UPDATE: Game review and links added
Today will likely be a day for superlatives. The “worst” defense (it was bad), the “ugliest” offense (free throws are very good, last I checked) and the “biggest” disappointment of a night (not so bad)‒ none will quite fit the mood of this one, though. Because it really wasn’t that nasty of a loss. Instead, this game may have exposed the fragility of the Rockets’ return to its old “calling card” of half-court defense, a revival not likely to commence without the large man in the paint, warding away projectile combo guards. The Rockets did what it could, but the team constantly found itself caught on basic screen-and-roll attacks that simply couldn’t be allowed or stopped with the kind of night one Monta Ellis was having. Without a warrior like Kyle Lowry available to fight over those picks and wreak havoc on the defensive boards, the Rockets simply couldn’t dig in its seemingly endless bag of toys deep enough to find an answer for the Ellis-Curry attack. For one night, at least, the Rockets’ backcourt looked outmatched and slow.
Still, all was not wrong. Kevin Martin continued his amazing start to the fantasy basketball season (28 points on 14 shots, shooting a downright brilliant 17-17 from the charity stripe), even if it came along with a lot of watching Ellis and Curry hit jumpers with Martin’s face attached to the chest of some screening dope. In the same vein, never before have the Rockets looked so willing and able to find the man with the hot hand on offense, feeding the incomparable Luis Scola, making up for a más o menos showing in game one by pouring in 36 points and another 16 boards, on the block until the Warriors started to double. That was it, though. The Warriors started to double. The Warriors made adjustments. Role players played roles other than “gunner”. Warriors talked and helped on defense (The Warriors and defense. Used in a non-pejorative sentence for the first time since Joe Barry Carroll rocked the royal and gold). Andres Biedrins looked like he enjoyed playing basketball. Simple, almost hilariously basic changes, but the kinds of things that a coach that a team doesn’t actively want to disappoint can do for a team. This was no coaching tour de force, do n0t get me mistaken, but for a team that has watched its vitality sapped by Don Nelson like so many Natty Ices, its almost hard not to root for the overachieving buggers.
Unless you cheer for the Houston Rockets. Then any fan might be hard pressed to figure out what just happened. Like a slap to the face, last night’s beating was so unexpected and violent that it might take a while to comprehend it. Why couldn’t the Rockets get stops when it needed to so desperately? Was the team tired? Why did it take 36 minutes for Rick Adelman to try Brad Miller out, and why didn’t anything change when the Big Camo got there? There aren’t many easy answers to those questions, as most look damning for the team’s future sans the huge one; however, what stuck out to me about last night’s contest was the juxtaposition of athleticism on these two teams. Disregarding Biedrins (which, much to my and most of your chagrins, the team appeared to do), the Warriors looks as, if not more, undersized as Houston, yet the Rockets could not keep up with the speed of the backcourt or the endurance of David Lee. Despite greatly exaggerated rumors to the contrary, the Rockets should not look to run. This team’s defense, as strange as it sounds, needs it not to do so. The defense is predicated on spacing and quick (not fast) help, and missed 25-footers don’t exactly leave guys like Shane Battier and Chuck Hayes time to recover and handle an incoming Ellis. As the Rockets kept running (and, to be fair, shooting quite well) and eventually panting, Ellis and Curry went to work. While Curry went back to Davidson for a few fourth-quarter possessions by draining contested three-pointers, Ellis methodically found his shots, curling quite simply off screens set at the top of the key and burning the Rockets with 18-footers again and again. This defense simply can’t contain that kind of precision (Bwahahaha… precision and the Warriors. What a weird game) and speed without being set on defense, and the offense often run by Houston last night didn’t often lead to Boy-Scout-like preparation on the other end.
This will not be a death knell, nor a call to ring the alarm. But this definitely felt like foreshadowing, and the story looks like it has a lot more conflict than many Rockets fans were probably hoping for entering this year. And uncertainty always seems scarier than sure failure, even if a team was the “biggest”, “ugliest” or “worst”.
Houston Rockets 128, Golden State Warriors 132
On to the links…
- The Rockets did not play good defense last night, no matter the reason. You know it, I know it and Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle seems pretty aware of it. Rick Adelman also watched last night’s game, so the team’s shortcomings on the defensive side of the ball did not exactly escape him: “But while the Warriors could not defend without fouling, the Rockets simply could not defend. ’I just thought we let (Ellis) get off to a great start and we let them get off to a really good first quarter offensively,’ Adelman said. ‘We were on our heels the whole game… I said at halftime, something’s going to happen… We’re either going to start making some stops and we’re going to open the game up or they’re going to really get it going and they did. You’re just trading baskets then. They’re at home. They have one guy having a great night. Curry got it going in the second half. And now we have our hands full.’”
- So, Monta Ellis had a pretty good game last night. You may have heard of it. Marcus Thompson of the Oakland Tribune wrote about his emergence as “the guy” in quite the emphatic manner: ”Warriors coach Keith Smart said before the season opener that his team’s calling card would be teamwork. The reason, Smart said, was the Warriors ‘don’t have that dominant guy.’ Wednesday night, however, guard Monta Ellis begged to differ… When the Warriors needed a big play, Ellis made it. His turnaround bank shot put the Warriors up 119-114 with 5:26 left. He put the Warriors up 124-114 with a pull-up jumper off an inbounds play. Then, with 2:21 to play, Ellis nailed a step-back 18-footer with Rockets guard Courtney Lee close enough to smell his breath. It was about as dominant as dominant gets. ’I can’t say how glad I am,’ Smart said, ‘to be coaching this guy at this particular point in his career.’”
- All that “No Fun League” stuff has always seemed kind of silly to me as an NBA diehard, as David Stern has always kept a much tighter grip on his players, though impressively less obviously so. Once again, in a minor news story that will never get real run, Stern snatches the upside-down headband right off of Rajon Rondo’s noggin.
- Hot Hot Hoops asks a fundamental, but bothersome question that has haunted the Heat all offseason in a great recap of last night’s Miami victory (it’s about time): “Isn’t this LeBron’s team? Wasn’t that declared after the first preseason game with Wade playing 3 minutes? Is Wade still supposed to be rusty? Fact is, it’s silly to make these arguments when either is more than capable of carrying their team to victory. The scary thing is when the two finally click and can dominate the same game together.”
- Amar’e looks to be in the lead for “Completely Awesome-st” this year with a first game Knicks win, an almost “cripple-double” (19 points, 10 rebounds, 9 turnovers) as his coach called it, and this too-amazing-for-words pre-game quote about the touchy-feely defense of Reggie Evans.