The Rockets went back to their old style of play Tuesday night in a 105-99 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. I swear, if Rick Adelman hadn’t been seen on the bench, I would have thought I was watching the 2006-07 version of the Rockets, but this time with a worse defense.
Before I start talking about the Rockets’ offensive struggles, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a bad defensive effort where the Rockets couldn’t stop the likes of Mike Miller (6-of-11 for 17 points), Pau Gasol (26 points on 6-of-11 from the field, 14-of-17 from the line), Darko Milicic (20 points on 9-of-14 shooting), and Rudy Gay (6-of-11 for 15 points). Memphis was 1-4 team before Tuesday night. They looked like an All-Star squad considering how easy it was for them to make baskets.
I had hoped the Rockets could have made a run at signing Milicic this off-season, but the price tag was way too high. Alot of people like to think that Milicic is a stiff because he never got off the bench at Detroit and people made fun of him since he was such a high draft pick, but that was mainly because the Pistons were a championship team his rookie year, and also because Larry Brown was being too JVG-like and not giving the rookie some playing time. Now he’s proving alot of people were wrong about him. I digress. At least the Rockets got Luis Scola, but Scola’s transition to the NBA game doesn’t appear it’s going to happen overnight. He needs more time, just like Milicic needed.
Sorry to say it, but a couple of times Yao Ming got caught napping on defense, like when he allowed Milicic to make a strong move into the lane for a hook shot without much resistance, and then in the fourth quarter Yao easily could have pinned Stromile Swift under the basket after Swift had grabbed an offensive rebound underneath the boards. But Yao let Swift off the hook by jumping up into the air on a pump fake, thus giving Swift the little room he needed to go up and put a shot off the glass for a very important basket in a tight game.
Not that I want to harp on Yao for this loss. He made 7-of-12 shots and hit all 8 of his free throws to score 22 points. He was the least of the Rockets’ worries. Instead, let’s focus on a bigger problem that was also evident in most of Sunday night’s game: the offense.
With all the talk about the new Adelman offense that will make it easier for Tracy McGrady and Yao to score, and for all the talk that McGrady said after their early playoff exit last season that he and Yao needed more help, you would have thought nothing had changed since last May when the Rockets were ousted from last season’s playoffs.
Let’s see, you have the same “supporting cast” this year starting games that is offensively-challenged from last year:
Yeah, he was hitting a lot of those shots, but just think how much better he would have finished percentage-wise (even better than the 16-of-28 he had on Tuesday) if he had taken higher-percentage shots and gotten his teammates involved in those possessions. He might have finished 10-of-18 with the benefit of getting his teammates warmed up early.
I’m comfortable with McGrady aiming to shoot 18 field goal attempts like he did against Milwaukee, which resulted in a ‘W’ by the way. And don’t forget that McGrady said during summer camp in Austin that he was okay if he didn’t score as many points as last season because of all the weapons he had around him. Hmmmm. 41 points on Tuesday night doesn’t seem to match that mindset, nor does scoring over half of the Rockets 28 points in the first quarter (15 points on 6-of-8 shooting) when everyone is just starting to get warmed up.
We all know any player who hits a lot of shots early like McGrady did on Tuesday night — and a team that tries to “milk” that player hoping it will continue through four quarters — is deceiving and “fool’s gold.” Eventually the shots won’t drop, and by the time you need to get other guys involved, it’s too late.
I would rather have McGrady get his teammates involved early and have them fail, than have him carry the team from the game’s early minutes and have a one-dimensional offense that will lose in the playoffs. That’s the only way the Rockets are going to go deep in the playoffs, and is a good hedge just in case McGrady’s back gives out again. But this year, the ramifications of a few players not hitting shots isn’t as grave as last year — there are more players on the bench waiting to step in. Competition among your teammates is a good thing — it makes you perform better.
A football analogy is if you start the game doing nothing but throw passes, and by the time your offense starts to stall, you wish you had established a running game. The equivalent to a running game in basketball is getting shots down low, and getting other players involved. That’s especially true if you want to win a playoff series since the alternative hasn’t worked out too well for the Rockets.
