Courtney Lee had arguably his best game of the season when it mattered most, scoring 12 of his 19 points in the final 6:30 of the Rockets 118-112 loss to the Thunder on Wednesday. Down 110-101 with 1:25 left in the game, it was Lee’s aggressive play, scoring seven points in a minute on three straight possessions, that kept Houston in the game. So far this season, his defense has been invaluable, but he always seems to settle for outside jump shots. Last night, he finally started to play aggressive, going to the rim and creating easy jump shots for himself. It’s the Lee I have waited to see since acquiring him this offseason, the Lee that proves the Ariza deal was a good one.
Of course it didn’t matter, anyway. By now you know the drill… the Rockets have a fourth quarter lead, the Rockets choke it away with a huge drought at a crucial time and the Rockets valiantly fight their way back into the game but lose anyway. In close games against good teams this season, it almost seem like they’re following a script.
Down only two points, 96-94 with 6:33 left in the game after a Lee 3-pointer, the Rockets didn’t make another field goal until 2:32 on a Lee layup (see how good he was in the fourth?), missing shots on six consecutive possessions on an 11-0 run that Houston would never recover from. They settled for long jump shots, didn’t hit open looks and gave easy baskets in the paint to the Thunder. Even Scola missed open looks. Somehow, the Rockets have to find a way to score points to end those droughts before they stop. Otherwise, they’re never going to beat good teams in the fourth quarter.
A Void Underneath
Looking at the points in the paint for the night, I’m shocked to see Houston actually outscored OKC, 70-42. That tells me just how bad Houston was from beyond the arc (5-18) and just how good Scola was at times against the undersized Thunder, piling up 31 points and 11 boards. the discrepancy is shocking because the Thunder pretty much got whatever they wanted last night, even going 6-15 from beyond the arc. They were most effective underneath, getting to the rim and to the line consistently all night long, with 33 free throws to Houston’s 18. No matter who they had defensively in the lane, Houston was exposed. Hill and Scola were terrible, and I can’t say Jeffries or Patterson were much better (though an improvement).
Since coming back from injury, Brooks has been brilliant sometimes and horrific at others. Last night, he gave us a little bit of both. Sure, he scored 9 of his 17 late in the final two minutes of the game (two of those layups the Thunder basically gave him, down by 4 with under 20 seconds left), but he also went 1-7 from 3-point land and was ineffective for most of the evening. I don’t expect Aaron to be amazing every night, but he should drive to the rim instead of settling for half of his shots from outside of 20-feet. Lowry did a better job at penetrating and getting to the rim, while obviously playing better D. While it was fun to see them both on the floor at the same time, I’ll be happy to see Martin back on the floor again.
I know this team is desperate to find help defensively, but Jeffries is not the answer. For every big defensive play he has, he does something stupid on offense. After his lone block of the game (a big one on a Westbrook layup), he traveled on the other end not even 10 seconds later. He ended up with 7 boards, a steal and a block, but he was also 1-6 from the floor, shooting shots he had no businesses taking and missing open looks he should be hitting. How can Adelman justify playing Jeffries first off the bench instead of Patterson? Patterson isn’t perfect, but he’s nearly as good of a defender as Jeffries and his offense has been valuable off the bench lately. For a big man, Patterson’s stroke is a thing of beauty, and once Hayes comes back, Adelman needs to continue to give the kid as many minutes as he wants. He’s better than Miller. He’s better than Hill. And he’s certainly better than Jeffries.
I don’t know what they have to do to improve their defense, but Houston has given up 100 points in nine straight games. A lot of that obviously has to do with Hayes missing the last eight games, and he should be back Friday against New Orleans. However, this team still needs help in the paint, and the Rockets needs to actively be seeking a big man who can block shots. Another idea? How about starting Lee next game, regardless if Martin is back? Give Martin a game to rest and get healthy while seeing how Lee does defensively in the starting lineup.