Well, if you wanted excitement on opening night, you got it.
As the nation watched the Los Angeles Lakers (1-0) receive their rings, in what seemed to be an exaggerated ring ceremony, a new-look Houston Rockets (0-1) team waited to show its stuff on primetime, opening night television. And in the land of “Showtime,” it was a tale of two halves. If you could guess the ending to this one, you are most certainly a prophet.
An energetic, attacking basketball team really took it to the other squad. Surprisingly, that team was the Rockets. Houston busted out of the gates with a no-hesitation, and uptempo approach offensively. Everyone got in on the action, but it was the Aaron Brooks show in the first quarter. The speedy point guard’s 15 points fueled a 33-26 lead at the end of the first period lead for the Rockets. Brooks would go on to finish with 24 points on 7-for-16 shooting including 4-of-6 from beyond the arc and finished with nine assists.
As for Yao Ming, it was an up-and-down night for the Great Wall. And that’s what you’d have to expect for the big man that is having his minutes limited after surgery. The big fella was more energetic that I anticipated, but you could tell the rust was there, especially defensively. Yao fouled out, ironically right at his 24 minute mark, with 9 points and 11 boards on 4-of-11 shooting.
In the second quarter, the Rockets kept the pedal to the metal with an aggressive approach offensively. Brad Miller showed his ability to adapt to the Rick Adelman offense immediately with a couple of nice dishes out of the high post, and the Rockets bench carried Houston to a 62-51 lead at halftime. Of those 62 points, the Houston backcourt did a huge chunk of the damage. Brooks had 18 first half points and Kevin Martin caught fire in the first half as well with 19 points. Martin finished with 26 points in 29 minutes on an 8-for-17 (3-for-6 from deep) with 3 rebounds and just 2 assists.
Then, it started to unravel. In the second half, the Rockets’ edge slipped away as the Lakers began to control the tempo. At one point, the Rockets held a 13 point lead in the third quarter, but a couple of unlikely heroes swayed momentum fully in favor of the defending champions. Lackadaisical defense in the transition and pick-and-roll game by Houston led to a Lakers comeback. Steve Blake’s second three-pointer, in back-to-back possessions, cut the Houston lead to 82-77 at the end of three periods. But that wouldn’t be the last we’d hear from Blake, and another unlikely hero, Shannon Brown, drilled not one, not two, but four fourth quarter trifectas.
Kobe Bryant helped bring the Lakers back with an 8 point third-quarter performance after a relatively quiet first half. It was more of a facilitator role for Bryant early, but he still filled it up with 27 points on 8-for-20 shooting. Like always, he made it to the line knocking down 11 of 12 attempts.
The dagger, courtesy of Blake who had 10 points, 3 assists, and a +13 plus-minus in 22 minutes, came with 18 seconds left in the fourth quarter. After Luis Scola, (18 points, 10 rebounds) nailed a running layup to give Houston the 110-109 lead, Blake sank a wide open three pointer on a pass out of a sagged defense to give Los Angeles a 112-110 lead, and eventually the 112-110 victory after Brooks couldn’t convert on a reverse layup attempt on the final Houston possession.
After Brown hammered back-to-back threes to give the Lakers a 99-91 lead with 5:30 left, this game had blowout written all over it. But the Rockets did manage to claw all the way back, and took a 108-107 lead after Miller hit two free throws with 53 seconds left. The second half wasn’t pretty, but this was an exciting, and interesting effort from a Houston team that is trying to gel.
Random first game thoughts
- Up until the final three minutes of the game, Scola was frustrating to watch on both ends of the floor. On multiple occasions the power-forward fell asleep on defense, looked stagnant offensively, and missed open looks and bunnies around the rim that he’d normally drill. In the final three minutes of the game, he seemed like a completely different man with 6 points and 3 rebounds.
- Yao looked…well, he looked like you’d expect him to look. Offensively, he was assertive, but rusty. Defensively, the big man’s feet and rotations were slow. That being said, his energy was extremely impressive. It was a bag of mixed results, but he passed his first test.
- The ball movement from the first half to the second half was noticeably different, and not in a good way. In the first half, the Rockets seemed much more fluid offensively with quick passes, crisp cuts, and an offense that wasn’t stagnant. That wasn’t the case for a majority of the second half, and the score reflected that. It went from fluid and crisp to lacking and stagnant.
- With Yao in the game, the Rockets work through him. Without him in the game, the offense looked like it really had an identity in the first half with some impressive execution.
- Miller looked like the guy Rick Adelman thought he was acquiring. He wasn’t great defensively, but he was a solid contributor off the bench on both ends.
- Chase Budinger had 13 points off the bench on 6-of-10 shooting in 22 minutes. The former Arizona Wildcat finished at the rim a couple of times off cuts, looked comfortable in the offense, and was aggressive for most of the night.
- After a killer first half, Brooks and Martin seemed to take themselves out of the game some in the second half.
- Surprising to see Martin check Kobe Bryant for most of the first half and he held his own. But down the stretch, it was Shane Battier on the “Black Mamba.”
- Turnovers hurt the Rockets in the second half and it seemed like the Lakers were able to capitalize more on second chance points and the Rockets missed a lot of bunnies near the rim.