In the Rockets’ loss against Chicago Tuesday night, I saw more runs and one sided back-to-back quarters of basketball than I can remember in a single game of basketball. In the odd quarters, Houston scored 56 points while scoring only 36 in the even quarters. In the odd quarters, Houston was aggressive to the basket and got to the line. In the even quarters, not only did Houston not get to the line, they constantly turned the ball over and caused me to throw things in my apartment.
The Rockets Jekyll and Hyde act is quite depressing when you look at how good they were at times in this game. Scola was dominant (yet again), with 27 points on 11-17 shooting, 5 boards, 2 blocks, 2 steals and 3 assists. Miller was easily the second most impressive player on the floor, as the offense was much more fluid with him running the high post and stretching the defense. He had 21 points, 5 rebounds and the biggest shot in the whole game for Houston, a 3-pointer late in the 4th which cut the Bulls’ lead to five points and gave the Rockets hope. Lowry was inconsistent at times, but he battled through the game and made some big shots (that were of course called back) when the shot clock was winding down.
That being said, I’m done talking about what was good in this game. Now let’s talk about why Houston lost and why I’ve started drinking my third beer in the last hour…
1. Runs: The Bulls had runs of 12-0 and 18-0 in the 2nd and 4th quarter, and over those roughly nine minutes of game time, Houston turned the ball over eight times and was 0-11 from the floor while giving up 30 points. They got into no rhythm whatsoever, they weren’t getting good shots, they weren’t getting stops and they were sloppy. It’s almost as if in both cases, Houston was lackadaisical because they had leads. This isn’t the first time it’s happened this season, which is cause for concern at this point.
2. Derrick Rose: It seems as if teams playing the Rockets this season don’t miss jump shots, but Rose took it to the next level in the 4th quarter of this game, scoring 17 of his 33 points in the 4th and igniting the Bulls at the start of the quarter with 14 of those initial 18 points. For the most part, I thought Houston did a pretty good job of guarding him at times in the game, but he still found ways to get to the rim and was drilling 3s (which he rarely does). When he was hot, the Rockets had no answer for him.
3. Rebounds: Before this game, if you had told me what things Houston needed to do to win the game, I would have said “stop Derrick Rose” and “box out and limit their offfensive rebounds.” They did neither. The Bulls are one of the best rebounding teams in the NBA, and they outrebounded Houston 40-32, including 14 offensive boards. Houston really struggled with Chicago’s length, and it was clear on the glass.
4. 3-pointers: The Rockets were 5-15, while the Bulls were 8-12. When Derrick Rose shoots four out of five, you know you’re screwed. Martin struggled a bit on the night, and it was clear Deng really bothered him defensively. If he is going to be effective, he has to get to the line more and he has to do better than 1-5 from beyond the arc.
5. Referees: I’m a strong supporter of instant replay, but this game truly made me hate it. The refs pulled two last second shots by Kyle Lowry (five points) off the board after reviewing the plays several minutes later to determine the ball was still in his hands a fraction of a second after the clock turned zero. The first call (an epic 3-point shot) was called back two or three minutes after the play. The second was actually pretty questionable, and as in the NFL, I think if you don’t have “irrefutable evidence,” then the play should stand as called. Both made me sick to my stomach, but the play which hurt the most came after Houston’s full court press clearly forced an 8-second violation with seconds remaining in the game which was not called. It’s too bad that isn’t reviewable, as I’m sure they would have called that back as well.
6. Bench play: Houston has been praised for its depth, but after this game, I’m beginning to doubt just how deep the team is. Sure, Yao, AB and Budinger are out. That is no excuse for the bench’s miserable play. They managed a meager 8 points on 3-9 shooting with 6 turnovers and 6 fouls. They were integral in allowing both of the runs at the beginning of the 2nd and 4th quarter and they forced the starting five to each play at least 39 minutes in the game.
7. Courtney Lee: Before you say remind me that Lee is part of the bench, I’m well aware of that. Regardless, his play was so atrocious it deserves its own point. In 14 minutes, he managed 2 points with only one shot taken, a single assist, 3 fouls and 4 awful turnovers. He was so bad, the team was -22 when he was on the court. That’s right, he’s so bad that the Bulls outscored the Rockets 1.5-0 every single minute he was on the floor. And the only time he could have been useful on the floor, with 2.8 seconds remaining and one of the few players with fouls left, he failed to foul Rose and allowed at least a second and a half to tick off. Before the season, I would have told you that Lee was the smartest move Houston made in the offseason and Miller (or his contract at least) was the dumbest. After tonight I’m falling in love with Miller and daydreaming about what this team would be like if they had kept Ariza instead.
That’s seven points for their seven losses. Sure, I’m still optimistic about this season, and nothing has gone right for the Rockets to start the year. They’ve lost close games to good teams, had injuries to four of their better players and clearly have room for improvement. All that being said, it doesn’t console me much after tonight and I still have an awful taste in my mouth after that loss… or maybe that’s from my fourth beer in an hour and a half.