It would be so easy for me to play the infamous “the Rockets never fail to disappoint me” card following their inexcusable loss to the Sacramento Kings Tuesday night, essentially cementing themselves out of the playoff picture. Against a team they have beaten three times this season by a combined 54 points, the Rockets lost by three at home, but I’m not going to be defeated…
Sure…my initial reaction was to run straight to the liquor cabinet (which is really just a bottle of cheap rum in my freezer), but I took a step back and looked at their season and I felt pretty good about it. The same Houston team that started 3-10 and had most fans (myself included) thinking lottery after the trade deadline, turned this city into believers with a ridiculous 15-5 stretch (the league’s fourth best) following the All-Star break. In the last few weeks, I had flashbacks to the 22-game win streak from that underachieving Yao-less group. Considering how this season started, with Yao and Brooks’ injuries, constant fourth quarter meltdowns and arguably the worst Rockets’ defense I’ve ever season, a winning record and a torrid finish feels pretty good regardless of the inevitable ninth place. (And getting swept in the first round isn’t exactly enticing.)
For once in my long, tortured tenure as a Rockets’ fan, I’m taking a “glass half full” approach. The emergence of Kyle Lowry and other young players like Patterson and Buddy Lee has me looking at the future, as well as the abundance of picks and glorious cap space. (And, yes, I’ve completely blocked out the CBA and the fact that we might not have basketball at all next season.) So before I talk a little about the atrocity that was Tuesday night’s loss, let’s all remember the recent wins over San Antonio and Atlanta, that unexpected 15-5 stretch and take a deep, deep breath….
“Too little, too late” isn’t just the slogan for the season, it was Tuesday night’s theme as well. Stop me when this sounds familiar… Outscored in the paint? Opposing big men had their way with the Rockets bigs? Failed to attack the basket and settled for too many threes (and made too few)? Looked lethargic until they were almost completely out of it and then came back but it was too late? The loss completely encapsulates everything the Rockets have done wrong this season.
If anything, after showing about as much passion in those first 44 minutes as Butler did against UConn, I was impressed the Rockets actually made a game of it late. Down 12 points with four minutes left and eight points with less than a minute to go, the Rockets went into desperation mode hitting jumpers, attacking the basket and getting to the line. Critics will blame their free throw shooting (14-21 including two misses down the stretch), but I blame their miserable interior defense and inability to attack the basket for those first 44 minutes.
Despite the comeback, Houston should not have been in that position in the first place. They were outscored 58-36 in the paint, giving up 50 points and 36 rebounds on 21-30 shooting to Samuel Dalembert, DeMarcus Cousins and Jason Thompson. They made Dalembert look like an All-Star (wouldn’t he look great in Rockets’ red?), as he scored at will all over Scola. And they may have taken it to the basket late, but they settled for three-pointers way too much, hitting only 7 of 25 from beyond the arc on the night.
Like the Rockets season, it would be easy to blame the very end and say they choked, but they shouldn’t have been in the situation in the first place and at least they made it interesting…
With little left to play for except for pride at this point, why not bring up Thabeet and let Terrence Williams actually see the court for a change? Yeah, statistically it’s not over, but realistically it is. I don’t want to see the team give up completely in what is potentially Adelman’s final season coaching, but with so many decisions to make in the offseason at SF and C, it would be nice to know what they already have on the roster.