around ala Chuck Hayes, but Duncan has not played like that in years if ever. Duncan just used his skills and height to get good shots over Dorsey.
Houston lost to Portland last year because by the time McHale found an answer to defending LaMarcus Aldridge, the Rockets were down 2-0. So, how is Houston going to defend Duncan again, or Aldridge, or Randolph or Griffin? The Houston offense is what it is at this point. But it is not a little disappointing that after seeing so much talk and actual accomplishments on the defensive end this season, it is that part which worries me in the postseason.
So, what now with the postseason seeding? The Rockets fall to the sixth seed, but the sixth seed is better than the fourth or fifth. If the Rockets cannot draw Dallas in the first round, I do not particularly care which team Houston faces out of the Clippers, Portland, Memphis, or San Antonio ( though that is my preferred order of teams to face from best to worst). But Golden State is another matter. I do not think people get just how dominant the Warriors have been this season, or that they could absolutely destroy everyone they face ala the 2001 Lakers. And that even includes San Antonio in their 2014 SPURSKRIEG VERSION VI mode.
Avoiding a matchup with Golden State for as long as possible is the most important priority, which means that if Houston cannot get 2nd or 3rd, they should fall to 6th. At the end of the day, tonight's game was a close loss. If a couple things are worked on, or a couple bounces go Houston's way, the Rockets would have won and everything would be just fine.
Tonight's loss was a disappointment and Houston is not exactly closing this season out on a high note. But I do think Houston can defeat any other Western team even without homecourt - with the exception of the Warriors. That, and ensuring no one else falls over dead should be Kevin McHale's biggest priority during this final week.
As a final postscript: Worrell and Drexler spent that last part of the broadcast complaining about how the Duncan block was a foul on Harden. It was not. And let me just say that game when Calvin Murphy announced instead of Drexler was one of my favorite games of the season.