The Rockets were just a few minutes away from their latest 4th quarter collapse and obtaining the same record as the hapless 1-7 Dallas Cowboys, their season seemingly on the brink against an Indiana team that had beaten the four times in a row, including a thrashing last April. And against a team that had spanked the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday with 144 points.
But somehow with Yao Ming and Aaron Brooks out because of ankle sprains, the good guys got it done by willing themselves to a victory. Players finally did something that coach Rich Adelman had been imploring someone to do in their 6 losses: “Make plays.”
For example, several players participated in a rugby scrum with about 1:20 remaining. Up 100-97, Danny Granger missed a driving layup, but Mike Dunleavy grabbed the rebound and missed, Granger rebounded it and was about to put up a point-blank layup, but Shane Battier came up with a gem of a defensive play by stripping Granger, with the loose ball getting grabbed by Kyle Lowry as he was mugged by Josh McRoberts. These guys gutted out a defensive stop when they badly needed one to stave off another fourth quarter collapse.
But the Rockets weren’t very smart over the next couple of possessions. Brad Miller missed a shot with 1:02 that could have put the game away. I didn’t have a problem with the miss as much as I had with the what happened on the rebound. Kevin Martin grabbed the board, and rather than milking the clock with a 3-point lead and trying to come up with a good shot, HE PUT UP A SHOT IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE REBOUND! Luckily, the ball went in. But if he had missed that shot and the Rockets had gone on to lose the game, you can bet Martin would have gotten some heat for not playing the percentages and letting the clock wind down and setting up a play.
Then another breakdown occurred with 41 seconds remaining when the Rockets fell asleep on defense and Darren Collison scored a layup easily on an INBOUNDS PASS. That brought the Pacers to within 3 points, 102-99.
The last dumb play occurred with about 19 seconds left when the Rockets offense was terrible trying to come up with a set play, and resulted in Lowry just dribbling the ball on the perimeter and jacking up a low-percentage 3-pointer that barely hit the rim, if at all. That’s the best play they have with the ballgame on the line?
Fortunately the Rockets played great defense on the Pacers’ final possession, defending the 3-point line well and Lowry playing great defense on Collison, who put up an off-balance 3-pointer of his own that missed. The Rockets grabbed the rebound and that was the ballgame.
You can bet if the Rockets had lost this one, you would have heard a lot about the aforementioned late-game dumb plays on the Houston sports radio talk shows. These breakdowns exemplified everything the Rockets’ haven’t done to lose 6 ballgames this season after holding late leads.
But you’ve got to give a ton of credit to Brad Miller, who started in place of Yao and led the team with 23 points, and had 8 boards and 5 assists. He essentially saved them (along with Martin, who had a great game with 20 points, but 1-of-6 from 3-point land). My only problem is that the Rockets offense was so absent of high-percentage plays, Miller had to bail them out with two 3-pointers in a row with 6:22 and 5:43 remaining. Those 6 points turned Houston’s 90-87 deficit to a 93-93 tie and kept them in the game. You’re telling me having your backup center put up 3-pointers, who was 1-for-3 on treys for the SEASON, is your best option late in a game to save you? Man. Thank God for Brad making shots when no one else could come up with one.
What this does tell you is that all the people on Houston sports radio who were saying after the Rockets’ 1-6 start that GM Daryl Morey hasn’t done anything can shut up for awhile. After all, it was Morey who signed Miller this off-season. It was Morey and his staff who were able to make a deal a couple of seasons ago for a relatively unknown backup PG out of Memphis named Kyle Lowry, and signed him to an extension this off-season rather than lose him to free agency. Lowry willed his team to a victory with 13 points, 6 rebounds and 7 assists, and gave them the toughness they needed. He even took a blow to the head on a pick from a McRoberts elbow and managed to gut-out 34 minutes on the court with hardly any playing time this season because of injury and back spasms. What a winner this guy is (notwithstanding jacking up that ill-advised late 3-pointer that missed).
It also was Morey who signed an undrafted Wake Forest guard this off-season named Ish Smith who has filled in admirably in absence of Aaron Brooks lately as Lowry was out because of his physical issues. It was Morey who drafted a budding star in Chase Budinger (10 points Friday night). And it was Morey who was able to get Jordan Hill thrown into a deal with the Knicks where two 1st round draft choices were the most valuable commodities, in exchange for a washed-up Tracy McGrady. Hill had a great game with a spin-move and one-handed facial dunk on McRoberts that got all of Houston bench up out of their chairs. He also followed up a missed shot by grabbing the rebound and throwing it down like you haven’t seen from most of the bigs this season. Those hustle plays along with his two blocks gave you a glimpse that Hill can make an impact on this team.
I’m not saying Morey is the best GM the NBA has ever seen, but it was his undervalued acquisitions that came up big in a game the Rockets badly needed to win. So the Morey haters can shut up for at least a few days.
With this huge road victory that kept the Rockets from going 1-7 and seemingly over an insurmountable cliff, they are now 2-6 and have some confidence and momentum going into New York against an improved Knicks team Sunday night. If they do that, then they are only 1 victory away from being a more respectable 4-6. And it all could have been triggered by some key reserves stepping up in Indianapolis when the season looked almost lost.