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Rockets revert to last year’s look in disheartening loss to Memphis

November 14th, 2007
by John

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: Shane Battier, “0-fer” Alston, and Chuck Hayes. So the Rockets decide to bring in new players who can score (Mike James, Steve Francis, Luis Scola, and a new-attitude Bonzi Wells) and a Princeton-like offense that would create more motion and balance to give the Rockets a better chance of weathering playoff intensity storms rather than relying on one guy to carry the team (a la Kobe in LA, and we see how that doesn’t work). And what do we see? Tracy McGrady becoming the focus of the offense once again, taking too many shots (28), not getting teammates involved early, and taking poor shots.

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.

10 Responses to “Rockets revert to last year’s look in disheartening loss to Memphis”

  1. Jebb Says:

    Tmac has tremendous talents, no question about it. BUT he fails to understand that getting his team mates involved in the game, especially Yao is the best solution to win a game!

    Tmac needs to take less than 20 shots ( good shots w/ 50% fgp ) per game, he can do that if he attacks the basket more! There is an average of 80 shots per game for the Rockets, that will take up 25% of the total shots attempt! Then, feed the ball more throught Yao, when Yao has the ball, he must look first to attack! Pass to the moving cutter if Yao can’t attack! That way, other team mates will receive pass from Yao either for an open shot or a lay up!

    When the day Tmac can accept his role in this team ( defer to Yao ), then Rockets will be tough to beat! Make sure the best center in this earth get at least 20 shots per game and I can assure that good things will happen!

    Tmac scored big time and took many shots against Dallas & Memphis, both losses! Rockets won 5 games with Yao more involved in the offense!! That should be a very clear indication!

  2. adrian Says:

    User Image
    brazil wrote:
    With a different bounce of the ball in three or four TOTAL possessions this season WE COULD VERY EASILY be 4-4 at this point instead of 6-2. If that were the case maybe things wouldn’t look so rosy to some.
    I’m seeing the same ol’ standing around stuff that comes with lack of speed. Brooks and Francis have speed.
    I’m not saying we lost to a crummy team tonight – they’re starting five is pretty strong – but I’m seeing the same tired stuff every game and it doesn’t look very promising.
    11/13/2007 10:14:33 PM

  3. Bob Says:

    John said: “What frequently used word have I not used this entire season, and why? The first one to post a comment below with that word gets bragging rights.”

    Answer: Stagnant (offense). I guess the reason you have not used the S-word this young (getting old) season is you (and we, of course) want to give Adelman and his Rockets players more time to prove themselves.

    Bragging rights earned? Or nice try but sorry? 🙂

    Bob, that’s a nice try, but “stagnant” isn’t it. Thanks for the attempt, though. I’ll probably keep the trivia question open for a few more days, especially since I posed the question at the end of a very long post. — John

  4. ben Says:

    I totally agreed with John on the statement that McGraddy is a bit too rush to score (maybe he want to win the scoring title this year hmmm who knows….) McGraddy… no body cares if you win another scoring title but loose the first round playoffs..like so many years before you…. now it’s the ring that matter…having said that this cannot be his Orlando days… that should be history…bygone… houston has too many good players for him to choose those..free willing shooting…….. he need to set the tempo of the game…. let all the team to find the rhythm… by passing the ball first.. screening passing score… evrytime Mcgraddy do that kind of thing shooting.. I know we have 40% chance of winning.. just like his shooting percentage.

  5. kaolin Says:

    I think the criticism on Tmac went a little too far. My impression with the first few games is that, the offense was never there. The Rockets has just been able to overpower their opponents with defensive effort and superior talent, when both of these broke down (bad defense and the poor performance from Wells, James, Battier), Rockets lose. So in my opinion it is a little too much to blame McGrady on the loss. Yao is to blame for his interior defense, Mike James is to blame for his bad shot selection, Alston, Battier and Wells are to blame for not stepping up in offense, there really is not much to blame on Mcgrady.

    Anyone watching that game would have been amazed about some of the bad shots McGrady took, like a 28-footer with plenty of time on the clock near the end of the third quarter. He needs to get his teammates involved early rather than scoring more than half the team’s points in the first quarter or first half, otherwise his teammates will be cold the rest of the night when they are needed.

    I don’t care as much about the loss as getting this team to be balanced so it can make some noise during the playoffs. I would be just as concerned if Yao was getting all the shot attempts and everyone else’s skills were just wasting away. If they rely so much on Yao or McGrady and one of them gets hurt (that has been known to happen the past couple of years), then the Rockets will have no chemistry among themselves to pick up the slack while one (or both) are out.

    If the current players who are getting minutes can’t get the job done once McGrady tries to get them involved, then there are plenty of good players on the bench who are waiting for their chance. I can already tell you O-fer Alston should be one of those taken out. — John

  6. notthree Says:

    I don’t agree with John about the criticism on yao’s performance in defense.
    Yao had the foul problem…
    Not only Yao, but his teammates had the foul problem, especially on the defensive side. See how many FTs Grizzlies got in this game.
    For those fouls, Good calls? well, it is a subjective issue…

    It was two plays I saw (that’s it) where Yao didn’t play smart defensively, but like I said, his play was the least of their worries. But I would like for him to keep improving, that’s why I point it out. I’m not a total homer on Yao — I’ve got to call it like I see it. — John

  7. Jim From Hollywood CA! Says:

    TMAC needs to stop thinking he can carry the team by himself. He needs to defer to Yao. Enough said. Rockets over Lakers!

  8. Jon Long Says:

    I think we all agreed that the offense has to go through Yao. Yao is the biggest advantage against any team. When the ball goes to him, usually go thing happens. He should touch the ball 75% of the offensive possessions.

    In addition, I would like to see him down at the low post more, especially against smaller players who he can pin.

  9. winsempai Says:

    Let’s not put the blame on T-Mac, the guy is great so does Yao, the problem is with the bench, most of the time T-Mac defers to Yao, but you see, T-Mac dish a lot of assist and scores a lot of points, that just shows you how complete of a player he is. The problem is with the gameplan, the team has no direction on offense. The bench should help T-Mac and Yao on scoring.

  10. letskicksomea-s Says:

    this is my first comment. by the way thankyou John for keeping up this website.

    1. Tmac was great but he trying to carry this team by”himself”= LOSS,
    2. very poor shooting from some players but this game is winnable if they let yao involve.
    3. i could sense that Tmac and Yao not getting along.

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