Before the Houston-Portland series began, there was a reason why I picked the Blazers to win the series, which I’ll get into again in a little bit. But for 3 of the 4 games in this series before Tuesday night’s game, I was glad to see the Rockets were on track to put to rest many of the concerns I had for them – like how they blew that last road game of the regular season in Dallas that could have made their playoff path easier. That loss was scarily reminiscent of them blowing that 14-point lead against Chicago soon after the All-Star break.
Yao Ming was steaming after realizing the Rockets would lose Game 5, and all the starters were pulled late in the game once coach Rick Adelman threw in the towel. Click here for more photos from the game.
In both of those games, they folded when the pressure got tight, didn’t execute, and forgot how to play on the road. I had concerns that Aaron Brooks and Ron Artest would not be able to execute, and that Shane Battier’s offensive output would disappear when he has proved he has the ability to score.
But after they showed their mettle and went up 3-1 in their series with Portland, I was beginning to think all of my concerns were a thing of the past and that these players were maturing before our very eyes.
However, after Tuesday night’s ‘el foldo’ in Portland where they let the Blazers go on a 15-0 run in the 4th quarter to win the game and stay alive in the series, those former concerns are now back.
Granted, you’ve got to give the Rockets credit for battling and staying in the game when it looked like they were going to get blown out in the first quarter when they fell behind 23-13. That’s one thing about this post-McGrady Rocket team where you can give them props – they always battle to stay in games and never really get blown out.
But like we’ve seen several times before when the Rockets lose 4th quarter leads…Ron Artest ends up making bad shot selections, and Aaron Brooks tries to do too much penetrating and shooting rather than running the offense. There’s a time and place for Brooks to attack, but in the 4th quarter of a tight game, he’s got to be smarter and understand when the pace of the game slows down, you can’t try to attack the rim and go in for layup attempts when you’ve got a 7-footer in Joel Pryzbilla guarding the basket.
Brooks obviously took way too many shots (20) and made only 6. Three of those 14 misses included getting blocked 3 times. He was also only 1-for-8 from the 3-point line, and 3-for-13 overall in the second half. How could the guy who was so killer in Game 1 be so bad just a few games later? His inconsistency is a problem and is one of the concerns I thought could be an impediment to him becoming a star in this league.
And why in the world is he taking 8 three-pointers? That means he’s panicking too much on offense, and it’s hard to believe Rick Adelman let him play so much of this game when I thought Kyle Lowry was doing a great job at least running the offense by giving up his own shot and getting the ball to others.
I’ve been one of Brooks’ biggest supporters this season for being a scoring guard first more than a point guard, which is okay to me. But when he’s not having a good shooting night, he can’t be McGrady-like and keep firing away when he’s got some good shooters around him, like Yao Ming.
Although Ron Artest was pretty good on defense and had 5 assists, he was terrible shooting the ball (again), hitting only 3-of-9 shots, hoisting up ill-advised shots (AGAIN!) in that pivotal fourth quarter run, and turning the ball over 4 times in the game.
I don’t know why the hell Adelman can’t get through to Artest to play smarter on offense. At some point, you’ve got to hold the coach accountable for his players’ dumb execution on offense. Idleman says in post-game news conferences the same thing over and over, that the offense isn’t “patient enough,” which is a euphemism for jacking up terrible shots and not trying to find Yao. At some point you would think he would start benching or fining players for not executing the way he specifically demands it. It’s like the inmates are running the asylum in the fourth quarter with the warden nowhere to be found.
And of course, Shane Battier pulled another one of his disappearing acts on offense again. 1-for-3 for 3 points. The Rockets really need a veteran like him to step up on the road against a tough team and crowd, especially when a trigger-happy point guard who is having a bad night shooting needs someone to take the scoring burden off of him.
It’s games like these from Battier that make me believe if the Rockets can’t win this series when they were right on the verge of closing a team out, then enough is enough: you’ve got to do something and move in a different direction because you can’t afford for your small forward to go disappearing like that.
I really believe as Brooks and Battier go, so go the Rockets.
On top of Idleman not being able to control how his players react in crunch time on the road, just as important…HOW CAN HE LET THE BLAZERS GO ON A 15-0 RUN TO ERASE A 4-POINT LEAD WITHOUT CALLING TIMEOUT AND GETTING LUIS SCOLA BACK IN THE GAME?
