In a season that Houston has little to be thankful for, as you sit down to eat turkey and stuffing today with your family and you’re thinking about reasons to be thankful, think of Houston’s 111-101 victory against the Warriors Wednesday night. Snapping a four game winning streak, the Rockets (4-10) did a lot of things right against Golden State, avenging a painful early loss in the second game of the season.
So, what did Houston do so well Wednesday? Here are all the best parts of the victory Houston served up last night…
Lowry and Hayes: The two role players combined for 30 points on 8-13 shooting and 13-14 from the line with 15 assists, 14 rebounds, two steals and a block. When they were on the floor together, they did a fantastic job with ball movement and Hayes did a great job of moving without the ball. Hayes was a huge reason for that big first quarter, putting up 10 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, a block, as well as drawing four fouls. Lowry has really proved himself the last few games and he shined last night with a near triple double (14/10/7). While his 10 assists and defense on Curry were impressive, his two biggest plays involved him scoring in the fourth. Up 91-86 and the clock down to one second, Lowry hit an insane, off-balanced 3-pointer (he’s got to be one of the best “no time on the clock and has to shoot a crazy shot” players in the league). A few possessions later, he picked Curry’s pocket and scored on the other end to give Houston the 96-86 lead. Golden State never recovered.
Three-pointers and free throws: After putting up 52 free throws in the first matchup, Houston put up 51 in this game, with Martin and Scola combining for 30 foul shots. They were aggressive at getting to the rim and it paid off in a big way. The most impressive thing Houston did in this game, perhaps, was their performance from beyond the arc. Coming off a miserable 6-26 performance against the Suns (in which they missed their first 12 threes), the Rockets went 10-20 Wednesday. The stats are nice, but they’re far more meaningful when you consider the situations. Three of them were incredibly timely 3-pointers: a Battier corner three in the 2nd quarter after an 8-0 Warriors run, another Battier three in the third when the Warriors came within one point and another from Courtney Lee in the fourth, a critical 3-pointer up 88-86 with momentum heading in the Warriors’ favor. The most important 3-pointer of the game? At the 9:46 mark in the second, Chase Budinger ACTUALLY hit a 3-pointer. He was 0-7 since coming back from his ankle injury and starting the season 5-35. Going 2-4, hopefully this is a sign of what’s to come for Bud.
Avoiding runs, making their own: In the last few games, the Rockets have gotten into a nasty habit of giving up huge runs where the offense goes completely stagnant, particularly with the second unit in. Wednesday, they avoided that for the most part and returned with some decent runs of their own. The biggest runs Houston gave up came in the second quarter with the backups in (of course). After an 8-1 run, Adelman called a time out, drew a play and got a clean jumper for Lee, which he made. An 8-0 run later in the quarter was killed with a Battier 3-pointer. Those are shots Houston hasn’t been making and they’ll have to start making if they expect to win more games. The two biggest runs for Houston were a 16-7 run at the end of the first to give the Rockets a big 13-point lead and up only two points in the fourth, from the 8:34 mark to 4:03, Houston went on a 13-0 run, nailing the door shut on any chance of a Warriors victory.
Defense on Ellis/Curry: In the first game against them this season, Houston gave up 71 points on 27-40 shooting, 13-16 from the line and 4-8 on threes. On Wednesday, they scored only 39 on 15-40 shooting, with 8-11 from the line and 1-7 from beyond the arc. That’s 12 fewer shots made, even though they took the same number. Some of it, admittedly, was Ellis being on fire in the first game and missing shots that he made in their first matchup. That being said, Lee and Lowry played stifling defense on them last night, contesting jump shots and staying in front of them whenever possible. My favorite defensive possession? In the 4th, desperate to make a basket, the Warriors were clearly trying to get Ellis going. Twice Golden State tried to set a pick and twice Lee fought through it only to contest a long 3-pointer, which Ellis missed. Houston has defended the screen horribly this season and Nash exploited the switch to perfection in their last game. That’s EXACTLY the way the Rockets need to play the pick from now on this season. I hope the rest of their perimeter defenders took notes.
Now, the win was huge, but every Thanksgiving meal has that one casserole that everybody hates and goes untouched. Here are a few blemishes in an otherwise very good game…
Sloppy play: I’m okay with 15 turnovers, but when 10 of them are on steals and they lead to fast breaks, not so much. The absolute worst play of the game came on the last possession of the the third quarter. With Lowry bringing up the ball and Houston having a chance to hit the final shot with only :04 remaining after the 24-second shot clock, all they had to do was hold onto the ball and get a good look. Instead? There was no penetration and miserable ball movement which put the ball into Budinger’s hands which he quickly turned over while trying to shoot a three, leading to an easy basket in transition while the Rockets failed miserably to get back in time. Houston may have done better on picks in this game, but they did very poorly in transition (minus one nice Battier block on Ellis which brought me to my feet). They have got to start getting back on D, and I’m confused on why this is still a problem.
Giving up the big lead: Up by as much as 14 late in the first, Houston had a chance to close it out early if they could play consistently. They may have avoided any huge runs, but they gradually let up and let Golden State come back to as close to a single point in the third and two points in the fourth. If Houston expects to win games, they have to close out when they get leads like that. At least they pulled it out in the fourth, but I don’t think it should have gotten that close.
In conclusion, let’s enjoy this win while we can, and Happy Thanksgiving!!!!