Tale of Two Halves - Last night was the perfect microcosm of the Rockets’ season through the first 41 games. Stretches of brilliance, marred by stints of total incompetence. The stat lines are unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, and almost unseen in NBA history. Via Ball Don’t Lie:
The half-to-half splits, however, are something out of a nightmare. The Rockets were amazing in the first half, scoring 73 points for both their season-best half and the Thunder defense’s season-worst mark. The second half was just a bit different — a mere 19 points for Houston, including a fourth quarter in which they were out-scored 21-9. The 54-point drop ranks as the biggest half-to-half scoring differential in NBA history. In fact, only one other team has ever followed a half of at least 70 points with one of 25 points or fewer — the Seattle SupperSonics on December 21, 2001 against the Golden State Warriors. Their 19-point half also tied an NBA record for the worst mark in history.
Rockets fans were on cloud nine going into half time of last night’s game with a 73-59 lead. And it wasn’t like James Harden got hot or Dwight Howard exploited a match-up to control the paint. It was taking the best Kevin Durant had to offer and outscoring him as a team. It was Terrence Jones playing Serge Ibaka to a draw. It was Donatas Motiejunas scoring from all over the court, running the lane like a demon and dishing around the rim. And the Rockets’ three-point shooting was on pace to break the record for most threes made in a single game. It was everything you wanted to see from them. The Rockets nearly doubled up on OKC in the second quarter, outscoring the Thunder 41-23.
And then, halftime.
After the break, the Thunder outscored the home team 24-10 in the 3rd quarter and 21-9 in the 4th quarter. For me, even with Kevin Durant’s 36 points, the MVP of the game was Serge Ibaka. He shot 77% from the field, cleaned the glass and defended his rim with the fury of a thousand fiery suns. As well as Jones and Motiejunas played, they just couldn’t hang with Ibaka down the stretch.
Maybe it was just a case of the Rockets losing momentum while cooling off in the locker room during the break, or maybe Scott Brooks deserves credit for his adjustments at the half. But whatever the case, the Rockets must find a way to maintain consistency, not just game to game, but even quarter to quarter.
Foreshadowing - In an piece that reads like it was written midway through the 3rd quarter of last night’s game, The Dream Shake’s Ethan Rothstein asks the question, where has the Rockets three point shooting gone?
Over the last 20 games, the Rockets have shot 31 percent from behind the arc, a mark that’s good for last in the league (this stat, and all following figures for this piece, are from NBA.com’s rich stats database). Over that time, they’ve shot 24.7 times from deep, fifth-most in the league.
The only two players on the Rockets shooting even slightly above average of late are Chandler Parsons and Aaron Brooks, both shooting a hair over 37 percent in the last 20. Even James Harden, playing better of late, is shooting 34.2 percent over the same span.
He goes on to pin most of the slippage on Terrence Jones, Jeremy Lin and Francisco Garcia, although James Harden and Omri Casspi still aren’t shooting as well as they’re capable of. This sort of inconsistency is expected out of a young player like Jones as he learns what it’s going to take to be a starting NBA forward. I still think getting Jeremy Lin back to running the second unit will help improve Garcia and Casspi’s shooting, as both players tend to rely on help in setting up their offense. And Lin, despite his reputation, is shooting well over 35% from behind the arc dating back to the All-Star break last year.
But as Charles Barkley has said a thousand times, you don’t live by jump shots, you die by jump shots. The Rockets know the value of three pointers. But a team with James Harden and Dwight Howard shouldn’t be so life and death with regards to their outside shooting. I still can’t fathom why the Rockets don’t run more pick-and-roll sets. But whatever the solution, they need to find something else to rely on when the shots aren’t falling. Until then, games like last night are going to remain the constant.
Hard to Believe - In case you haven’t noticed, the Rockets had a rough second half last night. So bad indeed, that Chandler Parsons was stunned to hear just how bad.
That video says more about last night’s game than any highlight ever could.