Scola was unstoppable in the first quarter with 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting. He picked up his 4th foul in the 3rd quarter, which put him out of the game, but for God’s sake why would Idleman wait so long to get him back in there when they needed point production. An absolute travesty!
And one thing I’m sure everyone will say that should have been done more is true to an extent: that Yao Ming should have gotten the ball more. Yao did take 12 shots and made 7 of them to score 15 points. And Adelman seemed resolved to ride Yao as much as he could by playing him close to 40 minutes in this game. But after watching Yao in this series, I’m going to say something that no one is really saying in the media: I don’t think Yao is really doing enough to get himself open.
The media and analysts like to say Yao is working hard with Pryzbilla and Oden on him banging away, but I have to disagree. Maybe I’m spoiled because I remember seeing Hakeem fight harder in the low post.
Not that Yao needs to battle in the paint all the time to get himself open. I’m perfectly fine if he does it a different way, like coming toward the ball and being a little further outside of the post area when he receives it. That’s because he can hit shots that are 2-3 feet outside of his normal post position.
Instead, there were several possessions when I was wondering why Yao didn’t move over to the strong side of the court when one of his teammates like Brooks or Artest had the ball, with them tempted to hoist up a bad jumper or 3-pointer. I’d look for where Yao was on those possessions, and he would be on the weak side of the court just standing there – behind a defender — wondering when his teammate with the ball was going to create something.
I’m sorry, but Yao has to get over there to help out his teammate by giving him an easier passing lane to get him the ball. Maybe the coaches are telling him to stay on the weak side, and if that’s the case, that’s not very smart. Or at least Yao should move to the free throw line area where he’ll be able to free himself a little easier from his defenders, get the ball, and shoot from the free throw line area. REMEMBER, IDLEMAN, YAO SHOOTS OVER 85% FROM THE FREE THROW LINE. A SHOT FROM AROUND THE FREE THROW LINE AREA IS AUTOMATIC FOR HIM!
And there were possessions in the first half where I thought Yao didn’t take a shot he could have taken. Instead, he’d pass off to a teammate, who would then miss.
One other reason why the Rockets might have lost is because of questionable foul calls against the Rockets (23 free throws for Portland, only 10 for Houston). I’ll be the first to call out the officials for bad calls, and there were some, but I don’t think it was the main reason why the Rockets lost this game.
Overall, I just see poor coaching in the two losses in this series where Brooks and Artest are able to run amok with the ball, while Battier disappears. Brooks is a second-year player and shouldn’t be expected to shoulder the scoring load, especially when it’s obvious he’s having a bad shooting night. That’s when Idleman has to play Lowry more, who was acquired for that very reason — for “insurance” purposes. So use him more than the 13 1/2 minutes he got!
I’ll give Idleman a lot of credit for where he brought the Rockets this season, but if they want to win this series, then everyone’s got to improve, including the coaching. Idleman is a fine man and gentleman, but I never really hear him blame himself in the post-game conferences. At least JVG would blame himself often times for ‘poor coaching’ when the Rockets would lose games to take some of the pressure off the players. I’ve never heard that from Adelman, so maybe he thinks the staff is doing a fine job, even during the losses. I don’t know.
So here we are again: the Rockets holding a lead in a playoff series like they have had a couple of times the past few years, facing a game where they can close out their opponent and advance, or lose and have to play a very difficult Game 7.
A couple of nights ago I thought my prediction they would lose this series was going to be wrong after they went up 3-1. But given how poorly they played down the stretch in Game 5, I’m afraid my prediction may become more of a possibility than I would like it to be. If that were to happen, with another collapse happen before our very eyes, I think you could see some of the changes in the roster I predicted after all because it could be those same players who end up being culpable.
But rather than think about that scenario happening, I’m hoping everyone (including me) can keep thinking positive thoughts entering Thursday night’s Game 6 in Toyota Center, and then worry about what fixes need to be made to avoid getting swept by the Lakers.
I know one this is for sure: if you thought Yao was focused in Game 1 when he went 9-for-9 from the field, his intensity is going to be off the hook for Game 6 because you know sure as hell he doesn’t want there to be a Game 7. I hope he wants to advance out of the first round so badly Thursday night, he will take it upon himself to win this game, and maybe once in his life as a Rocket, he’ll demonstrably demand the ball from his teammates no matter who sees it.