Quite frankly, the shot selection was piss poor Tuesday night. The Rockets have a national collegiate player of the year in Shane Battier relegated to hoisting threes and missing them (0-for-4 on Tuesday night, 0-for-3 on Sunday night) when we’ve seen that he actually has a decent hook shot in the lane that is higher percentage and makes the defense have to respect that scoring option. But instead of mixing that part of his game into the flow, he has resorted to becoming a 3-point specialist. Live by the three, die by the tree. Can you make some adjustments, Coach?
Last year that Battier for Rudy Gay trade was looking like a good deal, but now that we see how much Gay has progressed this season (averaging over 20 points per game) and how Battier has been relegated to being just a 3-point shooter, now I’m not so sure. I love Battier’s defense and willingness to draw a charge, but McGrady and Yao need more help on the offensive end, or their opponents are going to exploit those weaknesses.
Then we’ve got the maddening 3-point shooting of “0-fer” Alston, who was also 0-for-4 from three-point territory and 2-for-7 overall. How in the hell is this guy allowed to shoot a three with the poor shooting he has demonstrated this season (24.2% from three-point territory), the inconsistency he showed last season, and all the “weapons” they have on the team now? C’mon Coach, pull the reins in on this guy, don’t give him that kind of green light, and maybe consider giving Steve Francis some minutes before he goes AWOL on the team (and we saw how that quickly turned badly in the Bonzi-JVG saga last season). I think “it’s time” to start mixing Francis in there because clearly Alston is hurting the team missing so many three-pointers, not being able to get to the hoop, and gettng the Tony Parkers of the world taking him to the cleaners.
It’s just frustrating to see all the great glimpses of what this offense can do revert back to a Jeff Van Gundy style of offense, when that’s exactly how we didn’t want this season to evolve. You take Battier and Alston’s 0-for-8 three-point shooting, which is about 10% of the Rockets’ 83 field goal attempts, and you have Yao taking only 12 shots when he should have taken 20, and you lose by 6 points…it makes a big impact.
I can handle letting Battier shoot a couple of three-point attempts because he’s proven himself from there, but if he misses 2 or 3, then maybe you don’t rely on that any longer and you go with a different option. Regarding Alston, he should never, ever take another 3-pointer again, and if he does, he should be relegated immediately behind James and Francis in the point guard pecking order.
Looking ahead to Wednesday night’s game, I have a feeling the Rockets will take care of business against the Lakers. Bonzi, Mike James, and Battier will hit for a good percentage, and everyone will say that the Memphis loss, and the close call in Charlotte, is a result of a new team trying to gel with each other very early in a long season, and that it’s an excusable loss. Sorry, but I don’t buy that argument.
If the Rockets are going to win a first-round playoff series this season and make a deep run into the playoffs, they are going to have to learn how to diversify their offensive attack with shot selection that’s going to withstand the intensity of the playoffs, much less the attack of a 1-4 team. It’s worth it to build that flow and mindset now, even if you feel it’s easier to just stick with what’s comfortable and can win you 50 games (only to be booted out in the first round of the playoffs).
Since I’m in a bad mood, I’m going to unload some more, this time on the refs. In the second half, the same damn ref kept calling blocking fouls on Hayes (twice) and Scola when they were clearly not fouls. I won’t go into detail, but my DVR doesn’t lie. These bad calls sent the Grizzlies to the line for 6 free throw attempts. I know it’s just Memphis that’s playing, but hey NBA, can you send some decent refs to officiate Rockets games?!
Finally, something that no one has brought up in the years I have covered this team is McGrady’s weird free throw shooting stance, which failed him Tuesday night when he made only 6-of-10 free throws in a game they lost by 6 points. For some reason, McGrady shoots free throws at an angle, with his left foot many inches behind his right foot. This kind of stance prevents from having his shoulders square with the basket. I’m no Calvin Murphy or Rick Barry, but isn’t being square with the one of the most fundamental things you should be doing when shooting a basketball? It seems to work for Yao who has made over 90% of his free throws this season.
Okay, before I sign off, I have a trivia question for you. What frequently used word have I not used this entire season, and why? The first one to post a comment below with the word gets bragging rights.