Tonight in Houston the Rockets showed a defensive prowess that fans have yet to see this season. It would appear that Rick Adelman’s practices in team defense and zone defense may have paid off in the short term and hopefully in the long term. I had the privilege of attending tonight’s game and was surprised at how well the Rockets were able to keep the young and hungry Clippers team contained. Future 2011 rookie of the year Blake Griffin shot 5 for 16 and finished with only 14 points at the behest of Rockets defensive specialist Chuck Hayes. Hayes poked, prodded, and agitated Griffin all night long and the high scoring rookie was unable to woo the rarely crowded Toyota Center.
Tonight Rockets fans were treated to a more traditional Rick Adelman team when he left rookie Patrick Patterson in for the majority of the fourth quarter. While Houston fans have grown accustomed to high scoring, zero defense games this season it is important to remember that before teaming up with the Houston Rockets, Rick Adelman’s teams (specifically in Sacramento) have stressed defense and lead the league in defensive efficiency. With so many offensive weapons Rick has let the offense flow for most of the season but tonight we saw some bright lights on the other end of the floor. Houston out rebounded, out assisted, and out shot the Clippers. The game was extremely close until Houston held Los Angeles to 10 points in the fourth quarter where L.A.’s frontcourt was ineffective.
Aaron Brooks and Kyle Lowry combined for 36 points and 12 assists throughout the game and both guards were looking to prove their impact to the team. Chuck Hayes’s defensive lock down and rebounding paid off dividends for the Rockets as well. Overall, what may have appeared to viewers as a lackluster game may have proved to be Houston’s first step in the right direction this season with a focus on defensive intensity.
The Los Angeles Clippers are one of my favorite teams to watch this season with an abundance of young talent at all positions. Reserve point guard Eric Bledsoe from Kentucky and small forward Al-Farouq Aminu from Wakeforest are two rookies who have immediately earned minutes this season in their team’s rotation. There is no doubt in my mind at this point in the season that Blake Griffin will receive the rookie of the year award for his ability to play at 110% so far this season. Blake doesn’t take a game off and even when his shot isn’t falling the effort is exponentially still there.
Tonight Blake finished with a meager double double with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Youngster and Houston native DeAndre Jordan had 12 boards and 3 blocks. This 6 foot 11 inch center has really upped his game since the inevitable Chris Kaman injury and has shown the nation that he deserves to start with his ability to protect the paint and rebound the basketball. Houston was fortunate enough to have Eric Gordon out tonight as he is the Clipper’s leading scorer and a premiere two guard in the league. Gordon really showed why he belongs in the conversation for up and coming shooting guards this summer in the FIBA International Competition where he played a big role in America’s surge to the very top. Clippers reserve Randy Foye had 20 points to fill in for Gordon but his performance wasn’t enough to put the Clips over the top. In general, Houston stifled any chance that L.A. had in the fourth quarter through solid defense and good coaching.
Chase Budinger earned his playing time tonight for possibly the first time in his career through defense. Budinger did not fall for the pump fake nor was he caught off his feet at inopportune times. He kept his eyes on the ball and used his length and athleticism to make the Clippers take tough shots.
Aaron Brooks is now competing for the starting job with Kyle Lowry. While his 5 for 14 shooting wasn’t proving anything, he looked more aggressive in his attempts to get the ball in the hoop and that’s a good thing. Settling for outside jumpers is no way to prove your worth to a team in transition.
Courtney Lee provided solid relief off the bench tonight. He only had 9 points but the stats do not tell the whole story. Courtney had some big layups tonight that seemed to come at opportune times (like when the Clippers were gathering momentum).
Houston’s bench may have had an awful first half, but those who played in the second made their impact known. Patrick Patterson and Chase Budinger both enhanced the Rockets defense during crucial moments in the third and fourth quarters. When it counted, the youngsters showed up to play tonight.
Player of the game tonight was Chuck Hayes, no questions asked. His post defense severely maimed Blake “Superior” Griffin and his rebounding wasn’t too shabby either. Without Chuck, Houston would be in a world of trouble defensively. I honor his intensity tonight with my reticently acquired Chuck Hayes bobblehead. I will display it with honor.