Tonight marks Houston’s seventh straight home win, a rare streak to ease a season filled with turmoil. Tonights win against the Memphis Grizzlies was the game following the announcement that Yao Ming would be missing the remainder of his season. Houston fans had halfheartedly hoped this season would be the return of Yao’s dominance only to be faced with minute restrictions and all too familiar injuries. Kevin Martin took off from the pack at the beginning of the game and finished with an easy 34 points. While the score may demonstrate that the game was at some point close, it was not.
Most of the first half bounced between a thirty point lead for the Rockets who were not missing their shots. Houston shot 48.1% opposed to Memphis’ 36.5% and that is really the story of the game. Houston had some great defense and as always Lowry came to prove a point against the team that traded him away in favor of Mike Conley. Lowry had 17 points, 18 assists and five steals and never seemed to take a break on the court. Every time I looked away from a Grizzlies inbound it seemed like Lowry had stolen the ball and already gone to the rack. He was beyond active and looked to set up his teammates for some easy points.
Luis Scola took one more shot than Kevin Martin (34 points) yet only finished with 23 points and 9 rebounds. Luis set a new season high tonight as well in turnovers. Scola had trouble holding onto the ball in a number of situations and although he finished with a respectable line his efficiency was atrocious. I’m a die hard Scola fan and I used to see him as our long term solution to the power forward position but with Yao out, potentially forever, can we afford to keep Scola’s fresh, juicy contract tied to a team that’s rebuilding? Daryl Morey has been great about retooling the talent while simultaneously keeping us competitive but without any kind of current star I just don’t see Scola being apart of Houston’s next ring. I’m not saying we need to dump him at the first opportunity but buy high and sell low has been our general manager’s strategy of choice and Luis Scola’s value isn’t going to get any higher.
I can’t complement Kevin’s game tonight enough. Aside from the fact that he hit three shots from behind the arc, Martin only took five free throws. There was no embarrassing flopping involved, Martin hit his shots and won us the game from the very beginning. The Grizzlies’ spirits were crushed from the end of the first quarter. Martin even managed to slap down a ball on the defensive side, run the court, and dunk the rock down at the other end. That kind of defense is really a rare treat. Shane Battier also had a great game with 17 points, 10 boards, 5 assists and 3 blocks. At various times over the past couple of years I’ve questioned the move in trading the endless potential of Rudy Gay for Shane Battier but, as often happens with Shane, tonight came down to intangibles. Rudy Gay had 2 more points than Battier but his offensive effort was largely diminished by Houston’s last defensive wing. Rudy Gay is a great player and one day he might even be worth the max contract he was given but so far I’ve been fairly content to stick with Shane.
Houston’s bench tonight was entirely unproductive, all of whom finished with negative +/- statistics. Jordan Hill did have three blocks early in the first but Rick immediately pulled him. I’m not complaining as Jordan’s offense left quite a bit to be desired. Recent trade acquisition Terrence Williams was inactive tonight but I can’t wait to see what he’s capable of, hopefully on Sunday. Rookie forward Patrick Patterson also saw some junk minutes at the end of the game but he failed to take advantage. Patterson is one of those guys who molds his game to the players around him which can be a very good thing, or when playing at the end of the game with youngsters who are anxious to prove their worth can be a very bad thing. I want to see more activity out of Patterson or it might be a matter of time before he resumes his role in the D-League (remember how many times Jermaine bounced back and forth last season?).
Houston showed for the second time in a two year period that they just might play a little better with a chip on their shoulder. Last year’s team was gritty and ruthless despite the realization that Yao would never be joining the squad which brings up the question, how do we address the recent news? Does Houston take a chance on contracts that will burden them in the future such as Dallas’ Brendan Haywood in order to lock down a paint presence? The draft seems futile since big men of recent years, save for Blake Griffin, have been largely a let down. While a dominant center might be the easiest piece to build around Houston can’t afford to sit around and wait until one falls to us through the draft.
Other than Sam Young (who?), Memphis failed to surprise with their offense. OJ Mayo has rescently been taken out of the starting lineup in place of rookie Xavier Henry who allegedly may be a defensive stopper a couple of years for now. Rudy Gay was having a mediocre game until he was thrown out late in the fourth quarter with a double technical foul that I missed being in the stadium, perhaps one of our readers can fill me in? Marc Gasol had an awful game, shooting 2 for 16 from the field and only pulling down four rebounds. Obviously this game was a lost cause for Memphis but I expect a lot of of Pau’s younger brother and would consider him a valuable asset to any team. Tonight he looked like over sized Euro-trash. Memphis was embarrassed tonight in a way that almost made me pity them. That team is so young and has a good deal of potential but nights like tonight remind me why the Grizzlies aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.