WARNING: What you are about to read is not for the defensive-minded.
Coming off a heartbreaking 2-point loss to the Lakers last night, the Rockets traveled up the coast to take on the young, athletic Golden State Warriors. Having watched many Warriors games in the past, I had that gut feeling that this game was going to be a shootout (and that would be an understatement.)
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The Rockets first back-to-back of the season came at the wrong time against the wrong team. Yao, playing 24 minutes in his first game last night, was in street clothes for the game. If there is a team I wouldn’t want to play on a back-to-back, Golden State would be close to the top of my list. With a killer guard combo (Curry and Ellis) and excellent rebounders (Lee and Biedrins), this wasn’t going to be a cakewalk for this Rockets team. Did I mention David Lee is the oldest starter on the Warriors at 27?
Both teams came firing out of the gates, alternating buckets left and right. Rick Adelman’s game plan was simple: attack the paint. The Warriors may be a great shooting and rebounding team, but their interior defense is subpar at best. If you don’t believe me, believe this: Chuck Hayes had 16 points this game. Chuck Hayes! In the first quarter, the Rockets attacked the paint at will, scoring 20 of the team’s 31 first quarter points in the paint.
But the true story of the night was Warriors guard Monta Ellis. The NBA’s 6th leading scorer a year ago was too quick for the Rockets guards, which is surprising considering the Rockets have one of the quickest PG’s in the league with Brooks. Scoring 17 of his teams 34 first quarter points, Ellis was primed for a big night. Little did he know, he would match his career high. Stephen Curry added 10 himself in the second quarter, and the race was on. Curry and Ellis finished the first half with a combined 43 points (would finish the game with 71), and it was up to Houston to respond. If it wasn’t for Luis Scola’s 19 points in the first half, this game could have been over quick.
However, despite Monta’s lights out shooting, the Rockets were able to hang in, snagging a one point lead at the half 68-67. The Rockets had three players in double figures at the half and it was looking like the Rockets were finally getting into a rhythm.
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Unfortunately, they came out flat in the second half. Beginning the 3rd on 1-8 shooting, Houston was facing an uphill battle. Monta Ellis wasn’t slowing down. Going up against Shane Battier, Ellis was making fadeaway shots that were inexplicable. Ellis finished with a career high 46 points on 18 of 24 shooting (Did I mention Ellis is on my fantasy team?). Being outrebounded, outshot, and outhustled, Houston had no business being in this game. Fortunately, as long as you have a pulse and can make layups, you are going to be in the game vs. the Golden State Warriors.
Rockets fans: there isn’t much positive to take away from this game. However, if anything, it would have to be the offensive play of Kevin Martin and Luis Scola. Looking back on Kevin Martin’s 5-14 shooting, it seems unrealistic he finished the game with 28 points. Well that’s what great offensive players do. You don’t have to be an expert to realize Houston was taking advantage of the charity stripe (outshooting Golden State 52 to 26). There came a point in the game where the announcers compared Kevin Martin to Kobe Bryant on his ability to get to the line (17-17 for the game). Kevin Martin singlehandedly kept Houston in the game, going to the foul line a ridiculous 10 times in the 3rd quarter.
Lost in the fog was Luis Scola’s monster game. I don’t care if it is the Warriors, 36 pts and 16 rebounds is still very impressive. Scola rebounded nicely from his struggles against the Lakers last night, absolutely dominating the Warriors at every aspect down low.
The big concern has to be the lack of Houston’s perimeter defense. Yao Ming isn’t going to solve this problem. Allowing 132 points to the Golden State Warriors isn’t going to win you many games. Curry and Ellis were getting whatever they wanted at the offensive end. Aaron Brooks looked about as helpless as a little kid guarding the athletic skill sets of Curry and Ellis. As of now, Houston’s roster just isn’t built to guard against the more athletic guards in the league. Even Dorell Wright finished with 15 points! Last night, Shannon Brown gave Houston problems, and it was no different tonight. Brooks and Martin are great on the offensive end, but their lateral quickness and perimeter defense must improve for Houston to be considered a true contender in the West.
Despite Houston’s horrific perimeter defense, it has to be a good sign that the Rockets offense is averaging 119 points in its first two games. This Houston team has yet to find its defensive identity this season, but it is safe to say they can score with the best of them.