Rockets

NBA Analysis: Rockets Win Close Game vs. Jazz

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Rockets 97, Jazz 96

If you’ve never seen Glengarry Glen Ross (a great 90′s flick with Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, Ed Harris and Kevin Spacey), you should check it out. The best eight minutes of the film is a cameo by Alec Baldwin where he gives a speech berating all of these mediocre salesman for their inability to “close.” Down 96-94 in Utah Wednesday night, I can imagine that huddle with Adelman to be the exact same scene. Martin, Brooks and Scola are like Arkin, Lemmon and Harris. They haven’t been able to close all season, and no matter how close they come to making a sale (or winning, for this analogy to make sense), they can’t close. I can only imagine Adelman screaming at Martin as he reaches for a cup, “Put that Gatorade down! Gatorade is for closers!”

(The movie actually ends quite differently than the game did, but give me some credit for trying.)

Instead of doing what they always do and caving under the pressure, Martin took the load on his shoulders (something I’ve waited for all season), drove to the rim with sheer determination and scored, nailing the free throw to give them a 97-96 lead. With the CJ Miles miss the Rockets earned a 1-3 record on that horrific road trip that seems much better considering how tough those teams were and the fact that they were seconds from going 0-4. Sure they were playing a Jazz team that lost seven of its last nine games and were without Deron Williams and Kirilenko, but a win in Utah is a feat Houston should appreciate right now.

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Despite how many things the Rockets did wrong last night (and there were a lot), the most impressive thing they did was make me believe in them again. I don’t know how many times they’ve blown leads late in games or kept it close only to miss clutch baskets with seconds remaining. With 15 seconds left and the ball, down by two, I had legitimately given up on them. But that wasn’t the only time. After starting the third quarter playing great on both ends of the floor, Utah ended the quarter on a 19-7 run and I basically gave up. I did it again down 88-82 in the fourth and then one last time at 96-94. Every time Houston would get a run, Utah would counter and I sank into depression only for them to make a run and then suck again. It was a script I had read a dozen times this season, except this time it had a happy ending.

With a somewhat renewed faith in this team, a softer February schedule around the corner and that whole “trade deadline” thing coming up, I’m not convinced this Rockets team is done this season. Even if they don’t make the playoffs, a major trade and a couple of more wins like they had Wednesday night and I’d feel pretty good about where this team is headed.

HAYES FOR MVP?

Okay, so maybe he shouldn’t be an MVP candidate of the league, but couldn’t you make a strong case that he’s the MVP of this team? When he was out, they had one of their worst stretches of the season and they’re an entirely different defensive team when he’s on the floor. Wednesday night was a great example of his value to the Rockets. He played 41 minutes (the most of any Rockets’ player), posted 13 points on 4-8 shooting, with 12 rebounds (eight offensive), 2 assists and a block. And he was pretty much the only guy on the team who could put a body on Jefferson or Millsap. My favorite play of the night (besides the whole Martin imposing his will thing), was with four minutes left in the game when Chuck grabbed an offensive rebound off a Brooks’ missed layup, had the second chance shot blocked by Jefferson, grabbed the loose ball, fought through three Jazz players and got to the rim for a foul and two free throws. Yeah, he missed one of them, and I would have liked to see Brooks not miss that layup in the first place, but it just showed the kind of player Hayes is. He’s tenacious, takes only high percentage shots, fights when everyone else on the team believes the play is dead and is stronger than any two players on the floor. One of the most underrated discussions you’ll hear about this team leading up to the offseason is “What do they do about Chuck Hayes?” If I’m the Rockets, I’d get rid of Scola in a heartbeat before I’d let the Chuckwagon roll away.

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TO REBOUND OR NOT TO REBOUND?

I know Houston is criticized for their lack of height and strength underneath, but I’m convinced they are to blame partially for that after watching their efforts on the boards Wednesday night. There were about a dozen times when I screamed at Brooks for taking a terrible shot or doing something else I hated (did a nice job of replacing Ariza in that role this season), but my least favorite moment of the night was at about the five-minute mark in the third quarter. After Jefferson missed a jumper, Millsap hopped up like he was doing drills in practice and laid it back in. Scola stood there, watching as if his legs were stuck in cement, and had he tried he would have had a very good chance at getting the rebound. I promptly threw my pen across the apartment, picked it up and made an angry note about it. Hayes (12 boards) and Lowry (6 rebounds) were the only players dedicated to grabbing rebounds Wednesday night. Utah outrebounded Houston 44-39, with 17 of them coming on the offensive end. In the fourth, they flashed something about 17-second-chance points, but it felt more like 50. Take away some of those offensive rebounds, and this probably wouldn’t have been much of a game. The Rockets may need a big man, but their effort on the glass was inexcusable in Utah regardless of their size.