I’ve always said that a “must win game” is a lame sports cliche, at least until you mathematically MUST win a game. But this one came close. Houston was only three back of Memphis and three and a half back of an ailing New Orleans team with essentially only Phoenix (I don’t count Utah anymore) in their way. However, instead of gaining on the Suns, they added fuel to their fire, losing in a tight game where a few stupid calls and some dumb mistakes could have just as easily resulted in a win.
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Before I talk about all the worst things about the loss last night (assuming I can get through it without torching my apartment while burning an effigy of Brad Miller), I’ll start with the positives: Lowry and Patterson were phenomenal.
I love the chance to say “I told you so,” and so I relish the opportunity to rub it in every time I talk to a Houston fan who doubted me a year ago when I preached about Lowry’s potential as a starting point guard. Since the deadline, he hasn’t been good… he’s been unbelievable. He’s averaged 22.8 points and 8 assists while shooting .547 from the floor in the month of March. Against Phoenix, not only did he play stifling defense on Nash, but he single handedly kept the Rockets in the game with 32 points and hitting two huge threes (7-11 on the night) at the end which kept the Rockets hanging on by a thread. Some people doubted Morey when they gave Lowry that contract in the offseason for a “back up point guard,” but it may have been the smartest move the GM has ever made.
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Patterson is better than Jordan Hill, and I don’t think it’s a close race (unless its a contest of who has the best dreads). Hill may have started, but Patterson got more time because he clearly was clearly better. He went a sick 9-12 from the floor with 18 points, 5 board, 3 steals and a ton of dunks. My favorite play of the night came in the second when Patterson got a steal and passed it out to Dragic in transition. The point guard delivered it behind his back on a dead run, rewarding Pat Squared (another nickname that has yet to catch on) with a thunderous slam. Hill, on the other hand, looked overmatched on defense and completely missed an easy transition dunk. Watching them play last night, Hill looks like he should be playing for a college team in a conference tournament, but Patterson looks like he could start at PF for half the teams in the league.
And now for the bad… and before I tear into the Rockets, the referees deserve some credit for an uneven game. Houston got the calls in the first half, but the calls in the fourth quarter were pitiful. They absolutely blew a call in the fourth when Houston was down by three and a Martin shot bounded off the rim and fell through the net. Instead of getting the much needed basket, the referee (whose vision of the play was about as good as Stevie Wonder’s) called Patterson for offensive goaltending. Why do they even have instant replay in basketball if not for blatantly obvious calls like this? The same ref blew another call in the fourth when Carter got two free throws for headbutting Lowry in the face. I just find it hard to believe that these are the best refs we can find to call an NBA game. I could go walk into the local YMCA right now and find a 14-year-old acne-riddled teenager reffing a toddler’s pick up game who could have gotten those calls right.
But with all that being said, the Rockets have to blame themselves for choking at times in the fourth quarter, where they committed four costly turnovers and scored only three field goals in the first seven minutes. Martin was more aggressive in the fourth, showing a lot more guts in the clutch than he has in the past, but for the whole game, he and Budinger went only 10 of 29 from the floor and missed an awful lot of open looks. Defensively, the whole team was miserable. They had no answer for Warrick and Carter, and I get that guys are hard to stop when they got hot, but Hakim Warrick and Vince Carter are not elite players. Phoenix was particularly good at drawing a second defender on the post and then passing out to wide open shooters from 15-25 feet. Houston had no answer for it, and I don’t know how many times I saw Martin, Lee and Budinger try to run back to get in the face of Hill and Carter as they drilled open jump shots. And I will have nightmares of Gortat dominated the boards. Every time I think about the kind of impact he could have had on this team, I die a little bit inside.
More than anything, I have to rip on Brad Miller. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Brad this season, but I respect the guy. Sloths could move faster in the lane, but his passing ability and fearlessness to manufacture points when he has no business putting the ball on the floor is kind of endearing. It was all hate at the end of Tuesday night’s game, however, when Miller choked away the game… twice. Down by three with about 30 second left, Miller got the rebound and had a streaking Martin wide open down the floor. Instead of lobbing it up for a guaranteed layup, he passed it directly into the hands of Grant Hill, which forced Houston to foul Steve freakin’ Nash. Houston had a second chance after a Bud dunk and miraculous three seconds which saw a freak Lowry three and a Nash missed free throw. Miller promptly caught the rebound nearly turned it over to Nash before getting it back, passing it to Lowry, getting it back again and bricking a three as time expired.
You can’t blame one player for a loss, but I’m going to anyway so I at least have a place to direct all my hatred after last night’s loss. I respect Brad Miller, but I’m really doubting that offseason signing more and more. I know he’s Adelman’s guy, but I would rather see Hill and Patterson get more of those minutes. If Houston really hopes to get better in the future, they need to dump him and give the minutes to the young guys.
END OF AN ERA
Almost as depressing as the loss was last night was the fact that Scola finally missed a game after more than three and a half seasons of iron man play. I don’t think for a second that he’s going to suddenly deal with Yao-esqure injury issues, but it wasn’t the same seeing him on the floor in a suit. He and his greasy, flowing hair belong on the floor. If Scola plays in that game, there’s no doubt in my mind that Houston wins, if only because they struggled so much to get boards and easy baskets in the fourth. I’m not sure how much more time he will miss, but they’re going to need him down the stretch. With San Antonio coming up, Houston needs more than a healthy Scola, they need to play their best game of the season.